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About Didjeridus - Frequently Asked Questions

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About Didgeridoos + Didgeridoo Maintenance + Playing the Didgeridoo + Shopping at the Didjshop

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About Didjeridus - Our Answers

What determines sound quality in a didjeridu?

This is to some degree dependent upon personal taste, but there are some obvious factors: clarity, resonance, richness, loudness, back pressure or ease of playing, and variety of overtones and vocals.

What timbers are suitable for colder climates (ie British weather) and what timbers provide the best sound quality?

The type of timber a didj is made from (as long as it's Eucalypt or Coolabah) has a negligible influence on sound quality and durability.

Nearly all didjes are made from different species of eucalypt. There are some differences in the timber, but these are minimal compared with other factors.

For sound quality the main factors are workmanship and the way the termites hollowed the didj and for durability in cold climate the main factor is the workmanship.

What determines the musical key of a didj?

Its length and width mainly. Like with organ pipes the longer and wider a didge is the lower the sound. The shape of its inner cavity has an influence too. Widenings near the top mean lower keys while widenings near the bottom mean higher ones. This is only a general guideline as each didj (termite eaten didj that is) is individual.

What difference does a forked didj make? Can you blow in either branch? Does it sound any different?

With a forked didjeridu you can blow either end, giving you different notes. You can also, while playing on one end, block or open the other end to get two different notes. The note you get when you block one end is the same for both ends.

That's why we give three musical notes for forks. The deepest note is the one you get when holding the other mouthpiece closed and the other two notes are produced playing on either end with the other being open

You will find two recordings for forks. One for each mouthpiece and when you listen to the recordings you will be able to hear the change in musical key as Trevor opens and closes the other mouthpiece with his hand while playing.

What is the disadvantage of a really low pitched (A#,G) didj?

Really low pitched didjes are usually harder to play as they have less back pressure due to their length. They also generally play slower than shorter didjes. But an experienced player will enjoy their deep drone and usually very high resonance. C's or B's are usually easier to play and still have a nice deep sound.

How do I decide which is the right key to choose - and was any particular key considered traditional?

It depends on your taste. You can listen online in The Didjshop to didjes in different musical keys to decide which one you like the most (it's best to choose didjes of the same sound quality). There's one proviso. If you want to learn circular breathing on a didj, it is advisable to pick one of the following keys, as they are easier to learn on: D#, D, C#, C

No one particular key was used traditionally. Some Aboriginals prefer higher keys while others prefer the lower ones. There are stories about certain keys being used in specific rituals.

Does having a bell affect the sound - like it does for a brass instrument, and do wood types colour the sound or affect the ease of production of a sound. Does painting affect the response?

A bell does affect the sound of a didj, similar to a brass instrument.

It usually increases the volume of the sound, but it can have effects on resonance and back pressure as well. The comparison to a brass instrument is limited since a naturally hollowed didj is not as regular as a brass instrument. Painting or varnishing on the outside of the didj does not affect the sound, as far as I know. The effect of wood types on the sound in our experience is so minimal that it is impossible to determine as other influences are much stronger.

By far the strongest influence on sound is the way the termites hollowed the didj. No two didjes are naturally hollowed the same, and this makes for huge differences in the sound quality and would swamp any effect the wood type wood have. It can even be stronger than the effect a bell or strong taper has.

The only way to reliably answer your question is to make several didjes out of different timber on a lathe with identical dimensions and then compare them. We'd be interested in the results if anyone does it.

I was wondering about didjes from other regions of Australia. Do certain areas show big differences in didjes based on materials? I met someone who picked up one from the Alice Springs region that was quite narrow in diameter but had an amazingly good sound for how little it was. Absurd amount of back pressure. Are there any books that overview instruments from around the continent?

The didj your friend picked up in Alice Springs would probably come either from our region (northern Queensland) or from the Northern Territory. These are the two main Didj production areas. Around Alice Springs no didjes are found.

There are no discernable differences of instruments as to their geographic source. In most didjeridu producing areas you find the same species of eucalypt. What a didj looks like and its sound quality depend solely on the way the termites have hollowed that particular didj. Which to some degree depends on the micro climate of where it is found (specifically on the relationship between the size of the termite population and the annual rainfall, evaporation rate and soil). Those can vary widely over a small area. For example you might find a patch of eucalypt saplings in a gully which is eaten out just perfect whereas 50 yards away on the ridge the saplings all have been eaten too far or not enough. So it is impossible to predict sound quality from geographic location or eucalypt species. Any eucalypt species can produce a great didj anywhere in the northern parts of Australia.

Is there a trade-off between the various sound traits? Does strong back pressure detract from quality of sound? Does a bell shape detract from back pressure?

There is no trade-off between back pressure and sound quality. But there are some didjes with relatively poor sound quality which have very good back pressure, and such make good learners didjes.

Bell shape can have an effect on back pressure, but usually does so only if the bell is very large and the rest of the bore is quite wide anyway.

Probably the biggest negative effect on back pressure is if the didj has a very wide, yet even bore (we call these didjes 'oven pipes'). There are quite a few exceptions to this and it is impossible to generalise with didjes. The single biggest variable affecting all aspects of sound quality is the way the termites hollow the didj. And there is no way of measuring this. You simply have to play the didj.

We assess the sound quality of a didj without taking looks into account at all.

How do you compare a back pressure of "3" on a 1 to 5 scale to the back pressure of a 5 foot 1.5" PVC pipe?

Just to be sure, I just dug out an old PVC pipe tuned to C (~5' long) and compared it with a few 5' didjes. In comparison I would rate the PVC pipe at a back pressure of 3.

So any of our learners didjes (which are rated at 4 or over) have better back pressure than a 5' PVC pipe. Please be aware that this is valid only for our didjes (I am certain that other merchants will soon praise that almost all their didjes have excellent back pressure).

Does the material of the didj really make that much of a difference (manmade material vs natural)?

The material a didj is made from certainly has an effect on it's sound. And since eucalyptus is such a hard and dense wood, it is certainly the best to use for a didj.

Having said this, I need to clarify that in my experience genuine termite hollowed didjes vary very widely in their sound quality (entirely due to the way the termites hollowed them).

So if you have a eucalyptus didgeridoo which has not been hollowed too well by the termites, it might very well sound a lot worse than say a PVC didj. But if you have a well hollowed termite eaten didj you will not find a didj from any other material that sounds as well.

A friend of me, who works for swimming pool, gave me a long pipe (4 meters) with an internal diameter of 45 mm. On your page you give us the length of pipe for key E, D, or C with an internal diameter of 40 mm. Is it possible for you to give me the same for an internal diameter if 45 mm?

That's a good question. I determined the length of a 40 mm pipe by trial and error. In the meantime we figured out that the diameter does not have that much influence on the key. For more details check out the page "Physics of the Didgeridoo".

When travelling in Central Queensland, I was told by both aboriginal men & women that it's wrong & offensive for a woman to play a didge, as it's Men's Business. There seems to be little mention of such a taboo on the web, even on sites run by aboriginal people, so is that just a local belief?

Whether woman are allowed to touch or play the didgeridoo differs from area to area.

Whenever talking about Aborigines you need to be aware that there are hundreds of aboriginal clans throughout Australia, which are as different as European nations. So naturally their languages and customs are very different.

In Arnhem Land there are tribes which did not allow their women to even touch didgeridoos. I have been told that the penalty for doing so is rape by the owner of the didj.

I have heard about the same taboo in the South Queensland and northern NSW areas, but never got any reason for it when asking. However other clans do not have that taboo and I have also seen Aboriginal women play the didj and heard of other people witnessing the same. Other clans allow woman to paint didgeridoos, but not play them etc.

Many years ago I put the question to a now deceased senior Elder of a Northern Territory Clan and he told me he thinks it is OK for western woman to play the didj (as long as they would not do so in his tribal area, but Aboriginal woman shouldn't play at all because they would become pregnant.

So there is many different beliefs around this issue and you need to make your own decisions.

I made a D tuned didj from a 118 cm PVC pipe and learned the circular breathing; the sound is really exciting, but I would like to know how large it has to be to play an A note (for a lower sound).
Plus, I want to paint it because the look of PVC is awful. How can I do that? What kind of paint should I use; will it affect the sound of the didj?

To get an A, you need to cut a PVC pipe with 1.5" (one and a half inch - 37.5mm) inside diameter to 63" (1600mm) length.

To paint your didj you can use acrylics for the colours with a clear varnish over the top or almost any other kind of paint. The paint will not affect the sound quality.

I recently bought a didj from you and I love it. Later in the year we are going to go on a 3 month trip around various parts of Australia is there anywhere that a didj is forbidden to be played especially by a non-Aboriginal female? I know that there are parts of Oz that even the black male couldn't play, does that still apply today? I'm talking about camping anywhere along the way.

Firstly there is no written law anywhere in Australia which forbids females (or anyone else) to play the didj so legally you can play wherever you like.

However some Aboriginal clans have traditional laws not allowing females to play or even touch a didgeridoo. As far as I am aware this is valid for the whole of Arnhem land. I have heard of incidences in Northern NSW where a female was told by an Aborigine not to play, but it is possible that the Aborigine in question came from the NT.

On the other hand I have heard of female Aboriginals playing the didj both in WA and in north Queensland.

So it is not possible (at least for me) to give a definite answer to where it is fine and where it is not. I would suggest you abstain from playing in all Arnhem land communities. In all other areas I suggest you check out local traditional law and ask any Aboriginal people present before playing.

I have never heard of any area where even a black male could not play the didj according to traditional law and would be interested to hear about any such area.

I'm confused about the various mouthpiece sizes (3.5mm-7.5mm)and how this affects the playing ability.
Does the mouthpiece size affect the backpressure? Does a smaller mouthpiece make it easier or harder to relax your lips? Does the mouthpiece size have no bearing on the sound or ease of playing, but more a personal preference? Any information in regard to this aspect of the instrument would be greatly appreciated.

I assume you are referring to the top diameter we give for each didj when you say: "I'm confused about the various mouthpiece sizes (35mm-75mm)".

This measurement is an average of the inside diameter of the wood before the beeswax mouthpiece is added.

All our beeswax mouthpieces have an inside diameter of about 35-40mm.

So it does not matter too much how wide the wood is as the beeswax can always make up for it. And as long as the beeswax mouthpiece is fixed and formed properly any size didj can be played.

However the shape and size of the beeswax mouthpiece can greatly affect the playability of a didj. But this is an individual measure. Some people can play easier on a small hole, others find it easier to play on a large one. Luckily beeswax can be adjusted and we recommend you change the size of the blow hole and try to find the best size for your mouth and playing style.

Please see Making a Beeswax Mouthpiece for more info.

The inside top diameter of the wooden bore also has some bearing on the playability of the didj though. If that top diameter is less than 25mm it might be getting too small to play for people with big lips. If that top diameter is getting over 70mm the didj will require more air to play which will be reflected in a lower value for backpressure. This is because the player will have to get a thicker column of air to vibrate inside the didj.

Is there a danger of the gathering of wood for didges harming the desert environment?

There is some danger but only from greedy non-indigenous people harvesting didjes commercially in large quantities. Some of these operators clear-fell large areas and then pick up the hollow ones leaving the rest to rot. This is faster than checking first whether a particular tree is hollow enough or not but it also destroys a lot of potential future didjes. This practice results in dozen's of perfectly healthy trees being cut and left for each didj found and is totally irresponsible. Sadly many or even most didjes on the market are sourced this way. Some of these operators even do this devastation illegally on Aboriginal land. Sadly due to the remoteness of the area they are never caught.

Most Aboriginal cutters take only a few trees here and there so they can come back in a few years and find some more. This way harvesting is sustainable but sadly it is not competitive with the above method. There are thousands of square kilometres of eucalypt forest from which didjes can be sourced so the industry is sustainable as long as only a few didjes are harvested in any given area. This is what Aborigines do but it means they spend much more time gathering didjes.

So yes there is a danger of harm to the environment but only from irresponsible operators which makes it more important for responsible people to ensure that the didj they buy is cut by Aboriginal people. The fact that many people rather choose a cheap didj over an Aboriginal made didj makes the situation worse.

Can you tell me where the name Didjeridoo came from?

The Didgeridoo got it's name from non-Aboriginal Australian settlers. The word was a phonetic description of the sound it makes.
That is why there are so many different possible spellings for the word: didjeridoo, didjeridu, didjeridu, didge, didge, didj.
Since there were hundreds of Aboriginal tribes using the didj, there are many Aboriginal names for the didgeridoo - the best known is Yidaki from the Yolngu language.

I was curious to know if Aboriginals esteem certain animals in a spiritual sense. For example, lizards are a common theme on painted didgeridoos. Is there a spiritual connection, or is such an animal depicted simply because it was an important food source for mainly Aboriginals?
It can be either. As you can see on our Aboriginal Stories page, many paintings do have a story behind them. Many of those stories are spiritual or creationist in nature.

However other paintings simply depict animals as a food source. There is some belief that the painting of food source animals will make it more likely to encounter them and catch them.

So it depends on the artist and her/his intention...

How can I know if didgeridoos that you sell in this store are of good quality?
Firstly, you can look at the many comments from customers in our Guestbook and Visitor Comments section.
Secondly, you can listen to individual recordings of most didjes.
Thirdly, you can see that we have sold thousands of didjes and many customers come back to buy more (see Sold Didjes).
Fourthly, you can see that we have been in business for well over ten years and our business is still growing despite word of mouth being our only advertising - something that would not work unless our didjes are of the best quality.

I recently purchased a didj from you - made from boxwood. I want to know if this is a variety of eucalyptus or a totally different species of wood from the eucalyptus. I have heard of boxwood and assume it is not eucalyptus. At least in the USA. I don't know if it is any different down there.
Boxwood is a type of eucalypt just like bloodwood, stringy bark, woolly butt, ironbark etc...
Almost all genuine termite hollowed didjes are made from eucalypt.

How the length and cross-section of a didgeridoo affect the sound made?
If a didj would be a straight pipe, the length would affect the pitch - the longer the pipe, the deeper the musical key... The diameter of the pipe would increase the volume and decrease the backpressure (see Soundscapes for more info)

But you need to keep in mind that genuine termite hollowed didjes are not straight pipes and the way termites eat out the wood can have strange and unpredictable effects on the sound.

Do you think it would be possible to have a page which would tell about the ornamentation on the didjes or a small explanation to each decorated didj. I think it would be fun to know why they look the way they do, why the dotted circle, why the lizard etc. If not - do you have a link to a "guide to aboriginal art"?
We are aware that other web sites do have some meanings of Aboriginal art.
However we have decided not to do this. This is because there are many different meanings/stories for the same animals/designs (which is why there is no reliable guide to Aboriginal art).
There are several hundred tribes in Australia, each with its own stories and meanings. Putting just one up would be unfair to the others and it would also give the false impression that this is the general meaning of all similar animals/designs.

What we do give is the stories behind the art on some of our didjes. As you can see even there are different stories eg about the rainbow snake.

I heard that letting wood dry for two years before producing the didge greatly improves the sound of the instrument. What is your position on that?
It is true that allowing the wood to dry makes for a better sound.
As any carpenter can tell you wood usually dries at a rate of one inch a year. So the time depends on the thickness of the wood.
Since didjes are hollow it is the wall thickness that counts. Since you do ot really get good didjes with two inch wall thickness, most didjes would be well and truly dry within a year. In practice almost all the moisture is in the outermost ~1/4 inch, so two to three month drying is usually sufficient to remove 90% of moisture, which is the drying time we ask our suppliers to allow for.
In my opinion the difference between two month and two years is less than ten percent difference in moisture content.
We use sealants which can still breathe so that any remaining moisture can continue to slowly evaporate. This means that our didjes will slightly improve in sound quality as they age, but not by much.

I bought a didj from you and it arrived here in France in autumn. Can you tell me which kind of wax is used as mouthpiece. I think it's bees wax, but in europe it is much more soft.
What we use is just natural beeswax which we get from beekeepers.
There is nothing added to it at all. So you should get the same quality beeswax in France.
If the beeswax you get is too soft, you can add some wood ash to it. That will make it harder.

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About Didgeridoos + Didgeridoo Maintenance + Playing the Didgeridoo + Shopping at the Didjshop

Please email us with any other questions you'd like answered.