Didgeridoo Tutorial - Part 1 - Controlling The Tone
Copyright 1996 David Blonski.... (taken from David's CD Tutorial)
is a unique and fascinating wind instrument that has its origins with the
Aboriginal People of Northern Australia. Nobody knows how old this instrument
actually is but there is some speculation that it is perhaps on of the oldest
instruments on the planet. According to Aboriginal Dreamtime Myth, the
didgeridoo has been around since the beginning of time and it played an important
part in "sounding" the world into form during the process of creation.
Traditionally, Didgeridoos are
made from the trunks or branches of eucalyptus trees that have been hollowed
out by termites or they are made from hollow bamboo stalks that grow in the
tropical Northern Territories. Today you can also find them made from
hand hollowed Agave cactus stalks and limbs from a wide variety of woods and
even manmade materials such as plastics, graphite, fiberglass, and metals. No
matter what kind of Didgeridoo you play the effect of the sound upon the player
and listener is nothing short of amazing. The primal drone and haunting
overtones seem to echo something out of the forgotten past, perhaps re-opening
a doorway that can give us a deeper connection with the creative force that
animates our world and the cosmos.
Good day and welcome to this Comprehensive
Guide to Contemporary Playing of the Didgeridoo. My name is David
Blonski and it's my hope that these instructions will make learning the
didgeridoo as easy as possible by separating the basic playing techniques into
simple, easy to learn, individual components that you can put together later
in any fashion that you desire. You will find that as we go along,
the didgeridoo itself will teach you quite a bit as you become more experienced
and comfortable with the instrument.
We'll explore didjeridoo playing
in three segments. First we'll work on the various ways that we
can create sounds with the Didjeridoo. Next we'll work on circular
breathing and then we'll finish up by learning rhythmical playing techniques.
If you follow this tutorial closely and master the material covered you will
have made considerable progress in becoming a proficient player.
begin by loosening up the muscles of the mouth and lips. Open the
mouth wide then tighten and loosen up the lips around the teeth.
Try making a few unusual faces as you stretch and loosen the muscles of
the mouth tongue and lips. Now try vibrating your lips loosely by
expelling air from the lungs using your diaphragm.
use this loose lip technique while blowing into the didgeridoo to create
and evenly sustained fundamental tone. Creating this droning tone
is a very important first step and it is the foundation for everything
else you will learn in this tutorial.
do this by buzzing your lips together into the didgeridoo the way you would
when playing the larger brass instruments. The lips should be very
relaxed and much looser than when playing the trumpet. It's
really much more like the tuba. Keep in mind that although I prefer
a central straight ahead blowing technique, many prefer playing from the
side using the corner of the mouth. Either is correct and some Aboriginal
players use both techniques. Try both ways and use the one that
you prefer the most.
a trumpet your lips will go something like this… vibrate lips
for the didgeridoo do this…. buzzing the lips
sure that you form a good seal on the didgeridoo and don't let any
air escape around the edges of the mouth piece. Now try, once
again, buzzing your lips into the didgeridoo.
you first get a tone on the didjeridoo it may sound a bit ragged or
strained or perhaps not quite the full sound that you want. This
is where we all start so just remember to keep the lips relaxed.
Once you get any sound at all just relax the lips and concentrate on
getting the lips to vibrate with just a soft breath. Sooner or later
you will slip into that place that will create a full and deep didgeridoo
tone. After some practice you'll find that you can start
right in with the correct basic tone. You should practice this
fundamental tone quite a bit without worrying about getting into other
things. Make sure that you are getting a good clear tone
before going on. At first it may take quite a bit of air pressure
to get the lips vibrating, but ideally, very little air is needed once
you become familiar with the technique. Once you get proficient
you should be able to sustain a single tone for 15 to 30 seconds on
a single breath. You should really concentrate on a soft breath
technique that will allow you to sustain a clear note for as long as
you can play a clear note for more than a few seconds you can experiment
with modulating the sound by varying the volume as you sustain a single
tone. Try playing loud then soft and then loud again without causing
a break in the tone.
is generally accomplished by controlling the volume of air expelled
from the lungs and more specifically it should be controlled by the
diaphragm. By reaching deep within you for the source of the sound
you will get better tone and more control over the dynamics of the sound
as well. Now let's try speeding up this modulation of the
that we've experimented with modulating the volume let's explore
the world of tone modulation. This mainly involves how you tighten
and loosen your lips and cheek muscles and how you move your tongue
around inside your mouth to change the shape of your mouth and to change
the way the air flows to your lips. I find it very similar to
shaping vowel sounds without actually vocalizing them.
The first modulation we'll try is by shaping the shape of your cheeks.
First we'll play the drone sound with our cheeks puffed out.
Then we'll slowly tighten the cheek muscles and constrict them inward. This will change the shape of the mouth cavity and therefore the tonal
characteristics of the sound
let's try speeding up this modulation like we did before with the
If we accentuate this modulation
sharply we can get rhythmic and or percussive sounds commonly know as
next modulation we'll try for is what I call the oooo…eeee… tongue modulation . If you move your tongue back and forth inside
your mouth as if saying the ooo… eeee vowel sounds,
you'll find that your tongue starts out back away from your teeth
and then it is forced up against the back of your lower front teeth
and lower lip as it arches towards the pallet as you swing into the
eeee… part of the modulation. This narrows the size of the oral
cavity and changes the way your lips vibrate, creating a change in the
tonal quality of the sound you make. Now simply listen to the
sounds I make and then try to emulate them.
first efforts will probably only result in weak and fairly indistinct
modulations, I know that's what happened for me. It's
really a matter of personal experimentation to find out what movements
work for you in creating tonal changes. The more you play the
more familiar you'll become with the didge and the more you'll
find techniques to alter the tonal qualities of the instrument.
With time and practice your modulations will become much more distinct.
Here's what happens when we take the same modulation and play it
practice these modulations will become stronger and you will be able
to add some very powerful harmonics and overtones to the basic didge
drone. You will find these very useful later in our exploration
of rhythmical didjeridoo styles.
let's try a more complex pattern by going through the entire a..e..i..o..u vowel articulations without actually vocalizing these sounds.
through these articulations quickly and you'll begin to see how
rhythmical patterns can start to be built.
you begin to experiment with the vowel and consonant articulations it
may have already become apparent to you that the actual vocalization
of sounds can add a great deal of depth and complexity to your playing.
The technique of adding vocalizations to your playing is indeed a very
large and important aspect to advanced didjeridu playing. Things
like high pitched screams, barks and grunts are very obvious when heard
but subtle vowel and consonant vocalizations are just as important. Just remember that no matter what type of vocalizations you use, you
must remember to keep the lips vibrating the fundamental tome without
Let's try some of the more obvious screams and grunts. Try
doing this into the Didge as you vibrate your lips. Arrrh….Arrrrh
are very attention grabbing effects that can add a lot of excitement
to your playing but the more subtle vocalizations can be more musically
useful and intriguing.
you have just heard is a wide range of subtle vocalization techniques
used with lip, tongue and cheek modulations along with the shaping of
vowel and consonant sounds. There is no other instrument that
I know of that can create such a diverse and complex range of sonic
textures by a single player at one time. The best way to learn
how to use your voice with the didgeridoo is to simply just do it.
Experiment freely with different vocal patterns and you will quickly
learn which ones yield the best results. Soon you will discover
that you'll be using vocalizations in a major portion of your didge
Another very useful effect is the sound that you can create by using
the rolling Spanish R. Just trill your tongue like this …rrrrr…. You can do this with
or without vocalizations.
although what I play and teach should not be considered Aboriginal style
playing, it is still very valuable to take some time to learn a little
of the traditional Aboriginal vocabulary of the instrument. This
will give you a starting or jumping off point in your own exploration
of the instrument. In the Outback one is encouraged to go out
into the bush to emulate the sounds of nature so a lot of Aboriginal
playing emulates the sounds of animals which can actually tell a story.
Let's start out with the Dingo, the wild dog of Australia.
We do this by barking or howling like a dog into the instrument. Try ark..ark….woof…woof for the barks and ar..
ar.. ar.. aahhooo… for the howl
bush pigeon is similar in nature to the owl. Hoo..
very common sound used in Aboriginal playing is the sound of the Kookaburra
The Kangaroo is a non-vocal interpretation of a kangaroo hopping through
the bush and my interpretation is created by shaping the sound of too-eee-aaahh. Really push with the diaphragm to accentuate the "too" part of the sound.
clear high harmonics on the Didjeridu usually takes quite a bit of practice
but when you can get them they can be used to create the sound of a
boomerang as it travels through the air in a non-vocalized yo-yo-yo-yo-yo or a yoee-yoee-yoee-yoee
about a cricket. This is done by vocalizing the highest pitch
you can while trilling the tongue as in the Spanish R rrrr…rrrr...rrrr…rrrr
should give you a good idea of how to come up with sounds on your own. Just go out and listen to what nature has to say to you.
Copyright 1996 David Blonski