Didgeridoo Facts: Learn All About This Amazing Musical Instrument | Kidadl


Didgeridoo Facts: Learn All About This Amazing Musical Instrument

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The Aboriginal word for didgeridoo is yidaki, but it was known as a didgeridoo by settlers in Australia when they first encountered the instrument.

The didgeridoo is an Aboriginal musical instrument, first made in the Northern Territory of Australia. The Yolngu people from the Arnhem land in Northern Australia created this instrument.

The didgeridoo, didge, or didjeridu, is a wind instrument. It is played with continuously vibrating lips, to generate an uninterrupted low-pitch hum with the use of a special breathing method known as circular breathing. The Aboriginal tribes in northern Australia developed didgeridoo instruments almost 1,500 years ago and these are still in use. As such, the instrument is often associated with indigenous Australian music. Didgeridoo is known as yidaki in the Yolngu language. It is also known as mandapul, and mako in the Bininj Gun-Wok language in west Arnhem Land.

Didgeridoo is an onomatopoeic term and does not originate from Aboriginal languages. The oldest record of this word in print was in the 'Hamilton Spectator' newspaper in 1908. Other records include 'The Northern Territory Times' and 'Gazette' newspaper in 1914, and 'Smith's Weekly' newspaper in 1919.

Archeological studies are based on the dating of rock art paintings. A rock art painting shows two singing men and a didgeridoo player partaking in an Ubarr ceremony. It was found in Ginga Wardelirrhmeng on Arnhem Land plateau's northern edge and is of the freshwater period.

Didgeridoo is classified as an aerophone and is occasionally described as a drone pipe or wooden trumpet. Several other tribal groups have been using didgeridoo for centuries, including the Djinang of Arnhem Land, Pintupi of central Australia, Kakadu, and Gupappuygu of Arnhem Land.

Keep reading to learn more about the didgeridoo, its significance, and its use throughout Australian history.

Cultural Significance

The didgeridoo has been significant in Aboriginal tribal groups' culture of the Northern Territory for many centuries. Today, didgeridoos are not only used by Aboriginal people, but also by other musicians around the world. The didgeridoo was a traditional musical instrument for recreational goals, or ceremonial singing and dancing. It is still used to play music by Aboriginal dancers and singers during cultural ceremonies. Yidaki or didgeridoo is a part of the Yolngu people's cultural and physical environment and landscape, consisting of both spirit beings and people belonging to their Yolngu Matha language, kinship system, and country. This instrument is also associated with Yolngu law and supported by ceremonies in stories, visual art, dance, and songs.

During cultural ceremonies, the beat for any song is set by clapsticks, pair sticks, or bilma. This beat of bilma and rhythm of yidaki is precise, and this combination has been passed on to many generations. The music begins with vocals, then someone plays bilma with yidaki in the Wangga music genre. Traditionally, the didgeridoo musician is a man. Women wanting to play this instrument are occasionally discouraged by Aboriginal elders and the community. This musical instrument was also used as a mode of communication across long distances. The sound waves of the didgeridoo can be perceived as an echo through the ground. Every player has their own base rhythm, enabling the receiver to determine the source of the message. However, with new technology, these secondary uses of didgeridoo have become somewhat obsolete.

Didgeridoos, or yidaki, are also role-playing instruments in the avant-garde and experimental music scene. Industrial music groups such as Militia and Test Department produced sounds from didgeridoo, using them in industrial performances, which linked industry and ecology through the influence of ethnic culture and music.

Making A Didgeridoo

Didgeridoos tend to measure around 3-10 ft (1-3 m) long, with most being 4 ft (1.2 m), and are usually made of wood. The key or pitch lowers with the increase in length. Traditionally, hardwoods are used to make yidaki, particularly from the eucalyptus trees endemic to central and north Australia. The main trunk is generally used and sometimes a substantial branch is also used. Traditional yidaki makers look for hollow live trees with termite activity, as termites attack only dead wood. Makers also peel back the tree bark and a blunt end of a tool or fingernail is used to knock against this wood in order to check if it delivers the proper resonance. They clean the suitable bark, shape the exterior, and sometimes cover the mouthpiece with beeswax.

Modern yidakis are made from carbon fiber, PVC piping, resin, clay, agave, metal, fiberglass, glass, and any hardwood. A mouthpiece can either be added at the end or created by smoothening and shaping the end of the pipe. The extra mouthpiece material can be beeswax or a rubber stopper with a hole. Modern designs of didgeridoo are very different from traditional ones. The late 20th century saw the beginning of design innovations of didgeridoos, with non-traditional shapes and non-traditional materials. Didgeridoos can be painted by an artist or the maker, with modern or traditional paints. Didgeridoos are available with their wood grain design visible with minimal or no paint.

Didgeridoos are also used in today's Celtic music. They are played along with the Great Highland Bagpipes, in groups such as Brother and The Wicked Tickers. A sliding didgeridoo, called didjeribone or slidgeridoo, that is made of plastic, was invented in the second half of the 20th century by Charlie McMahon, an Australian didgeridoo player. This instrument has two lengths of plastic tube, one of which is wider than the other. The narrow tube slides inside the wider one, similar to a slide trombone. A keyed didgeridoo, with keys similar to that of a saxophone, was invented in the late 20th century by Graham Wiggins, an American didgeridoo player. He also played the instrument in two of his albums, 'Dust Devils' and 'Out Of The Woods'. Graham Wiggins built this keyed didgeridoo in Oxford University's physics workshop. Alice Springs' Aboriginal Art & Culture came up with the first online university for interactive didgeridoo lessons.

A 2005 study found that playing didgeridoo reduced daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea, and snoring.

Didgeridoo Playing

A basic drone from a didgeridoo is produced by the vibration of the lips against the mouthpiece. A more advanced technique to play the didgeridoo involves circular breathing. In this technique, the musician breathes in through the nose and at the same time, compresses their cheeks to the stored air in their mouth. A skilled player can refill the air in the lungs with this method and with practice, can also maintain one note for as long as they want. Modern didgeridoo players have played one note for over 40 minutes. The Australian Aboriginal musician, Mark Atkins, played for 50 minutes straight at the Didgeridoo Concert of 1994. Although circular breathing allows musicians to play for a long time due to oxygen replenishment, it can still cause oral discomfort or chapped lips. Variations in the sound of didgeridoo can be achieved with screeches. These screeches are associated with animal sounds produced by Australian animals, such as kookaburra or dingo.

Didgeridoo or yidaki are used in Aboriginal art and modern-day music. There are secret and sacred versions of this instrument in the Northern Territory's Arnhem Land among Aboriginal groups. These didgeridoos have certain functions and names. Some are used as a traditional yidaki and some have other uses. However, there is no further information available about these practices. The Australian Didge Foundation, established in 2008, is a foundation that spreads awareness and raises money for Aboriginal people who want to learn to play the didgeridoo. This money is used to buy instruments for people who can't afford them.

The didgeridoo is traditionally played while sitting down due to its length. Players can use various vocalizations to produce sounds, other than the usual low-pitch hum. Vocalizations are created by using vocal folds while blowing air through the didgeridoo. The resulting music varies from a much lower-pitched sound to a very high-pitched sound, due to the interference of the vibrations in vocal folds and lips. The complexity of playing the didgeridoo increases with the addition of vocalizations.


Why are females not allowed to play the didgeridoo?

Females have been permitted to play didgeridoo informally. However, traditionally, women playing the instrument at Corrobore or a ceremony was forbidden.

What happens if a girl plays the didgeridoo?

As per an old myth in Aboriginal culture, if a girl plays or even touches a didgeridoo, she would become pregnant.

Who invented the didgeridoo?

The Yolngu people of Northern Australia invented the didgeridoo. It has been in use for over 1,500 years.

How did the didgeridoo get its name?

White settlers in Australia, when hearing the hollow bamboo sounds and vibrations, named the instrument onomatopoeically, after its sounds.

What is a didgeridoo used for?

The didgeridoo is mainly used as a musical instrument for ceremonial singing and dancing.

What does a didgeridoo look like?

Didgeridoos look like a long, wooden conical or cylindrical pipes with a mouthpiece at one end.

What does a didgeridoo sound like?

Didgeridoos are played by vibrating the lips against the instrument and sending sound waves from the vocal tract, to create a continuous buzzing or droning sound. This sound can vary depending on the vocalizations of a musician.

Written By
Joan Agie

<p>With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.</p>

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