Various Types of Didgeridoo.JPG
Top: Traditionally crafted & decorated
Middle: Bamboo souvenir didgeridoo
Bottom: Traditionally crafted & undecorated
Brass instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification
(Aerophone sounded by lip movement)
Playing range
Written range:
Range trumpet.png
Related instruments
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet, Bugle,
Natural trumpet, Post horn, Roman tuba, Bucina, Shofar, Conch, Lur, Baritone horn, Bronze Age Irish Horn

The didgeridoo (also known as a didjeridu or didge) is a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians of northern Australia around 1,500 years ago and still in widespread usage today both in Australia and around the world. It is sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or "drone pipe". Musicologists classify it as a brass aerophone.[1]

There are no reliable sources stating the didgeridoo's exact age. Archaeological studies of rock art in Northern Australia suggest that the people of the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory have been using the didgeridoo for less than 1,000 years, based on the dating of paintings on cave walls and shelters from this period.[2] A clear rock painting in Ginga Wardelirrhmeng, on the northern edge of the Arnhem Land plateau, from the freshwater period[3] shows a didgeridoo player and two songmen participating in an Ubarr Ceremony.[4]

A modern didgeridoo is usually cylindrical or conical, and can measure anywhere from 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) long. Most are around 1.2 m (4 ft) long. The length is directly related to the 1/2 sound wavelength of the keynote. Generally, the longer the instrument, the lower the pitch or key of the instrument.



"Didgeridoo" is considered to be an onomatopoetic word of Western invention. It has also been suggested that it may be derived from the Irish words dúdaire or dúidire, meaning variously 'trumpeter; constant smoker, puffer; long-necked person, eavesdropper; hummer, crooner' and dubh, meaning "black" (or dúth, meaning "native").[5] However, this theory is not widely accepted.

The earliest occurrences of the word in print include a 1919 issue of Smith's Weekly where it was referred to as an "infernal didjerry" which "produced but one sound - (phonic) didjerry, didjerry, didjerry and so on ad infinitum", the 1919 Australian National Dictionary, The Bulletin in 1924 and the writings of Herbert Basedow in 1926. There are numerous names for this instrument among the Aboriginal people of northern Australia, with yiḏaki one of the better known words in modern Western society. Yiḏaki, also sometimes spelt yirdaki, refers to the specific type of instrument made and used by the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. However, Yolngu themselves are currently using the synonym mandapul to refer to the instrument, out of respect for the passing of a Manggalili-clan man in early 2011 whose name sounds similar to yiḏaki. Many didgeridoo enthusiasts and some scholars advocate reserving tribal names for tribal instruments, and this practice has been endorsed by some Aboriginal community organisations,[6] though in day-to-day conversation bilingual Aboriginal people will often use the word "didgeridoo" interchangeably with the instrument's name in their own language.

Regional names

There are at least 45 regional names for the didgeridoo. The following are some of the more common of these.[7]

Tribal Group Region Local Name
Anindilyakwa Groote Eylandt ngarrriralkpwina
Yolngu Arnhem Land Mandapul (Yidaki)
Gupapuygu Arnhem Land Yiraka
Djinang Arnhem Land Yirtakki
Iwaidja Cobourg Peninsula artawirr
Gagudju Kakadu garnbak
Ngarluma Roebourne, W.A. Kurmur
Nyul Nyul Kimberleys ngaribi
Warray Adelaide River bambu
Mayali Alligator Rivers martba
Pintupi Central Australia paampu
Arrernte Alice Springs Ilpirra

Construction and play

A wax mouthpiece can soften during play, forming a better seal.

Authentic Aboriginal didgeridoos are produced in traditionally oriented communities in Northern Australia or by makers who travel to Central and Northern Australia to collect the raw materials. They are usually made from hardwoods, especially the various eucalyptus species that are endemic to the region.[8] Sometimes a native bamboo, such as Bambusa arnhemica, or pandanus is used. Generally the main trunk of the tree is harvested, though a substantial branch may be used instead. Aboriginal didgeridoo craftsmen hunt for suitably hollow live trees in areas with obvious termite activity. Termites attack these living eucalyptus trees, removing only the dead heartwood of the tree, as the living sapwood contains a chemical that repels the insects. [9] Various techniques are employed to find trees with a suitable hollow, including knowledge of landscape and termite activity patterns, and a kind of tap or knock test, in which the bark of the tree is peeled back, and a fingernail or the blunt end of a tool, such as an axe is knocked against the wood to determine if the hollow produces the right resonance.[10]

Once a suitably hollow tree is found, it is cut down and cleaned out, the bark is taken off, the ends trimmed, and the exterior is shaped; this results in a finished instrument. This instrument may be painted or left undecorated. A rim of beeswax may be applied to the mouthpiece end. Traditional instruments made by Aboriginal craftsmen in Arnhem Land are sometimes fitted with a 'sugarbag' mouthpiece. This black beeswax comes from wild bees and has a distinctive aroma.

Non-traditional didgeridoos can also be made from PVC piping, non-native hard woods (typically split, hollowed and rejoined), glass, fiberglass, metal, agave, clay, hemp (a bioplastic named zelfo), and even carbon fiber. These didges typically have an upper inside diameter of around 1.25" down to a bell end of anywhere between two to eight inches and have a length corresponding to the desired key. The mouthpiece can be constructed of beeswax, hardwood or simply sanded and sized by the craftsman. In PVC, an appropriately sized rubber stopper with a hole cut into it is equally acceptable, or to finely sand and buff the end of the pipe to create a comfortable mouthpiece.

Modern didgeridoo designs are distinct from the traditional Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo, and are innovations recognized by musicologists.[11][12] Didgeridoo design innovation started in the late 20th Century using non-traditional materials and non-traditional shapes.

The didgeridoo is played with continuously vibrating lips to produce the drone while using a special breathing technique called circular breathing. This requires breathing in through the nose whilst simultaneously expelling stored air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks. By use of this technique, a skilled player can replenish the air in their lungs, and with practice can sustain a note for as long as desired. Recordings exist of modern didgeridoo players playing continuously for more than 40 minutes; Mark Atkins on Didgeridoo Concerto (1994) plays for over 50 minutes continuously.

Fellow of the British Society Anthony Baines wrote that the didgeridoo functions "...as an aural kaleidoscope of timbres"[13] and that "the extremely difficult virtuoso techniques developed by expert performers find no parallel elsewhere."[13]


Many didgeridoos are painted using traditional or modern paints by either their maker or a dedicated artist, however it is not essential that the instrument be decorated. It is also common to retain the natural wood grain with minimal or no decoration. Some modern makers deliberately avoid decoration if they are not of Indigenous Australian descent, or leave the instrument blank for an Indigenous Australian artist to decorate it at a later stage.

Physics and operation

An Aboriginal man playing the Didgeridoo at Circular Quay

A termite-bored didgeridoo has an irregular shape that, overall, usually increases in diameter towards the lower end. This shape means that its resonances occur at frequencies that are not harmonically spaced in frequency. This contrasts with the harmonic spacing of the resonances in a cylindrical plastic pipe, whose resonant frequencies fall in the ratio 1:3:5 etc. The second resonance of a didgeridoo (the note sounded by overblowing) is usually around an 11th higher than the fundamental frequency (a frequency ratio somewhat less than 3:1).

The vibration produced by the player's lips has harmonics, i.e., it has frequency components falling exactly in the ratio 1:2:3 etc. However, the non-harmonic spacing of the instrument's resonances means that the harmonics of the fundamental note are not systematically assisted by instrument resonances, as is usually the case for Western wind instruments (e.g., in a clarinet, the 1st 3rd and 5th harmonics of the reed are assisted by resonances of the bore, at least for notes in the low range).

Sufficiently strong resonances of the vocal tract can strongly influence the timbre of the instrument. At some frequencies, whose values depend on the position of the player's tongue, resonances of the vocal tract inhibit the oscillatory flow of air into the instrument. Bands of frequencies that are not thus inhibited produce formants in the output sound. These formants, and especially their variation during the inhalation and exhalation phases of circular breathing, give the instrument its readily recognizable sound.

Other variations in the didgeridoo's sound can be made by adding vocalizations to the drone. Most of the vocalizations are related to sounds emitted by Australian animals, such as the dingo or the kookaburra. To produce these sounds, the players simply have to use their vocal cords to produce the sounds of the animals whilst continuing to blow air through the instrument. The results range from very high-pitched sounds to much lower guttural vibrations. Adding vocalizations increases the complexity of the playing.

Cultural significance

Traditionally and originally, the didgeridoo was primarily played as an accompaniment to ceremonial dancing and singing. However, it was also common for didgeridoos to be played for solo or recreational purposes outside of ceremonial gatherings. For surviving Aboriginal groups of northern Australia, the didgeridoo is still an integral part of ceremonial life, as it accompanies singers and dancers in cultural ceremonies that continue. Today, the majority of didgeridoo playing is for recreational purposes in both Indigenous Australian communities and elsewhere around the world.

Pair sticks, sometimes called clapsticks or bilma, establish the beat for the songs during ceremonies. The rhythm of the didgeridoo and the beat of the clapsticks are precise, and these patterns have been handed down for many generations. In the Wangga genre, the song-man starts with vocals and then introduces blima to the accompaniment of didgeridoo.[14]

Gender prohibition

Traditionally, only men play the didgeridoo and sing during ceremonial occasions, although both men and women may dance. Female didgeridoo players do exist, but their playing takes place in an informal context and is not specifically encouraged. Linda Barwick, an ethnomusicologist, says that though traditionally women have not played the didgeridoo in ceremony, in informal situations there is no prohibition in the Dreaming Law.[15] For example, Jemima Wimalu, a Mara woman from the Roper River is very proficient at playing the didgeridoo and is featured on the record Aboriginal Sound Instruments released in 1978. In 1995, musicologist Steve Knopoff observed Yirrkala women performing djatpangarri songs that are traditionally performed by men and in 1996, ethnomusicologist Elizabeth MacKinley reported women of the Yanyuwa group giving public performances. On 3 September 2008, however, publisher Harper Collins issued a public apology for its book "The Daring Book for Girls" which openly encouraged girls to play the instrument.[16][17][2]

While there is no prohibition in the area of the didgeridoo's origin, such restrictions have been applied by other Indigenous communities. The didgeridoo was introduced to the Kimberlies almost a century ago but it is only in the last decade that Aboriginal men have shown adverse reactions to women playing the instrument and prohibitions are especially evident in the South East of Australia. The belief that women are prohibited from playing is widespread among non-Aboriginal people and is also common among Aboriginal communities in Southern Australia; some ethnomusicologists believe that the dissemination of the Taboo belief and other misconceptions is a result of commercial agendas and marketing. Tourists generally rely on shop employees for information when purchasing a didgeridoo. Additionally, the majority of commercial didgeridoo recordings available are distributed by multinational recording companies and feature non-Aboriginals playing a New Age style of music with liner notes promoting the instruments spirituality which misleads consumers about the didgeridoo's secular role in traditional Aboriginal culture.[2]

The Taboo belief is particularly strong among many Indigenous groups in the South East of Australia where non-Indigenous women, and especially performers of New Age music regardless of gender, playing or even touching a didgeridoo is forbidden and considered "cultural theft".[2]

In popular culture

A male protester at Occupy Wall Street playing the instrument, September 2011

The didgeridoo also became a role playing instrument in the experimental and avant-garde music scene. Industrial music bands like Test Department generated sounds from this instrument and used them in their industrial performances, linking ecology to industry, influenced by ethnic music and culture.

It has also been an instrument used for the fusion of tribal rhythms with a black metal sound, a music project called Naakhum that used the paganism of the Australian tribes and many others as an approach.

Health benefits

A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.[18] This strengthening occurs after the player has mastered the circular breathing technique.

See also

Selected bibliography

  • Ah Chee Ngala, P., Cowell C. (1996): How to Play the Didgeridoo - and history. ISBN 0646328409
  • Chaloupka, G. (1993): Journey in Time. Reed, Sydney.
  • Cope, Jonathan (2000): How to Play the Didgeridoo: a practical guide for everyone. ISBN 0-9539811-0-X.
  • Jones, T. A. (1967): "The didjeridu. Some comparisons of its typology and musical functions with similar instruments throughout the world". Studies in Music 1, pp. 23–55.
  • Kaye, Peter (1987): "How to Play the Didjeridu of the Australian Aboriginal - A Newcomer's Guide.
  • Kennedy, K. (1933): "Instruments of music used by the Australian Aborigines". Mankind (August edition), pp. 147–157.
  • Lindner, D. (ed) (2005): The Didgeridoo Phenomenon. From Ancient Times to the Modern Age. Traumzeit-Verlag, Germany.
  • Moyle, A. M. (1981): "The Australian didjeridu: A late musical intrusion". in World Archaeology, 12(3), 321–31.
  • Neuenfeldt, K. (ed) (1997): The didjeridu: From Arnhem Land to Internet. Sydney: J. Libbey/Perfect Beat Publications.


  1. ^ Brass Instruments, BBC
  2. ^ a b c d The Didjeridu: From Arnhemland to the Internet Perfect Beat Publishers Pg. 89 - 98 ISBN 18642003X
  3. ^ Kakadu National Park - Rock art styles
  4. ^ George Chaloupka, Journey in Time, p. 189.
  5. ^ http://www.flinders.edu.au/news/articles/?fj09v13s02
  6. ^ "Are "Didjeridu" and "Yidaki" the same thing?". Yidaki Dhawu Miwatjnurunydja. Buku Larrngay Mulka Centre. http://www.yirrkala.com/yidaki/dhawu/31samething.html. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  7. ^ The Didgeridoo and Aboriginal Culture Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre of Alice Springs
  8. ^ Taylor R., Cloake J, and Forner J. (2002) Harvesting rates of a Yolgnu harvester and comparison of selection of didjeridu by the Yolngu and Jawoyn, Harvesting of didjeridu by Aboriginal people and their participation in the industry in the Northern Territory (ed. R. Taylor) pp. 25–31. Report to AFFA Australia. Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment, Palmerston, NT.
  9. ^ McMahon, Charlie. (2004) The Ecology of Termites and Didjeridus, The Didgeridoo: From Ancient Times to the Modern Age (ed. David Lindner) Schönau: Traumzeit-Verlag
  10. ^ "How is a Yidaki Made?". Yidaki Dhawu Miwatjnurunydja. Buku Larrngay Mulka Centre. http://www.yirrkala.com/yidaki/dhawu/08howmade.html. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Wade-Matthews, M., Thompson, W., The Encyclopedia of Music, 2004, pp184–185. ISBN 0-760-76243-0
  12. ^ Wade-Matthews,M., Illustrated Encyclopedia Musical Instruments, 2003, Lorenz Books, p95. ISBN 1 357 91086 42
  13. ^ a b A Baines, The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments OUP 1992
  14. ^ Elkin, A. P. (1979) [1938]. The Australian Aborigines. Angus & Robertson. Sydney, NSW. p. 290. ISBN 0-207-1-3863-X. Quoted at Manikay.Com. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  15. ^ Women can play didgeridoo - taboo incites sales
  16. ^ Didgeridoo book upsets Aborigines, BBC
  17. ^ 'Daring Book for Girls' breaks didgeridoo taboo in Australia
  18. ^ Puhan MA, Suarez A, Lo Cascio C et al. (2005). "Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome: randomised controlled trial". BMJ 332 (7536): 266–70. doi:10.1136/bmj.38705.470590.55. PMC 1360393. PMID 16377643. http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/332/7536/266. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • didgeridoo — 1924, Australian, of imitative origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • didgeridoo — ► NOUN ▪ an Australian Aboriginal wind instrument in the form of a long wooden tube, blown to produce a deep resonant sound. ORIGIN from an Aboriginal language …   English terms dictionary

  • didgeridoo — [dij′ə rē do͞o΄, dij΄ə rē do͞o′] n. pl. didgeridoos [name in a language of N Australia] a wind instrument made from a long, hollowed branch that is blown on one end to produce a drone of low pitched, resonant tones: it originated among Aborigines …   English World dictionary

  • Didgeridoo — Das Didgeridoo [dɪdʒərɪˈduː] ist ein obertonreiches Blasinstrument aus der Familie der Aerophone auf dem Tonerzeugungsprinzip der Polsterpfeife und gilt als traditionelles Musikinstrument der nordaustralischen Aborigines. Im traditionellen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Didgeridoo — Le didgeridoo est un instrument de musique à vent. A l origine, cet instrument est joué par les Aborigènes du Nord de l Australie, son usage semble très ancien, certains prétendent qu il pourrait remonter à l âge de la pierre (20 000 ans), d… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Didgeridoo — Un didgeridoo. El didgeridoo, didjeridu o diyiridú es un instrumento de viento, o aerófono, ancestral utilizado por los aborígenes de Australia. Básicamente es un tubo de madera, el cual se hace sonar al hacer vibrar los labios en el interior. Se …   Wikipedia Español

  • Didgeridoo — Did|ge|ri|doo [dɪd̮ʒəri du: ], das; s, s [engl. didgeridoo, aus der Sprache der Ureinwohner Australiens, lautm.]: langes, röhrenförmiges Blasinstrument der australischen Ureinwohner. * * * Didgeridoo   [englisch, dɪdʒərɪ du, auch Didjeridu; in… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Didgeridoo — El didgeridoo es un instrumento de viento (o aerófono) ancestral utilizado por los aborigenes de Australia. Es un instrumento no melódico, que emite una vibración grave y profunda, la cual puede ser modulada y dotada de ritmo. Se supone que tiene …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • didgeridoo — UK [ˌdɪdʒərɪˈduː] / US [ˌdɪdʒərɪˈdu] noun [countable] Word forms didgeridoo : singular didgeridoo plural didgeridoos a traditional Australian musical instrument consisting of a long wooden tube that you blow into …   English dictionary

  • didgeridoo — {{#}}{{LM D43366}}{{〓}} {{[}}didgeridoo{{]}} {{《}}▍ s.m.{{》}} Instrumento de viento de origen australiano, y que originalmente consistía en una rama de bambú ahuecada y moldeada con cera en uno de sus extremos para apoyar la boca: • Vimos un… …   Diccionario de uso del español actual con sinónimos y antónimos

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