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Playing the Didjeridoo

Circular Breathing is the technique employed for playing continuously. When commencing to play the Didjeridoo, most people are impatient to learn the circular breathing. The first efforts should be directed to developing a base sound.

This sound is like a foundation to which other sounds are combined and so form the composition. Building these sounds and mixing them into an audible, harmonious extension is hard. Breathing can be mastered with practice and within days of learning techniques.

So forget breathing for the time being. Five things are used to produce the different sounds of the Didjeridoo. These are lips; tongue; voice; cheeks; and stomach (or lungs). Lips and tongue are used to get the vibrating, resonating sound. They can also be to get the direction, pace and tune of the composition. The voice is used to enhance the players pace and tune. It is also used for making the various mimicking bird and animal sounds. The stomach or lungs is used as a bellow, forcing the air up and out from the lower diaphragm. This creates the deep pumping rhythm. Also the cheeks may be used to squeeze or expel air forcefully from the mouth, creating either a pumping or spitting effect.

The sounds which may be produced are limited only by the individual. Remember nearly everyone’s first attempts sound terrible. Once accustomed to lip positions and sounds related to this, improvement is rapid. Probably the worst practice is to become too analytical, this can prove more an obstacle than an asset. Playing should be a subconscious extension of the player. A good didjeridoo will play itself, you just add the air.

Application of Techniques

1. Place your top lip to the inner top of the mouth piece section ensuring that the mouth piece is fully sealed.
2. With lips relaxed and pursed together blow a slow continuous breath allowing them to vibrate. This is the foundation sound. Continual practice of this sound is essential before moving on.
3. For variations in tone the tongue and vocals can now be introduced.

a) Tongue: basic variations are produced by the flicking of the tongue from the roof of the mouth to the back of the top lip. An exercise for obtaining this sound is by vocally repeating the phrase; Dit-moor, Dit-moor, Dit-moor. Observe the movement of the tongue within this exercise. Now practice this phrase while playing the Didjeridoo. This phrase can be expanded by adding a variation of tongue flicking movements.
b) Vocals: To produce the mimicking bird and animal calls practice making the sound first, for example a dog howling, a bird calling and many others. Now to apply this to the Didjeridoo again practice these sounds without moving the lips. When making these sounds through the Didjeridoo it is important to note the sounds are made by the vocal chords only. This is then combined with the foundation sound as made by blowing to form a composition.

Circular Breathing

For continuous playing, there has to be a constant air pressure in the Didjeridoo. This is achieved by using the circular breathing technique. While blowing air using your cheeks to push your breath, inhale sharply through the nose. Remember to keep some air in your cheeks and not to blow a lot of air before snatching another breath.

An exercise to develop this is to place the end of your Didjeridoo in water. A river or creek is perfect however a bath or bucket will do. Use your cheeks to push air out of your mouth to create bubbles. While blowing bubbles quickly inhale. Efforts should be focused on maintaining a constant flow of bubbles while breathing at the same time

    
   

 

  

Banula Marika and Sam in Yolngu Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam and Marcus playing rhythms in Arnhem Land