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Here’s some basic tips to help get you started with your Didjeridu playing experience:
It is important that the mouthpiece on your didjeridu is comfortable for you. Beeswax is the most common traditional material used for the mouthpiece, but more often fixed or wooden mouthpieces are now being preferred (all of the didjeridu I craft have wooden mouthpieces). A common inside diameter for a mouthpiece is 1-1/8 to1-1/4 inches. The outside diameter should not be so big that it touches your nose or restricts air into the nose. Mouthpiece size and shape is really a personal preference. The main thing is that it’s comfortable to you.
The drone is the first and most important sound you will learn on the Didjeridu. This is the most distinct sound of the didjeridu and is the fundamental resonating note of the instrument. Place your lips inside the mouthpiece and keep them relaxed. Make sure you lips are sealed inside the mouthpiece so that air doesn’t leak between the mouthpiece and your lips/mouth. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, while vibrating and “buzzing” your lips very loosely. The motion of your lips is similar to making a “raspberry” or “motor boat” sound. And you shouldn’t have to apply a lot of pressure to the mouthpiece, just enough to create seal and be comfortable.
You may need to experiment with keeping your lips looser or tighter and blowing more or less air until you achieve the drone sound. Stay loose and relaxed, don’t be in a hurry, this may take time and practice to get. Focus on a comfortable breathing pattern and go your own pace. Breath control is key. If you start to get dizzy, slow down, take your time.
-Stay relaxed and make sure your in a comfortable position
-Keeps you lips centered in the mouthpiece
-If you getting a trumpet like sound, your lips are probably too tight.
-Breathe in from your nose, out through your mouth (this will prepare you for circular breathing too)
-Use the least amount of air as possible to make the drone sound. Be efficient with your output.
Experimenting with Sounds:
There are many different ways of producing sounds and effects while playing. Using your voice is one of the main techniques. For example, try humming with your voice to achieve a harmonic effect while playing the drone. Sounding out vowels (A, E, I, O, U) is a good exercise to get different effects. Also, imitating animal sounds is a traditional way of getting interesting sounds as well. Howling, barks and yelps are some common sounds heard from the Didjeridu. Your diaphragm and stomach area muscles are the driving force behind the power and volume of your vocalizations. There is no limit to what sounds you can create while playing. Sound out words, sing, hum, be explorative and creative.
Your tongue will be an important tool in making sounds as well. Here are some examples: Fluttering the tongue while playing will create an interesting effect, especially if you incorporate your voice at the same time. You can also move your tongue towards your lips and away creating a pulsing effect. Moving your tongue forward and back slowly and controlled, keeping it behind your teeth and gently pressed to the roof of your mouth. This action will help get the high frequency, almost laser-like sounds on top of the drone note. Explore and come up with your own sounds and techniques. These exercises will help develop rhythm technique as well.
(Note: At this point you should be able to sustain the drone note with controlled and minimal air output) The goal with circular breathing is to sustain the drone note while “sneaking” in a breath through the nose creating a continuous sound. Here’s how it works: While playing a drone note with puffed cheeks, press the back of your tongue against the your upper soft pallet. This allows only your puffed cheeks (not the air in your lungs) to push out enough air to sustain the drone note while you sneak in a quick breath through your nose. Once you’ve breathed in, the back of your tongue will relax allowing air to pass from your lungs into your mouth to take over sustaining the drone. Then, once you’ve used about a 1/4 of your air supply in your lungs to sustain the drone, repeat the technique.
.-ALWAYS keep your cheeks puffed during EVERY step of the technique. The sound will stop if you don’t.
-You can also practice this technique without a didjeridu using only a straw and a glass of water. The idea is to blow bubbles into the water and keep them constent while trying the circular breathing technique.
First, make the following two sounds with just your tongue and mouth. Don’t play the didge at this point. The idea is to get use to the tongue action first. TE, KA, TE, KA. Pronounce these sounds focusing on the movement of your tongue only. It’s not necessary to use your voice. Do that over and over until it feels comfortable and natural. Next, I want you to insert a breath in through the nose at certain points in the pattern, still without actually playing the didge. The example below is with an 8 count pattern. The numbers will represent a down beat and the arrows, an up beat. The “B” will represent when you take a breath in through the nose:
1 ^ 2 ^ 3 ^ 4 ^ 5 ^ 6 ^ 7 ^ 8
TE KA B TE KA B TE KA B TE KA B TE KA B
…repeat as desired…
Try this slowly and consistently at first without the didge. Pick up the tempo if you want, but I recommend starting slow. Once you’re comfortable, place your lips in the mouth piece of the didge and try to play the rhythm. Sounds easy, right? Well it probably won’t be at first. Practice, and then practice some more.
The tricky parts will be accenting the “TE KA” sounds while droning. Start the movements of the tongue subtly at first. When you start to feel it and hear it with the drone, you can begin to emphasize the “TE KA” more by using more abrupt tongue movements. The breath in will be challenging at first, especially if you don’t have the circular breathing down, but it’s OK; you can still play the rhythm. If you can’t circular breathe yet, play the rhythm anyway and breathe as needed, even if the drone stops.
Once you get circular breathing and you play the rhythm above, you’ll hear a “WAH” sound on the breath in. This can make the rhythm sound like: TE KA WAH TE KA WAH.
This information is relatively basic compared to what is possible. If you’ve gotten this far and you want to learn more (breath control, technique, rhythms, trumpets, vocalizations, odd time signatures and more), please contact me and I’ll be more than happy to help you with lessons and tips.
Best wishes on your Didge playing path,