Characteristics of a didgeridoo

how does a didgeridoo work? what are the different characteristics of a didgeridoo?

What must be understood in the design of a didgeridoo is that everything is a matter of compromise between several criteria, there are therefore things which will be technically impossible: where the physics of the instrument offers its limits. One of the player's responsibilities is therefore to know his subject well so as not to seek or ask for the impossible but to find the balance among these criteria, and this is one of the goals of the didgmaker: to find this balance that the player is looking for. This is the big difference between making your instrument yourself and going through a competent professional, it is also the big difference between “just a hollowed-out piece of wood” and an instrument designed and designed for music. There are a large number of adjectives to describe a didg's playability or sound qualities. These terms are subjective and may have different names.

The note or range The character of a didgeridoo The terms used
Ask yourself the right questions Cultural authenticity    


1) The note or range:
The note or range will necessarily depend on a relationship between the length of the instrument and the internal diameter of the air column. We can then define two main categories of shapes that exist in the manufacture of an instrument. The conical shape and the cylindrical shape, the next thing is to choose which shape will be more suited to your playing style. Often a didgeridoo is a fine mix between these two types of shapes.
French/English note conversion table: Rating scale:
Very slow: A, Bb, B
Slow: C, C#,
Medium Slow: C#, D
Medium: Eb, E
Medium Fast: F, F#
Fast: F#, G
Very fast: G#,A
  • Most people who play slowly and like a meditative tune, play on low notes from A (A) to D (D).
  • Players who like versatility and rhythm quickly tend to prefer the middle notes of D(D) to F(F)
  • Players who like speed games with volume often go for notes from F(Fa) to G(G).

Choose the frequency of your didgeridoo? Please note that all didgeridoos are measured with a chromatic tuner at 440Hz. In rare cases the didgeridoo can be tuned to 432Hz, at which point I specify in the description. 432Hz or 440Hz? The overall sonic difference is noticeable, the 432Hz version sounds warmer, clearer and seems to be instantly more listenable, but the 440Hz version is tighter with more dynamic energy. Almost all Western music is currently tuned with A at 440 Hz. This means that all musical instruments, tuning forks, and musical creation programs are tuned to this frequency.


2) The character of a didgeridoo:
This scale is the result of a ratio of start of air column/bell: If we divide the diameter of the bell with that of the start of the air column we obtain a figure between 1.5 and 3.5. Thus we can classify all didgeridoos, despite their rating, into 4 large families. Each family groups together instruments with a similar character, simply based on the overall shape of the air column (conical/cylindrical) and its diameter (wide/narrow). We ultimately obtain a simple and very reliable reading grid, thus facilitating research and remote purchases:
  • Less than 2: very low pressure - didgeridoo with a resonant and soft sound, ideal for harmonics, meditative playing and wobbles.
  • Between 2 and 2.50: low pressure - didgeridoo with a certain roundness, often a good compromise between rhythm and meditative.
  • Between 2.5 and 3: high pressure - didgeridoo with dynamic sound, recommended for fast rhythms, tongue attacks and over/under vibration.
  • More than 3: very high pressure - didgeridoo with very pulsating sound, almost exclusive for games focused on tongue attacks, over/under vibration and hoarse voices.
The diameters are measured with a caliper, starting from the air column after the mouthpiece. Be careful, this ratio is very reliable for a didgeridoo before an air column with almost 'smooth' internal work. In the case of instruments with compression zones, or resonance balls, like those of Dubravko, this ratio is difficult to calculate with 100% certainty. Also for eucalyptus didgeridoos with termite galleries, it happens that the starting diameter of the air column is not cylindrical and is for example 4.4x3.8cm. In this case I take as the column starting diameter value the average of these two figures. Namely: (4.4+3.8)/2=4.1cm. The same goes for the value of the bell. This makes it possible to give a fairly faithful approach to the instrumental character but which cannot be measured with 100% accuracy.

3) Terms used in the didgeridoo: (non-exhaustive list)

Harmonics: A harmonic is an integral component of a musical sound. Any instrument emits at the same time as the base note other higher notes, the harmonics. They are what make the sound rich. It is a frequency multiple of the fundamental frequency. In the case of the didgeridoo, we can select certain harmonics by changing the interior shape of the mouth, for example by making OU-I.

Backpressure: or The resistance of the air column literally “back pressure” The pressure of a didgeridoo is the resistance force (caused by the vibrating column of air) that we obtain by blowing into it . The pressure return is an element which has its place in the choice of a didgeridoo, this pressure depends a lot on the shape of the air column of the didgeridoo. A cylindrical shaped didgeridoo will have less pressure and will be more suitable for more meditative playing, while conversely a conical didgeridoo with a lot of pressure will be more suitable for rhythm. The shape is therefore a factor but the note also plays a lot. It is obvious that we cannot ask an SI didgeridoo to have the same pressure as an FA.
Hoots: or overvibrations, literally “honking” An overvibration is a sound that is obtained by pursing the lips with a lot of pressure. It's this very dry sound, which is close to the trumpet. The more the player purses his lips, the higher the sound obtained. The first overvibration is about two tones above the base vibration, but its exact pitch depends on the didgeridoo. It is possible to match, not without compromise, the first overvibration with the base note. The second is roughly at the octave, the others even higher. The “pip” overvibration is obtained by making the gesture of spitting out a fruit seed: the tongue suddenly releases the air. It's a fairly easy form to master and insert into the game.
Under pressure: Under pressure is a sound that gives a sensation of slowing vibration. It is caused by a slight opening of the jaw, the lips then vibrate slightly less quickly and the note goes down. Under pressure will generally be quite simple to produce while overvibration will be as well.
Vocalizations : We can sing or shout at the same time as we blow:
  1. High-pitched cries : Often a didgeridoo which will have a wide air column will have high-pitched cries well detached from the drone and easy to release. Same thing for its note, the lower the note, the more likely the screams will go through easily.
  2. Scraping or hoarseness of the deep voice: The aborigines use scraping a lot, in any case the deep voice and the yidakis are perfectly designed for this.

4) Ask yourself the right questions:

All these characteristics are specific to the didgeridoo. Now it is important to consider your own playing style, and ask yourself the right questions:

- What style do you play?

- Is your playing subtle, focusing on the mouth and sounds formed by harmonics?

- Do you play fast rhythms or a more meditative tune?

- Will the didge be used acoustically or amplified or for busking?

- Will the didge be used with other instruments? What style of music?

- If you play a lot with rhythm, do the variations come mainly from your breathing? Mouth shape? diaphragm/rebound? Language? Throat? Elsewhere?

- What kinds of screams would you like to make? Dry? Songs? animal noises?

- Do you like to have a good physical session with your didg or do you prefer a didge that requires very little energy to play?

5) Cultural authenticity:

Today we have a big problem with lies surrounding the didgeridoo. Many didges are sold around the world as authentic Australian didgeridoos made by Aboriginal people when they are not. There are a lot of “fake” didgeridoos. Some are even made in Asia, drilled with a drill, with cheap labor. Most bamboo, teak and jackfruit didgeridoos are pale copies and unethically painted. They have no soul, no sound... The question is therefore how to know if a didgeridoo is authentic? Please note that the Authentic Didgeridoo traditionally made by the Aborigines originates from northern Australia. For a simple reason, it is only in the North that you will find termite mounds. Before any purchase, ask the seller for details on the history of the didgeridoo, how and why it is used, the name of the Aboriginal or the tribe who made the instrument or even what its cultural significance is. You will quickly notice whether the seller knows anything about it or not. If you are told that the instrument is made in India, unfortunately this is a counterfeit. This is not to say that the didgeridoo in question is necessarily bad, just that it is not an authentic Australian didgeridoo. A good seller will have no trouble giving you all this information, because the 'legal' sales circuit is now well in place.

I want to help and I am helping traditional owners to be recognized and respected. I therefore recommend the Yidakis and Mago. As such I hope that everyone and everyone interested in the didgeridoo will one day end up purchasing authentic items from these artisans. I hope they learn to identify and avoid the counterfeits and cheap tourist "trash" commonly available around the world. Otherwise, I think there is a place for all styles and types of didgeridoos as long as they are not portrayed as something they are not!

I invite you to visit Yidakiwuy Dhawu , the “bible” on Yidaki and Yolngu culture.