Facts About the Didgeridoo

by David Johnston
The length of a didgeridoo affects the tones it can produce.

The length of a didgeridoo affects the tones it can produce.

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With lengths anywhere from 3 to 30 feet long and with an ability to produce an almost animal-like exotic sound unlike any other woodwind instrument, the didgeridoo is an impressive and fascinating instrument. Long a part of Australia's native heritage, the didgeridoo continues to be an important part of Aboriginal culture and has also found increasing popularity among music enthusiasts and hobbyists around the world.

History

The didgeridoo originated with aboriginal peoples in the northern part of Australia. Though some local lore places the instrument at up to 40,000 years old, archaeological evidence indicates the didgeridoo has been used for about 2,000 years. The first written account of the didgeridoo appears in 1835, about 60 years after Australia was colonized by Europe.

Construction

Didgeridoos have been traditionally made from a still living tree, usually of the eucalyptus species, that has been partially eaten by termites. Aboriginal craftsmen make the instruments from the trunk of the tree. They seek trunks that are sufficiently hollow and at least four feet long. The log is dried, stripped of its bark and shaped to the ideal thickness and finish. Beeswax is added to the mouthpiece and the body may be decorated with paint.

How Didgeridoos Are Played

Seasoned didgeridoo players are highly skilled and employ tongue, throat and diaphragm manipulations to produce pulsed and varied sounds. However, to create a basic didgeridoo tone, place the beeswax mouth piece around your lips creating an airtight seal. Purse your lips together loosely and pass air through them causing them to vibrate. Adjust your air rate by either blowing harder or softer to produce the desired effect.

How Didgeridoos Are Maintained

In the past, Aboriginal craftsmen coated their didgeridoos with plant resins to protect the outside surface. Any holes that may have developed over time would have been plugged with beeswax or plant resin. Today, PVC glue is more commonly used to coat the surface and plug holes. Sometimes electrical tape is wound around the body to cover larger cracks.

About the Author

David Johnston works internationally as a freelance writer and editor in a number of professional fields. He received his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Photo Credits

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