I know you all want to learn to play the didgeridoo, and I know your kids do too. In this week’s post is an updated version of the instructional guide from the World Music Unit on the site. It is used as a culminating activity for the entire unit where we make our own didgeridoos out of empty paper towel rolls and masking tape. After we paint them, we learn how to play them. You can make a pretty good one out of PVC pipe that will last much longer too. Your most difficult task will be the circular breathing but some kids will get it pretty quick. Here is how I teach kids to play the didgeridoo:
How to Play the Didgeridoo
Step 1: The Buzz
Setting up a buzz for didge playing is exactly the same way you would set up a buzz for playing a brass instrument in band or orchestra. If you or no one else in your class is familiar with this, ask them to close their mouths as if to say ‘mmm.’ Once this is established, ask them to blow air through their lips while still trying to keep the ‘mmm’ shape in the mouth. This means firm corners of the lips so that the buzzing sound happens.
Step 2: Adding the Didge
Hold the didge up to your face gently and buzz into the didgeridoo. Congratulations, you made your first sound on the instrument. Practice making a nice resonant sound and sustaining it for a while. You should be able to find the didgeridoo’s fundamental pitch (or drone) which should be between an D and and F in the middle of the bass clef depending on its length. Once this is established move on to step 3.
Step 3: The Vowel Sounds
Without making a sound with your voice, produce a drown and try to go through the vowel sounds by changing the shape of your mouth. Instead of your vocal cords being inside you, now they are your lips! Try playing A, E, I, O, U without using your vocal chords while making a drone on your didge. You can do this just by moving your tongue inside your mouth. Next, you can experiment with different combinations of vowels and you can add some consonants if you feel comfortable. For example, the word “doing” works well. See what other words work for you. Only when this is comfortable can you move onto the next step. Think of this part as tonguing like on a wind instrument, just with different consonants.
Step 4: Vocalizations
Try barking or howling like a dingo or even try laughing like a kookaburra or something that you may be more familiar with. When you get comfortable with this, try doing it into your Didgeridoo while producing a drone with your lips. Experiment with different vocal sounds (even try singing). Get comfortable with this before moving onto the next step.
Step 5: Adding the Three Together
Combine what you learned in steps 2, 3, and 4 together and this is what defines a didgeridoo’s sound. Be creative, try to get a good rhythm going, some neat sounds, or both.
In this video, you can hear the drone, the vowel sounds, and vocalizations combined to make great music:
Step 6: Circular Breathing
This is what is used to keep the didge’s drone going so that the player (as in the video) does not have to stop and breath all the time. Do not expect to get this right away, it is very difficult, here are steps to learning how to circular breath:
Pocket air in your cheeks, then using your cheek muscles only, push the air out the small hole in your mouth and at the same time, breath in through your nose. At first this will be difficult, but you will get used to it. This is the essence of circular breathing, but here is a tool to help:
Using a cup of water and a small straw, blow into the water with your straw and try to keep the bubbles going as long as you can by using the above principle. Squeeze the straw with your fingers enough to let some air get through yet creating some back pressure. Creating back pressure is important because it will make things easier for you so you can be successful with it. Once you’ve established how to circular breath and you are able to keep the bubbles going in your cup, try it on the didgeridoo. It will be more difficult because there is much less back pressure to help you.
Learning to circular breath, even with the straw and cup, could take up to a week to learn properly but some of your learners may pick up on this much quicker.
Now you are a didgeridoo master!
What world music ideas do you have for your kids? Have you learned to play the didgeridoo before? I would love to hear from you.