With all the hype around the didgeridoo in recent years…
Multi-instrumentalists around the world have begun adding them to their instrument collections…
As if the didgeridoo was a must-have item for any “serious” musician.
Where did this sudden surge of popularity arise from?
Maybe it stems from the recent studies which have found that playing the didgeridoo regularly can be an effective and natural solution to combat snoring and sleep apnea.
(I’ve tried this personally, and yes it actually does work).
Maybe it stems from the fact that it’s just super cool and fun to play with…
And the world is finally realizing that.
But whatever YOUR reason for wanting to learn more about this fascinating instrument…
In today’s post, I intend to show you both a detailed background on the didgeridoo itself, and help you along through the buying process if you need help with that as well.
Ready? Then let’s begin.
A Little Background of the Instrument
The didgeridoo was developed by Indigenous Australians sometime within the last 1,500 years.
Fun fact, the word “didgeridoo” is actually a western invention from the early 20th century, inspired by the sound produced by the instrument.
Aboriginal people used — and still use — a lot of different names for the didgeridoo, depending on their location in Australia.
Traditionally only men played the didgeridoo during ceremonial rites, even though women have always played informally.
Here’s an Australian aboriginal playing the didgeridoo:
So that’s for the history part.
Anatomy and Construction of the Didgeridoo
One may think it doesn’t really get any simpler than a didgeridoo right?
Well, although that is true to some extent, the fact that so many factors influence the sound of the didgeridoo makes it just as complex an instrument.
And so, the didgeridoo is basically a wooden, hollow cylinder whose length varies between 1 and 3m, with an average of around 1.2m.
Nowadays there are 2 main types of didgeridoo construction:
- Traditional – which uses hardwoods — mainly eucalyptus — and ancient construction methods
- Non-traditional – which uses other types of woods as well as other materials
So let’s look into these 2 types in more details, shall we?
1. Traditional Construction
Traditional construction is the method used by aboriginal people since the “invention” of didgeridoo.
It requires a termite-carved piece of wood, usually taken from the trunk of a eucalyptus tree which is one of the most common tree in Australia.
Here’s a video of one of Australia’s most famous aboriginal didgeridoo player, making his own didgeridoo from scratch:
2. Non-Traditional Construction
With the ever-growing popularity of the didgeridoo a little bit everywhere around the world…
It was only a matter of time until some new, innovating didges appeared. And this is what happened about 30 years ago, when the first non-wooden didgeridoo was launched.
Fast forward to today, and companies such as Meinl and Toca, which are famous for their quality percussion instruments basically lead the market when it comes to synthetic didgeridoos.
Synthetic didges have many advantages, such as:
- They’re very durable – since they’re not sensitive to weather changes, unlike wood
- They actually produce a great sound – you’ll be surprised how close to a traditional didge the sound is
- They’re cheap
On the other hand, you won’t get all the variations inherent to wood. That being said, if you want to be sure to choose a model that is consistent accross its range, synthetic didges are the safest bet.
Now, apart from synthetic materials, nowadays a lot of didges are made out of bamboo.
Bamboo is a very cheap, highly available and sustainable material, producing surprisingly good sound.
Watch the video below to have an idea of he sound you can get out of a bamboo didgeridoo:
The didgeridoo is probably one of the only wind instrument to not have a mouthpiece.
However, many players use a “beeswax mouthpiece” that they apply on the blowing end of the instrument, in order to help create a tight seal.
Non-traditional didgeridoos generally use other types of mouthpieces, such as rubber stoppers.
Here are the mouthpieces I recommend:
Didgeridoos are drone instrument, meaning they play one note only. However, this doesn’t mean they’re not capable of some degree of harmonic complexity.
In fact, playing around with harmonics and overtones is a pillar of didgeridoo technique.
If you’re not sure about what I mean, take a look at this video, and listen to it with headphones or a good speaker:
Can you hear it? You can hear the fundamental, which is the “key” note of the didgeridoo and on top of it, you can hear the musician playing other tones: these are the overtones, or harmonics.
Now, that’s one of the main reason choosing a traditional or synthetic didgeridoo is kind of a big deal:
- Traditional didges never sound the same as they have unique holes and grooves made by the termites.
- Non-traditional didges on the other hand offer some sonic consistency between different copies of the same model since they’re manufactured the same.
Harmonics and overtones won’t be the same whether you play a traditional didgeridoo, or a synthetic one.
Now, being drone instrument also means you can’t play a different note, or a different key than that it is tuned to (apart from the overtones and harmonics)…
However, some manufacturers developed “tunable” didgeridoos, or “trombone” didgeridoos as some call them, which have a slideable design, allowing you to change theit pitch.
Flared vs. Unflared Didgeridoos
Whether the non-mouthpiece end of the didgeridoo is flared or not will have a significant influence on the sound.
Flared didgeridoos produce a higher pitched sound than an unflared didgeridoo of the same length, but most importantly, they are LOUDER and produce deeper bass than unflared didges.
No type of didge is better, they’re just different.
Have a look at the video below to hear the differences between both types for yourself:
Got it? Next up…
Circular Breathing/Playing Technique
I couldn’t write about the didgeridoo without addressing the particular techniques required to play it.
The most famous technique is called circular breathing, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
It is supposed to allow you to keep playing continuously, while breathing. Once you master this technique, you’ll be able to play a sound for virtually as long as you want, without ever interrupting it.
Check out the video below for a good explanation of the technique:
And if you enjoyed that, here’s part 2.
Many other and more modern techniques have been emerging in the last decade, such as beatboxing at the same time.
Another famous playing technique includes imitating famous Australian animals’ sounds.
Watch the video below to understand what I’m talking about as well as to see how to perform these sounds:
A Cure for Snoring?
Funnily enough, playing the didgeridoo has health benefits. Don’t believe me? Well, a very serious 2005 study has proven that playing the didgeridoo actually reduced snoring and sleep apnea.
How? Well, snoring is the result of the muscles in he upper airway collapsing during sleep, and regularly playing the didgeridoo strengthens these very muscles…
Allowing them to stay straight during sleep and therefore preventing you from snoring.
Take a look at this video for a good explanation of how the didgeridoo helps in snoring management:
Pretty cool, huh?
But that’s not all actually, because if you’re like the 235 million people in the world who suffer from asthma…
You’ll probably want to know that an actual 2010 study conducted on aboriginal teens concluded that subjects with asthma showed significant improvement of their condition when they played the didgeridoo regularly.
So now that you’ve learned pretty much everything there is to know about this cool instument, the next thing to do is obviously to choose one.
And so here is a list of the best didgeridoos I recommend, ordered in 2 price categories:
6 Beginner Didgeridoos under $50
Surprisingly there is A TON of didgeridoos in this category… Including bamboo didgeridoos.
So you have a lot of options to choose from but here are the 6 top ones I recommend:
- Toca DIDG-CTS – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Meinl Percussion Bamboo – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- World Percussion Handcrafted Didgeridoo – (Amazon)
- World Percussion Hand Fired Didgeridoo – (Amazon)
- Meinl Trombone Didgeridoo – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Toca Synthetic Flared Didgeridoo – (Amazon)
5 Options $100 and up
Now, from this price point on, you get very high quality didgeridoos, mostly made of eucalyptus, and some of them even offer tuning capability thanks to a slidable design that allows to shorten or expand the didgeridoo.
- Terre Slide (tunable didgeridoo) – (Amazon)
- Terre Teak Didgeridoo – (Amazon)
- Meinl Professional Flared Didgeridoo (fiberglass) – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Thomann Proline Series (various keys) – (Thomann)
- Meinl SDDG1-SI (Fiberglass) – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
Let’s be honest, one of the first thing people notice when they see a didgeridoo for the first time is…
And the truth is that having such a cumbersome instrument is not always super practical.
To address this issue, some manufacturer developed radically different designs that still produce that typical didgeridoo sound.
There are a few different designs but the most popular ones are:
- The spiral – (like the one on the image above)
- The box – which the most compact design of all
Here’s a cool video comparing 3 types of portable didges, including the spiral and box-shaped ones:
- Meinl DDG-BOX – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Meinl DDG-BOX2 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- X8 Spiral – (Amazon/GuitarC)
- X8 Spiral PT-BG – (Amazon)
- Jive S-Shaped Didgeridoo – (Amazon)
Custom Dideridoo Shops
If you’re looking for a truly unique piece of art, then you might want to look into custom made didgeridoos.
Although traditional didgeridoos are — by definition — unique, getting a didgeridoo that was specifically made for you is just something else.
The big advantage here is that some manufacturers let the client decide basically everything, resulting in a didgeridoo tailored to the client’s needs. Some of them let you decide:
- The key you want your didgeridoo to be
- The type of wood you want – some of them even let you bring your own lumber to their shop
- Size of the inner hole
- Whether it’s flared or not
- And so on…
Some shops actually ask you what type of music you play, what instruments will you be playing with and other questions alike, instead of asking for technical details.
Anyway, if this is what you are after, here’s alist of the most experienced and successful custom didgeridoo shops:
And That’s It
There you have it, the beginner’s guide to the didgeridoo.
So hopefully you now know enough about the didgeridoo to make an informed purchase.
‘Til next time.