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A didgeridoo. This particular instrument is more ornate than most.

The didgeridoo (also known as a didjeridu or didge) is a wind instrument of the Aborigines of northern Australia. It is sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or "drone pipe". Musicologists classify it as an aerophone. The instrument is traditionally made from living Eucalyptus trees, which have had their interiors hollowed out by termites. Contrary to popular belief, logs are not stuck into termite mounds for the termites to do the hollowing. Crafters would find suitable trees by knocking on the bark to see if it was hollow.

A modern didgeridoo is usually cylindrical or conical in shape and can measure anywhere from 1 to 3 m (3.2 ft to 9.8 ft) in length with most instruments measuring around 1.2 metres (3.9 ft). 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. Keys from D to F♯ are the preferred pitch of traditional Aboriginal players.

There are no reliable sources stating the didgeridoo's exact age, though it is commonly claimed to be the world's oldest wind instrument. Archaeological studies of rock art in Northern Australia suggests that the Aboriginal people of the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory have been using the didgeridoo for about 1500 years, based on the dating of paintings on cave walls and shelters from this period. A clear rock painting in Ginga Wardelirrhmeng from the freshwater period (1500 years ago until the present)[1] shows a didgeridoo player and two songmen.[2] In some Aboriginal cultures, only men are permitted to play it, whereas women can only use clapsticks.

"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 duth, meaning "native").[3] 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 yirdaki one of the better known words in modern Western society. Yirdaki, also sometimes spelt yidaki, refers to the specific type of instrument made and used by the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. Many believe that it is a matter of etiquette to reserve tribal names for tribal instruments, though retailers and businesses have been quick to exploit these special names for generic tourist-oriented instruments.


[edit] 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 and are usually made from hardwoods, especially the various eucalyptus species that are endemic to the region. 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 spend considerable time in the challenging search for a tree that has been hollowed out by termites to just the right degree. If the hollow is too big or too small, it will make a poor quality instrument.

An Aboriginal man playing the Didgeridoo at Circular Quay

When a suitable tree is found and cut down, the segment of trunk or branch that will be made into a didgeridoo is cut out. The bark is taken off, the ends trimmed, and some shaping of the exterior then 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' wax mouthpiece. This comes from wild bees and is black in appearance, with a distinctive aroma.

Didgeridoos are also made from PVC piping. These generally have a 3.81 centimetres (1.50 in) to 5.08 centimetres (2.00 in) inside diameter, and have a length corresponding to the desired key. The mouthpiece is often made of the traditional beeswax, or duct tape. An appropriately sized rubber stopper with a hole cut into it is equally acceptable. Some have also found that finely sanding and buffing the end of the pipe creates a sufficient mouthpiece.

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 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"[4] and that "the extremely difficult virtuoso techniques developed by expert performers find no parallel elsewhere."[4]

[edit] Physics and operation

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 recognisable sound.

Other variations in the didgeridoo's sound can be made with "screeches". Most of the "screeches" are related to sounds emitted by Australian animals, such as the dingo or the kookaburra. To produce these "screeches", the player simply has to cry out (in the didgeridoo of course) whilst continuing to blow air through it. The results range from very high-pitched sounds to much lower guttural vibrations.

[edit] Cultural significance

The didgeridoo is sometimes played as a solo instrument for recreational purposes, though more usually it accompanies dancing and singing in ceremonial rituals. For Aboriginal groups of northern Australia, the didgeridoo is an integral part of ceremonial life, as it accompanies singers and dancers in religious rituals. 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. Only men play the didgeridoo and sing during ceremonial occasions, whilst both men and women may dance. The taboo against women playing the instrument is not absolute; female Aboriginal didgeridoo players did exist, although their playing generally took place in an informal context and was not specifically encouraged. Linda Barwick, an ethnomusicologist, says that traditionally women have not played the didgeridoo in ceremony, but in informal situations there is no prohibition in the Dreaming Law.[5] On September 3 2008, however, publisher Harper Collins was obliged to issue a public apology for its book "The Daring Book for Girls", scheduled to be published in October, which openly encouraged girls to play the instrument. [6] Some sources state that the didgeridoo had other uses in ancient times.

There are sacred and even secret versions of the didgeridoo in Aboriginal communities in parts of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and the surrounding areas. These sorts of instruments have specific names and functions and some of these are played like typical didgeridoos whereas others are not.[citation needed]

[edit] Modern innovations

A didgeridoo being played by Tristin Chanel of the ska band Five Star Affair in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2007

In the 20th century, several "modernised" versions of the didgeridoo have been developed. The didjeribone[7] (also called "slideridoo" or "slidgeridoo"), a sliding didgeridoo made of plastic, was invented in the second half of the 20th century by Australian didgeridoo player Charlie McMahon. It is constructed of two lengths of plastic tube, one of which is slightly narrower in diameter than the other, and which slides inside the wider tube in the manner of a slide trombone (hence the instrument's name). This allows players to achieve fundamental tones within the compass of a major sixth, ranging from low B♭ to high G.

The didgeridoo has also found a place in modern Celtic music. It can be seen played side by side with a set of Great Highland Bagpipes, in groups such as The Wicked Tinkers and Brother.

A keyed didgeridoo (having keys somewhat like those of a saxophone, allowing the performer to play melodically) was developed in the late 20th century by the U.S. didgeridoo player Graham Wiggins (stage name Dr. Didg) and used on his CDs Out of the Woods] (1995) (in the track "Sun Tan") and Dust Devils (2002) (in the tracks "T'Boli" and "Sub-Aqua"). Wiggins built the unique and somewhat unwieldy instrument in 1990 at the physics workshop of Oxford University, from which he earlier obtained his Ph.D.

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

[edit] Health benefits

[edit] Snoring

A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practising the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea, as well as daytime sleepiness. This appears to work by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.[8]

[edit] Anxiety

In 2008 a couple of Brazilian college students made a study about "The use of Didgeridoo for anxiety people". They have stated that the instrument (didgeridoo) can lower a person´s anxiety by practicing it 20 minutes a day[citation needed]. For 7 weeks the average rate was 10% (ten percent) at anxiety decreasing. Also, it indicates a better life quality through WHOQOL 2003 avaliation, better breathing feelings (can combat smoking) and lower vulnerability to stress[citation needed].

[edit] See also

[edit] 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.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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