Wednesday, October 14, 2009


As if the bagpipes weren’t noisy enough, you should hear their long-lost brother.  Meet the strangely played, looking, and sounding didgeridoo.

The didgeridoo (also known as a “didjeridu” or “didge”) is a wind instrument occasionally associated with a natural wooden trumpet or drone pipe.  Traditionally made from Eucalyptus, bamboo, and Pandanus trees that had their interiors hollowed from termite occupation or natural diseases, the instrument was developed by Australians at least 1,500 years ago. 

Musicologists classify the didgeridoo in the same class as that of bagpipes (I told you they were related.) as an aerophone.  Didgeridoos are cylindrical or conical in shape measuring 3-10 feet long.  The longer the pipe, the lower the pitch or key of the device.

Modern didgeridoos are constructed out of PVC piping, hardwoods not native to Australia, fiberglass, metal, or agave.  These designs typically have an upper diameter of 1 ¼” going down to a flared end ranging between 2”-8” in diameter.  While traditional types have mouthpieces rimmed with beeswax for a better seal, modern varieties are more likely to be fitted to the individual user’s mouth.

wax mouthpiece

The instrument is played with the user vibrating their lips using a special breathing technique called “circular breathing”.  This process begins when the user fully inhales and begins to blow into the pipe.  When their lungs are almost empty, their last amount of air is stored inside the mouth, inflating the cheeks.  Then the person must suck in enough air through the nose before the supply in the mouth depletes so continuous play can be sustained. 

If you want to learn to do this, a good way to practice is to try to inflate your cheeks only by breathing in through your nose.  If that sounds difficult, that’s because it is!

Did you know?- Musician Mark Atkins in Didgeridoo Concerto (1994) plays for over 50 minutes continuously.

Clapsticks (also known as pair sticks and “bilma”) traditionally accompanied didgeridoos as beat holders. 

With the coming of the 20th century came the advent of many new modernized didgeridoo designs.  The didjeribone (also known as a “slideridoo/slidgeridoo”) was invented in 1981 by Australian musician Charlie McMahon.  Constructed of two pieces of plastic tube (one slightly less in diameter than the other), the smaller piece slides inside the larger tube similar to the process of a trombone.  You can find the instrument’s official site here and Charlie’s personalized webpage here.

Marko Johnson from the United States invented the “DidjBox/DidgeBox” in 1995.  This is a more compact and lightweight version of an original didgeridoo that still maintains its signature sound.  Marko’s websites and the newly created show a cornucopia of his magical didgeridoo and native drum designs respectively. 

The keyed didgeridoo was invented by a U.S. didgeridoo player named Graham Wiggins (stage name is “Dr. Didg”).  He built the instrument from a physics workshop at Oxford University where he later earned his Ph.D.  


Did you know? (Again!)- A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the circular breathing technique used in playing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.

If you have family members and/or neighbors willing to put up with your beginner play, then you may find no reason to start looking towards acquiring your own didgeridoo. and are two sources that you will find incredibly useful.

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