Aboriginal Sounds: All About the Didgeridoo

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Throughout the last several years, there has been an uptick the number of people digging the sounds of one of the world’s oldest instruments. The didgeridoo is an ancient wind instrument created by the Aboriginals of Australia. Some researchers believe the instrument dates back to 40,000 years ago, possibly making it the world’s oldest instrument. The didgeridoo was used primarily by tribes in Northern Australia as there is limited evidence of it being used as far south as the Alice Springs area.

How didges are made

 The traditional style didgeridoos are made from eucalyptus tree trunks and limbs that have been hollowed out by termites. Since the living sapwood of the tree trunks or large branches contains a chemical that they dislike, the termites only eat the dead hardwood inside. If the idea of termites boring through the tree truck gives you the heebee jeebies, keep in mind that it’s the little holes and tunnels that give the instrument its unique resonance. As a result, we have a didgeridoo that can be played!

 Those who are skilled at finding and cutting the instrument know to look for trees that are suitable, hollow, and in areas of obvious termite action. They often use a tapping or knocking test to see if the hollowed wood produces a resonant sound. Once they find a suitable piece, they cut it to a length that falls somewhere between 50 and 65 inches. Then, the instrument is cleaned out with a stick or sapling.

How they’re played

 The didge is played by vibrating your lips against the mouthpiece to produce a droning sound. The tone is sustained through the use of circular breathing, which can be tricky for some to master. In order to circular breathe, you need to breathe in through your nose while expelling the air stored in your mouth using your tongue and cheeks. Once you master this technique, you can play for virtually as long as you want. 

Traditional and modern uses

 In ancient times, the didge was played primarily to accompany ceremony, dance, and singing. It was common back then for them to also be used for solo purposes when not in ceremonial gatherings. Today, most players play on their own but didgeridoos have been known to accompany orchestras, music artists on their albums, and are often used in sound therapy sessions. 

Modern didges

 Thanks to modern technology, there are many ways to make didgeridoos today. You can find them made of a wide range of materials including leather, hemp, glass, crystal, ceramic, plastic, PVC pipe, drilled logs, hollow cactus stems, aluminum, and more. Pretty much any material that can be hollowed out to form a tube can be used to make a didgeridoo.

 If you’re interested in learning more about didgeridoos, check Didgeridoo Breath. This Australian company offers a vast amount of helpful information that covers everything from the history of the instrument, how to play it, mouthpieces, accessories, advanced tutorials, and didges for sale. Their YouTube channel is very helpful to beginners and advanced players. You can even listen to every didge they have for sale on their website thanks to SoundCloud!

 And if you’re looking for a didgeridoo player in your area, be sure to search TribeFinder today. You may even be able to find a class or sound therapy practitioner.