The Didgeridoo (How to Play, Where to Buy One, Best Players)

The didgeridoo (or didje as some call it) is an Australian Aboriginal instrument that looks like a long wooden pipe or tube. These instruments are traditionally made from wood by hollowing out the branch of a tree. The hollow tube is finished with an oil finish and embellished with dot painting or other traditional art forms. 

One end of the didgeridoo is called the mouthpiece – this is where you place your mouth to play the instrument.

The other end has a bell-curve to improve amplification of the sounds you create. Each didgeridoo is tuned to a key and when you blow into the long tube, it creates a deep, resonant sound.

There are certain techniques you can learn to manipulate the sound and create rhythmic accents using volume and timber. 

The traditional didgeridoo can vary in shape, size and finish. There are a lot of popular and modern variations using more durable or cheaper materials as well.

Beginners prefer to buy a cheap bamboo or synthetic version because they are lightweight and affordable.

Based on these needs, we have put together a brief list of three recommendations.

1. Meinl Percussions - Bamboo Didgeridoo, Black

A well designed and great-value didgeridoo.

Meinl offers a very affordable version of the traditional didgeridoo in an all-black instrument with Australian dot art.

It looks great, sounds nice, and you can store in on a nice display or stand when you don’t plan to use it.

2. Hand-fired Modern Didgeridoo – Key of D

A durable, easy to play and affordable option

This is a good option if you are looking for something that is more durable than bamboo and wood with an authentic look and feel.

The instrument is hand crafted with natural materials and some synthetic materials have been added to make it weatherproof. It is light, easy to play and durable.

The modern-sized mouthpiece is dipped in beeswax for a good seal but you can also get an additional mouthpiece if desired. Moreover, the profits from this instrument go to support the Africa Heartwood Project, so it all for a good cause.

3. Handmade Didgeridoo Eucalyptus

The real deal for the Didje-enthusiasts!

The Terre Store sells the authentic Yellowbox or Redwood Eucalyptus wood didgeridoo with dotpaint.

This 60” long didge has a 6” bell end and a 2” mouth piece with a beautiful hand painted design. Each instrument is finished using linseed oil to improve durability and to prevent cracks.

The use of real wood, the oil finish and the size will give you a very real and authentic experience while playing the instrument. Each instrument after a thorough quality check to ensure stable tuning and a faultless finish.

How Do You Play a Didgeridoo?

This video above can be a good resource for beginners who want to understand the basics of the instrument.

The instrument should be played with a meditative mindset and it is considered to be a spiritual experience.

didgeridoo-how-to-play

  1. You should find a comfortable posture or use the traditional cross-legged posture with a straight back and shoulders. 
  2. Place the instrument on your barefoot without letting it touch the ground.
  3. Once in contact with the ground, the sound may sound muddy or distorted. 
  4. Now establish a basic hand grip by cradling the body in the palm of your primary hand (right hand if you are right handed) with your index finger pointing away from you.
  5. The other hand (the left one, in this case) should be placed around the mouthpiece to balance the instrument. 
  6. The basic drone – the first step to playing the didgeridoo – is to learn how to blow air by vibrating your lips before you proceed to produce a sound from the instrument. To do this, you must relax all your facial muscles and vibrate your lips as you gently blow air. 
  7. Think of a horse blowing air through its mouth – that is the lip vibration and blowing you need to practice to get the basic drone right. Once you can create a sound, you should proceed to place your lips on the instrument and seal them on the mouthpiece. You will be using the didgeridoo as an amplifier to the sounds you create. 
  8. Keep your lips firm but not too tight against the mouthpiece and try different positions until you are comfortable. Some people align the lips directly and others prefer to play from the side of the mouth. 
  9. Once you learn to drone, you can alter the tension of your lips alter the sound of the instrument. For instance, if you tighten your lips the instrument will sound more high-pitched and if you release the tension it will some more guttural. 
  10. More advanced techniques include using the diaphragm, tapping the tongue on the teeth, and various rolls of the tongue to create additional sounds. These advanced techniques need to be practiced and studied in detail until you learn to control your facial muscles. 

A few minutes to an hour of practice a day will lead to steady progress and it can be invaluable if you have an experienced player to guide you through the process.

Where did the didgeridoo come from?

The is no known date of origin for the didgeridoo but archaeologists believe that it originated in the Aboriginal communities of Australia over 1500 years ago.

There are some similarities between the dord, an Irish long horn, and the carnyx, a Celtic instrument.

What is a didgeridoo used for?

Traditionally, a didgeridoo plays an important role in Aboriginal ceremonies and music. It was an instrument that was used to create stories and teach values to the communities through the sounds of nature. It is still used as accompaniment in every cultural ceremony of Aboriginal communities in Australia. 

Today, it has become a part of contemporary music, fusion music, and world music in various avatars. Modern didgeridoo players are distinct from traditional players and they use a vastly different instrument to suit the needs of their genre/style. Many of these instruments have a non-traditional shape and use modern materials to improve durability and playability.  

Is the didgeridoo hard to play?

No. Some people learn the basics within a day or two and others can achieve this with an hour’s practice within a few weeks.

There are some children as young as 3 or 4 years of age who can play the didgeridoo.

In fact, they say that anyone who can fog a mirror with their breath can play the didgeridoo.

didgeridoo-designs

Who are the best didgeridoo players in the world?

David Blanasi, an Australian Aborigine, is the man who brought international attention to the didgeridoo. Si Mullumby is one of the best modern didge-players in the world today and he tours with his band Wild Marmalade – a high-energy act that has been performing globally for the past ten years. 

Charlie McMahon is considered to be one of the main proponents of contemporary didgeridoo playing. He performed around the world with Midnight Oil and then went on to form his own band called the Gondwanaland Project

This was the first time the didgeridoo was the center piece of an ensemble and McMahon went on to release 12 albums with his band and performed all over the world. 

Other didgeridoo virtuosos include busker-turned-musician Alan Dargin (Australia), Alex Meyer (Austria), Adele Blanchin (France), Ansgar Stein (Germany) and many others.  

What is the most famous Aboriginal instrument?

The didgeridoo is the most famous Aboriginal instrument. But the Aborigines also played two other instruments called the bullroarer and the gum-leaf.

Besides these three instruments, the Aborigines also used clapsticks to maintain rhythm during voice chants.

The bullroarer, also known as a turndun or rhombus, is a thin rectangular slat that is sharp around the edge and attached to a long cord.

This cord use given an initial twist and whirled around in circles in the air (like chopper blades) to create a roar. You can watch it in action here. 

The gum-leaf, as the name suggests, is literally the leaf of the Eucalyptus tree that is played like a hand-held free reed instrument and sounds like a mouth trumpet. You can watch it in this video

How many notes can a didgeridoo play?

One. Each didgeridoo is keyed to a particular note (D note for example) and can only toot one note because there is only one hole and no way to change, modify or alter the length of the instrument. 

However, different types of sounds can be created by lip position, the shape of the mouthpiece, and manipulating the tongue and cheeks. You can also create overtones or use slider didjes to play multiple notes, and certain advanced techniques can be applied to create higher notes as you would with a bugle.

Is didgeridoo a brass instrument?

Although a didgeridoo is made from wood and acts as a ‘drone pipe’, it is classified as a brass instrument because the same techniques are used to play it. 

Can non-Aboriginal people play the didgeridoo?

There are some ethical conundrums regarding this issue. It is largely considered okay for non-Aboriginal people to play the instrument, however some people are of the opinion that it is unfitting to appropriate aboriginal culture, but many non-aboriginal musicians have played the didgeridoo and achieved global success.

Certain aboriginal communities have restrictions on women playing or touching the instrument as well.

What are the other names for a didgeridoo?

The Didgeridoo is often spelt didjeridu and it is also referred to as a yidaki, mandapul or mako.

Summary

The didgeridoo may have originated as a ceremonial instrument but today it has crossed over into many new and exciting directions.

There are many exemplary players who push the boundaries of the instrument and use it in innovative ways.

You can see many of these maestros compete in exciting events like didge-battles that have a huge online following.

Once you master the basics, you can explore some nifty techniques like beatboxing through a didgeridoo from these guys.

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