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Didgeridoo, probably made of bamboo, with the typical features of tourism production (including standardized painting)
Didgeridoo made of eucalyptus with partly natural trunk and standardized painting
Didgeridoo player in Sydney

The didgeridoo [ ˌdɪdʒəɹiˈduː ] is a wind instrument rich in overtones from the aerophone family based on the sound generation principle of the upholstered pipe and is considered a traditional musical instrument of the North Australian Aborigines . In the traditional context, it is mostly made from a trunk of local eucalyptus species hollowed out by termitesand serves as a predominantly rhythmic accompanying instrument for chants and dances. The tonal and rhythmic variety is created through combinations of mouth movements, breathing technique and voice effects (see below), based on a basic tone that is only slightly varied in pitch and overblown tones.

The term didgeridoo ( anglicized spelling for “didjeridu”) probably goes back to an onomatopoeic imitation of the sound or a rhythm sequence played on this instrument. Native players from the regions of origin use spoken syllables to practice rhythm sequences or to internalize them. The resulting word structures contain all the phonetic characteristics of the word. Another etymological hypothesis suggests that it is derived from the Irish dúdaire dúth (pronounced dudscherreh duh). The meaning of dúdaire is given in various sources as "pipe", "horn", "trumpeter", "horn blower" or "droning". Dúth means “native”, “native” or “hereditary”. Accordingly, dúdaire dúth could be freely translated as "horn of the natives".

The local names vary according to the area and usage, there are at least fifty of them, for example: djalupu, djubini, ganbag, gunbarrk, gamalag, maluk, yirago, yiraki, yidaki and yedaki .

In terms of instruments, the didgeridoo is close to brass instruments in terms of the way it generates sound (lips as a sound generator, tubes as an amplifier) . It is the only one of these instruments that is blown on the fundamental note , ie on the first or lowest oscillating frequency (the lowest playable note).


The didgeridoo consists of a 1 to 2.50 m long section of a eucalyptus trunk that has been hollowed out by termites . The light and temperature sensitive termites limit themselves to the extremely hard and dry heartwood of the still living tree and avoid the moisture-bearing sapwood , which is also toxic for them.

From some hitherto very rare references in the form of paintings, it is generally concluded that the first instruments consisted of the easier-to-work bamboo . In some cases, trunks of the pandanus tree have also been used, the soft core of which can be carved out. Eucalyptus has only been the predominant material since the introduction of metal tools.


The mouthpiece only consists of a wax ring to protect the lips, which can also be missing in inexpensive or well-made instruments. In addition, the naturally given diameter of the wooden pipe is narrowed to a diameter that is comfortable for the player.

A few examples for special ceremonial functions are lavishly painted; this type of painting is now mostly made especially for tourist sales.

Due to the simple construction and the tourist value, many didgeridoos are now manufactured in a streamlined mass construction outside of Australia, e.g. T. made of other materials such. B. teak , jackfruit wood (each drilled manually) and bamboo, u. a. also in Indonesia , from where they are also imported to Australia .

The didgeridoo is an aerophone . An important sound-forming element is a vibrating column of air . The length and shape of this column of air or the sequence of different volumes, formed by constrictions, widening, scuff marks, etc., is decisive for the sound characteristics, the pitch and playability of the fundamental tone and the overblown tones of the respective instrument. The physical principles that determine the individual sound characteristics of a didgeridoo have recently been adequately described, so that simulations and analyzes of didgeridoos are now possible. Most traditional instruments that are in use today or of which sound recordings exist have fundamental pitches in the range of CG #, correspondingly a fundamental frequency of 65.41 to 103.83 Hz. These pitches are also preferred in modern playing techniques, with corresponding The musical requirements, the preferred style or, for experimental reasons, instruments from F 1 to A in the frequency range from 43.66 to 110.00 Hz are played.

A simple cylindrical tube is sufficient for the basic, didgeridoo-typical sound formation. Therefore, the sound effect of the didgeridoo can also be created from tubes made of a different material, such as cardboard, glass, plastics (e.g. cut-to-size or fitted with extensions from the hardware store), fiber composites (GRP) and the like. The hardness and the ability of the material to vibrate influence the sound quality.

In many cases, other instruments from the brass instrument family with low notes can also be played using techniques typical of didgeridoo, e.g. B. tuba , trombone , alphorn . Since the fundamental is not played here, the overtone spectrum is much weaker. Pluggable alphorns can make usable didgeridoos after removing the uppermost section.

Occasionally it is pointed out that natural horns were played in a didgeridoo-like manner in other places around the world, but conclusive evidence for this is problematic. In particular, however, the lure and the even older Irish horns ( dords ) have a sound potential that seems to point more to gentle, fundamental overtone play with didgeridoo-like techniques than to the previously assumed trumpet-like use.

Despite their purely visual and tonal similarities, Tibetan long trombones , African cow horn and wooden trumpets as well as Papuan bamboo long flutes are not played with didgeridoo-like techniques. It is also crucial that these instruments are not played on the root note.

Playing technique

Didgeridoo player
Audio sample

The didgeridoo is gently blown with "fluttering" lips. The lip control is decisive for the power and dynamics of the keynote, less the amount of air or the strength of the blowing.

Sound changes are caused by:

  • Speech-like articulations (plosives like d , t , k , g and others, tongue rollers like r and vowel-like tones like a , e , i , o , u ...) and this goes so far that whole words (e.g. "Didgeridoo" ) or sounds are “spoken” into the didgeridoo (e.g. “Tiki Taki Wöö Wää” or “Uäckädu!”), a frequently used method of memorizing didgeridoo melodies.
  • Narrowing of the oral cavity (tongue, cheeks, lower jaw), (onomatopoeic can be roughly described as “wok” or “wik”, and others). All variants in the formation of a rubber resp. Grimacing faces have an acoustic influence.
  • Change of the blowing pressure in connection with the instrument's own resonances : Increase / decrease of the fundamental tone, overblown tones (also called trumpet tones or "toot"), resonating tongue strikes
  • Movement of the larynx (bobbing up and down)
  • Using your own voice to create your own tone and rhythm elements (for example a loud scream).
  • A tone can be sung into the didgeridoo with one's own voice, which is preferably close to the fundamental frequency of the didgeridoo. This physically creates a "beat" that can be heard through a rough, slightly crackling sound.

The picturesque imitation of animal noises ( dingoes , kangaroo jumps , the laughter of the kookaburra, etc.) is occasionally attributed to contact with white people who cannot perceive the animal-imitating elements within traditional rhythms without adequate training.

Thanks to the technique of circular breathing , the sound elements can be seamlessly joined together without pause for breath. With circular breathing, the air is pushed out of the oral cavity while inhaling through the nose.

Traditionally, the didgeridoo is usually played sitting or crouching, with the end resting on the floor. The wind player often taps rhythmic figures with his fingers or with a sound stick ( clapstick or bilma ).

Although melodic elements are deliberately used through the combination of voice and overtones, the didgeridoo is primarily a rhythm instrument.

In the more modern, western interpretations, the instrument is often used in the form of drawn out, meditative phrasing, and in connection with western music culture, a large number of sound techniques have become established that allow use in modern musical styles. The didgeridoo is used as a drone instrument , for example , with other instruments laying melodies over its drone.

Slideridoo, played by Daphyd from the band Omnia

Also in modern western music culture there is a didgeridoo-like instrument, which consists of two tubes that are partially pushed into one another and movable against each other, whereby the pitch can be changed continuously while playing. Otherwise this instrument is played like a didgeridoo, although the lower end of the instrument must not be placed firmly in order to maintain mobility. The invention of this instrument called Slideridoo , Slide-Didgeridoo or Didjeribone is attributed to Charlie McMahon .

Origin, Distribution and Use

A: Authentic traditional didgeridoo (also called yidaki or mandapul )
B: Authentic traditional didgeridoo (also called yidaki or mandapul )
C: Authentic traditional didgeridoo (also called mago )
D: Not a traditional didgeridoo
E: Not a traditional didgeridoo
Didgeridoo player in Berlin with an instrument made from sewer pipes

It is now assumed that this instrument was initially only played in the far north of Australia, in Arnhem Land . The first currently known indications for the occurrence of the didgeridoo are rock paintings around 2500–3500 years old. We can only speculate whether the instrument was already known before. In the ideas of the Yolngu , the creation Ganbulabula is said to have created the didgeridoo from the dream time and handed it over to the Gumatj clan on the site of today's Garma cultural festival . Statements from Aboriginal mythology that date the instrument to the “beginning of time” are the cause of age speculations of over 40,000 years.

As the primary musical instrument in the northern Aboriginal culture, the didgeridoo is traditionally used for every form of music, from children's songs to so-called “open” ceremonies to secret-sacred rituals, observance of which are intended to ensure the existence of the country or life.

That is why boys and often girls also playfully research the didgeridoo in childhood. When puberty is reached, the roles of the sexes change and the girls stop playing. However, it is known that women occasionally step in in the absence of an appropriately trained male player.

Contrary to popular belief, the didgeridoo is mainly used to accompany singing and is only played solo for practice purposes.

From Arnhem Land it found its way into the Kimberleys at the beginning of the 20th century , and after 1950 it spread across the continent. With the advent of New Age music , numerous musicians all over the world began to be interested in this natural instrument and its sonorous, calming sound. The didgeridoo is now also widely used in techno and pop / dance areas.

The Aboriginal rock band Yothu Yindi (from Arnhemland) achieved their breakthrough in 1988 with the CD “Homeland Movement” and in 1992 they even achieved global success with the dance version of “Treaty”.

To be classified stylistically in rock and pop, her music has the typical traditional content (tradition) as well as political tendencies. They are one of the few bands that incorporate the didgeridoo into modern music in a traditional way. Other bands of this type are Blekbala Mujik , Narbalek and the Saltwater Band . With the increasing popularity of traditional music styles in Arnhemland, more and more traditional musicians are known, above all the players in the vicinity of Yothu Yindi and their families, for example the didgeridoo maker Djalu Gurruwiwi and his son Larry or Milkayngu Mununggurr.

One of the most successful representatives of a modern style is the Aboriginal musician David Hudson , who has enjoyed worldwide success as a soloist since the late 1980s.

Other contemporary Australian musicians with CD releases are Alan Dargin , who demonstrated the instrument in the Sendung mit der Maus and in the Australian series by German show master Joachim Fuchsberger , Janawirri Yiparrka and Ash Dargan , and Ganga Giri from the white population , Si Mullumby, Phil Conyngham, Paul Taylor and Andy Holm .

Probably the best-known western (non-Australian) formation that uses the didgeridoo in their music is the British pop band Jamiroquai . Other western music groups or artists who use the didgeridoo are, for example, Graham Wiggins (aka Dr. Didge ) and Stephen Kent .

A similar sounding, traditional wind instrument made from a bamboo tube is known as gong tiup or gong sebul on the Indonesian island of Java .


Due to its shape, the didgeridoo is often assigned a phallic symbolism by outsiders and there are corresponding stories about it. In the dream time of the Aborigines, however, according to R. Lewis, this has no place, but the tones generated by the didgeridoo are interpreted as the vibrations of the mystical rainbow snake that it generated as it made its way out of the ocean to the Australian continent with its mountains and valleys formed. The rainbow snake is interpreted as a symbol of wisdom.

Medical aspect

Making music with the didgeridoo is an excellent training for throat, mouth and respiratory muscles. There is evidence that the widespread sleep apnea syndrome (nocturnal respiratory arrest) can improve as a result. There is also the possibility that playing the didgeridoo can reduce snoring .

Individual evidence

  1. Didgeridoo / Didjeridu - Lo 8th Institute for Music Research, University of Würzburg, July 3, 2014
  2. McMahon, Charlie, "The Ecology of Termites and Didjeridus" in: Das Didgeridoo Phenomenon , Lindner et al. P. 22, Traumzeit-Verlag 2002 (see literature).
  3. Pitting with a special sound . October 21, 2004, accessed September 7, 2019 .
  4. u. a. by Dr. Frank Geipel on a website about didgeridoo physics.
  5. dw.de (Deutsche Welle) : Australia's Yolngu People: Celebrating 40,000 Years , December 18, 2002, in English, accessed June 24, 2013
  6. Lewis: Aboriginal Art , p. 13 (see literature).
  7. British Medical Journal : “Playing the didgeridoo as therapy for sleep apnea syndrome” (English).


  • R. Lewis: The Beginner's Guide to Australian Aboriginal Art. The symbols, their meanings and some Dreamtime stories . 3. Edition. Fountainhead Press, Canning Vale DC 2004.
  • David Lindner: Dreamtime - The secret of the didgeridoo . Traumzeit-Verlag, Battweiler 2011 (6th edition), ISBN 3-933825-40-7 .
  • David Lindner: The New Didgeridoos - The Didgeridoo in Central Europe . Traumzeit-Verlag, Battweiler 2001, ISBN 3-933825-13-X .
  • David Lindner (Eds.), Djalu 'Gurruwiwi, Charlie McMahon, Bruce Rogers, Prof. Lloyd Hollenberg, Alistair Black, Dr. Frank Geipel et al: The didgeridoo phenomenon. From prehistoric times to modern times: history, development, trade, ecology, physics, building instructions . Traumzeit-Verlag, Battweiler 2003, ISBN 3-933825-24-5 .
  • Acoustic research on the didgeridoo: A. Tarnopolsky et al., Nature 436, 39 (2005); Report in German: H. Dittmar-Ilgen, Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau 3/2006, p. 147.

Web links

Commons : Didgeridoo  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Didgeridoo  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations