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Playing the Didgeridoo - Frequently Asked Questions

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Playing the Didgeridoo - Our Answers

How long will it take me to learn circular breathing?

That is impossible to say because it entirely depends on you. All I can say is that some people can learn it in less than 10 minutes; most people have to practice one hour every day for one to three weeks and some people give up.

Do I have to be able to circular breathe before I can play the didgeridoo?

No, you can play the didgeridoo without circular breathing, you just have gaps when you breathe but, hey, all other wind instruments are played like that. Once I was playing in a dance event to about 5000 people and one of the didge players (there were three of us) could not circular breathe. I don't think anyone noticed.

I'm learning to play the Didj and have been able to create the Drone - but the only way I am able to do that is by using my tongue between my lips and making a "Raspberry" sound. Is that the right way to play Didj? I'm thinking it may not be, because when my tongue is involved in making the buzz, it cannot be used to make the necessary vowel and animal sounds needed to completely play the instrument.

It sounds as if you are making a trumpet sound. The trumpet is played by forcing air through stiffened lips producing a fast vibration of the inside of the lips only. When doing this the lips are pointed, slightly pulled in and tight.

The didj is played by allowing all of the lips to vibrate but at a slower rate and using a gentler airstream. When doing this the lips are pushed out as in kissing and relaxed. Once you get it you can feel the lips vibrating inside the mouthpiece. It helps to do it without the didj first so you can get a feel for it and you can do it in front of a mirror for visual feedback. Babies do it naturally. It`s a soft 'raspberry blowing'. The didgeridoo only amplifies the vibration of the lips.

For a full one hour tutorial on playing the didj and learning the circular breathing I suggest our "How to Play the Didgeridoo" tutorial video.

I'm fascinated by the sound of the didgeridoo, but my efforts have been restricted by poor circular breathing technique. I would greatly appreciate any tips or advice you could offer...

Here's circular breathing in a nutshell:

Before running out of air, fill your mouth space with as much air as possible by expanding your cheeks and jaw (imagine filling up a pair of bellows). Now you close the back of the mouth with the root of your tongue.

This allows you to push air out of your mouth with your cheeks and jaw (empty those bellows) to keep the sound going, while at the same time you can breathe in through your nose to fill up the lungs.

Then you open the back of the mouth again to continue playing with the air out of your lungs and so on...

There are many tricks and exercises to train these steps and co-ordinate them.

The one-hour video with David Blanasi is mostly about learning the circular breathing.The co-ordination needed can be compared to learning to drive a motor vehicle. Letting the clutch out and pressing the accelerator wants to be well coordinated if you don`t want the car to jump all over the place or stall.

When you say that a particular didj is tuned can you not change the tuning slightly just by the pressure exerted by blowing and the positioning of your lips?

It is a very good question.

You're correct that the tune of a didj can be affected by the pressure you exert when playing it. In fact you can change the pitch by nearly one full key by changing the pressure you blow with. Yet when you play a didj you do not want to be forced to play it really soft or really hard just to be in tune. It obviously limits what you can do while playing.

In a well tuned didj the difference caused by changing the pressure is evenly spaced on both sides of the middle note. We actually tune so middle note is closer towards the high end as most good players tend to use rather more pressure. This means that when a beginner plays that didj, it will be under tuned, but once he becomes more proficient he will be able to play it in tune.

The positioning of the lips can affect the tune as well, but I found that this effect is small and that you have to compromise ease of play in order to change the pitch. The tune can also be affected by the shape and height of the beeswax mouthpiece. In general, the larger the hole in the mouthpiece, the further your lips will go into the didj, resulting in a higher pitch. And the higher the mouth piece the lower the pitch.

So you can change the tune of a didj to some extent by changing the mouthpiece. This effect will be more pronounced on short and thin didjes since any change is relative to the total inside air volume.

A friend told me that someone with a beard would have difficulty playing a didgeridoo because he wouldn't be able to form the proper seal at the mouthpiece as easily. Is that true?

Yes it is true.

In fact, one of the guys doing our tuning and sound grading has this very problem. He doesn't like shaving and some of his friends are horrified to hear that he shaves for work. But his love for didjes wins over his beard. I should add that for small batches he does fine without shaving by just using a cream to help seal the mouth onto the didj without having to press the didj onto his mouth too hard.

A beard does make it harder to play - but not impossible. You just end up with a more visible mark around your lips because you will have to press harder to get a good seal.

I'm getting stuck on changing from the air in my mouth to the air in my lungs, and also getting enough pressure from mouth to maintain a sound for very long when breathing in.

The mechanism used in circular breathing is to close the back of our mouth with the root of the tongue. Try this several times, saying k...k...k...k...k...k... You need to learn to open the back of the mouth again soon enough, using the belly muscles to expel fresh air from the lungs. For 'getting enough pressure from mouth to maintain a sound for very long when breathing in' a good exercise is to blow up balloons and become aware of how much pressure you can generate with your mouth - then use the same pressure on the didj. It helps build your cheek muscles.

I may be putting up my own didj web site soon and have a question. What's the best way to record a didj? Should I use a standard microphone or is there a better pickup device to use?

Recording a didj is best done with a microphone that can handle low frequencies well (without cutting off too many high frequencies) - usually drum microphones or best a full range condenser. Failing those, a voice microphone will do fine too.

I understand the concept of circular breathing. However, I am having difficultly generating a drone with just cheek & mouth pressure. Do you have any suggestions?

One good exercise is to blow up balloons. Become aware how much pressure you have in your cheeks when doing so.

Then grab your didj and while doing the base drone (don't attempt circular breathing), use your cheek muscles to increase the pressure of the air going thought the didj, just like you do with the balloon (imagine your mouth being a pair of bellows). You will hear the pitch change.

Work on getting the change more and more pronounced and on doing a few pitch changes in one breath. Change back and forth between balloon and didj. This will help you strengthen your cheek muscles.

This is one of the many exercises from our teaching video.

I have recently taken up the didj and want to know what I can do to eliminate the red ring I get around my mouth when playing. I have heard there is some sort of wax treatment that can be put on the mouth piece. Is this true?

It sounds as if you are playing on a didj without a mouth piece. Pushing your lips onto timber hard enough to get a good seal will result in very visible red marks.

Traditionally Aborigines used 'sugar bag' to ease this problem. Sugar bag is beeswax from native Australian bees. We strongly discourage the use of this very limited natural resource and advise using honey bees wax, which is essentially the same thing. For tips on how to apply beeswax to the top of your didj, see How to make a didj for less than $10!.

Please note that even with a beeswax mouth piece you might still have some red marks around your mouth after prolonged playing until you get used to playing a lot, but it will certainly reduce the problem markedly.

Recently purchased a bullroarer from you but don't really know how to use it properly. I find the string tangles up and I have to stop to untangle it all. I'm probably doing something fundamentally stupid?

No you are not doing anything stupid. Bullroarers are typically played only for short periods of time. Skilled players learn to play it until the string gets fairly twisted, catch it and then play it again allowing it to unspin and spin up the other way, catch it, allow it to change spin, etc.

If forced to keep spinning, eventually the string will break. Some people add swivels which allows them to spin the bullroarer for extended periods without the cord getting twisted up.

When the playing speed is 3 can it still be played slowly as easily or nearly as easily as a 1 or 2 speed? Alternatively, I could ask if there is a point in buying a didge with a speed of 1 or 2 when 3 can do both.

It is correct that a didj with the speed of 3 can be played easily slow, but not as easily as a 2 or 1. It is true that a didj with 3 for speed is a good choice for any playing style, but some people are for example looking specifically for a fast didj and they are better off with a didj which has a 4 or 5 for speed since those will play faster than a 3. So a 3 is a good all-rounder but it is not the best choice if you want a very fast or slow playing didj.

How do you make the didj cry (Vocal Shouts)?

I assume you are referring to vocal shouts etc.

Any sound you can make without using your lips, you can incorporate into didj playing.
A simple example is R. While you do the base sound on the didj, do a rolling R with your vocal cords and you should hear it. You can then experiment with screams, words, animal calls and or anything else you can think of.

One thing to remember when playing the didj and especially when doing vocals: what comes out of the didj sounds a lot better than what you as the player hear. The didj amplifies sounds and you only hear the sound before the amplification. You can hear a lot better what actually comes out of the didj if you can play the didj into a tiled corner. The very smooth surface will throw the sound coming out of the didj back at you.

I have your video and have learned how to do the circular breathing. But I find that it's hard to keep going beyond 15 or 20 breaths. I was wondering at what pace generally is good to inhale, like how often, quite often or play longer and inhale less often. I just can't seem to get it and it's hard to tell on the video how often an in-breath is taken

This is a very good question and a common problem for new players.
It is caused by anxiety resulting in shallow breathing. People either have very little air in the lungs or keeping a large volume of air in the lungs, but only refresh a small percentage of it. Either way they do not get enough oxygen in the long run.
What is happening to you is a result of not being relaxed. It's similar to what happens to some new divers. They have plenty of air, but for many the unusual way of breathing causes anxiety making them feel they do not get enough air.

Here some exercises which can help:

When playing and circular breathing, work towards filling your lungs totally up by taking several breath. Once they feel very full, play without breathing until they are fairly empty. Then breathe again several times until your lungs are full again. Repeat this pattern for a while.

This is good in helping you to realise that you can fill your lungs when you need to and that you can play for quite long periods without breathing when your lungs are full.

Another exercise is to play very slow and soft, so you can play for longer times on one breath and then taking a large breath (when playing soft and slow you have more time to breathe, so you can get more air). Then play fast and loud with lots of breathing and keep switching between the two modes without stopping.

There is no rule as to how often to inhale or how strong as it depends on the didj and the way you are playing. If playing fast and loud you will have to breathe a lot more than when playing soft and slow. The key to good didj playing is to learn to change the frequency of breathing and the amount of air you breathe in in one breath. But the main aim is to relax when playing.

So play around with these variables and you will see that your playing will improve and you will be a lot more relaxed when playing your didj.

On the forked didges you sell, if two people play them at once, is the sound different from just playing two separate didges?

Forks can only be played by two people at the same time if the join is in the bottom half of the didj. Otherwise it is too difficult to circular breathe while the other player pressurises the didj.

If the fork can be played by two people, it will sound different to each side being played by itself. A fork has usually three different musical keys and it is mostly used by a single player who can change between two different keys without stopping to play by sealing or opening the other mouthpiece with his hand.

I bought a bullroarer from you and I am wondering if there is any way i can make it be heard from a long distant away?

The bullroarer should be spun around its own long axis and at the same time be spun around the head on its cord. If done correctly you will hear a humming sound. The pitch and volume of the sound depends on the strength of the spin. You will have to stop after a short time and allow it to spin the opposite way, as the string will get twisted and can break if forced to keep twisting.

Traditionally one of the main uses of the bullroarer was in advertising that a secret ceremony is happening and everyone knew to stay away when they heard it.

Typically several boomerangs were played throughout the ceremony. In the silent Australian outback that sound could be heard for hundreds or even thousands of meters. But you will have to remember that Aborigines have good ears and that their country was very silent (unlike ours). The eerie sound was easily heard because it was unlike anything natural.

So if you want the bullroarer heard from a long distance, take it to a quiet spot...

I received my didj today and after watching video and playing for a few minutes my upper lip began to itch and then became very swollen.

Yes I have heard of this happening and to some extend have experienced it myself when first learning to play the didj. I believe the problem is caused by the (so far unusual) vibration and pressure on the lips creating swelling. Some people simply react stronger to it than others. Even Trevor, who does our recordings and plays didj a lot, sometimes has big lips after a long recording session...
So don't worry, just play more often and not too long in one session and your lips will get used to the increased blood flow. After a few days/weeks you will find that you can play longer and longer without your lips swelling.

I would like to know what are the musical keys corresponding to? D, C, #D etc.

Our alphabetical keys are related to the European keys as follows:

do, re ,mi ,fa ,sol ,la , ti
C , D , E , F , G , A , B

do, re ,mi ,fa ,sol ,la , ti is a C major scale, it includes only the white keys on the piano.

Our full range of keys C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B includes all the piano keys, even the black ones.

I am a musical composer from Canada and am in the process of writing a musical with didgeridoo being an instrument involved. I am interested in knowing the tuning properties of the didgeridoo. Are there didj's tuned to specific pitches? Like say if I wrote for didj, could I ask that it would be in G or A? Thank you so much for your help.

You certainly can specify any musical key in your composition, providing the player has a didj in that key.

The more common keys are D# down to C and B. You can get F, F#, G, G#, A and A# both in 1st and 2nd octave (on piano), but they are harder to get in good quality.

Our 1st and concert class didjes are in tune, but almost all other sellers of termite hollowed didgeridoos do not bother about tuning their didjes.

Many quality non-termite hollowed didjes are tuned, however.

G and A are not very common keys, but professional players could very well have these keys. {if not we sell them :) }

I have a didge with a low beautiful tone, but it has a very low volume, is there a way to make it sound louder?

There is no way I know to increase the volume of a didj. The only thing you can do is amplify it. You can do so with a microphone and amplifier or you can play the didj into a (preferably tiled) corner so the sound is thrown back at you.

The latter is a good way to play the didj when learning as you will be able to hear much better what comes out of the didj.

I am not quite sure what the term playing fast and playing slow means with respect to didges. I have ideas but am just not sure.

What we mean with playing slow or playing fast is simply the speed of rhythms one can play. On some didjes - usually longer ones it is impossible to play a fast rhythm because you cannot move that much air that fast. On some short didjes you can only play fast as otherwise you'd loose the drone.

Generally the fast type is well suited to rim and power players while the slower didjes are better suited to haunting and meditative playing.

As some medium size didjes tend to lean one or the other way we believe it is valuable information for musicians.

How do you sound like a Kookaburra on the Didj?

The Kookaburra sound is made by using your vocal cords.
While playing you say: kakakakaka
In the beginning the sound might not be as clear and strong as you like but with a bit of training that will improve. Also remember that what you hear when playing the didj is nowhere near as good as the sound coming out of the bottom of the didj. Playing into a tiled corner will allow you to better hear the real sound you make.

I want to know if there's any special position for the mouth to play didjeridoo... because I play with my mouth frontal, but I've seen people who play like blowing with a side of the mouth there is one correct position... or a position that makes easier circular respiration?

There is no correct way of playing.
For some people its easier to play from the side for some people its easier to play from the front.
You can play whichever way you like or whichever way is easier for you.

Which is the correct position of the mouth in playing the didgeridoo? Should it be with the front of the mouth, introducing the lips completely into the mouthpiece or with the side of the mouth introducing only part of the lips?
There is no correct position.
You can play either from the front or from the side of your mouth. Some people find it easier to play from the front, others prefer playing from the side.
So it is up to you, whichever is easier for you.

Please can you tell me if it is safe to continue playing my didge while I'm pregnant?
It is perfectly safe to keep playing didj while you are pregnant. There is in some Aboriginal tribes a belief that woman can get pregnant from playing a didj (it might come from the fact that in some tribes the owner of a didj can rape any woman touching it). But there is no scientific evidence for any negative effect of playing the didj for foetuses.

In fact my experience is the opposite. The foetus seems to like the sound and many times it helps to calm it (when it kicks a lot). It is also good for you, the mother as it relaxes you and there are many nerve endings in your lips which are stimulated in a relaxing way. Woman who play didj have usually easy birth and playing the didj onto the foetus and uterus helps to relax the mother and baby and facilitates easier birth.

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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.