Exploring the rhythms of breath – The journey of the Didgeridoo

2009 August 31

The sonorous drone of the Didgeridoo is famous the world over, an unmistakeable sound that captivates the listener while conjuring images of red deserts filled with large leaping marsupials. Thankfully, unlike 10,000 years ago these marsupials are now much smaller and no longer carnivorous. The sound of the Didgeridoo though remains unchanged and more often than not you will hear it as a pure drone sound. So where dose the rhythm spring forth from? Is not the drone sound enough with all its magical connotations? 

The true journey of this instrument is in the ability of the player to translate a feeling of a place or a thing through their breath and have that come to life as rhythm. Life is constantly moving as is the breath of any living thing so there is a relationship between the two. Understanding this is the key that will unlock the door into the journey of mastering the Didgeridoo, for to master it you will be mastering your breathing. Let go of any idea you have of creating a melody as this is a journey of unadulterated primal beat driven breath. It is the product of this type of breathing that we traditionally dance to in the top end of Australia, we have no skin drum and never have had one. The Didgeridoo provides the heartbeat for our dances.

So where is the best place to start this journey? It is with the very thing you are doing right now. Taking air in to your lungs and releasing it is a wondrous rhythm and the first pulse to master on the Didgeridoo. From there its open season and into the journey of breathing your way into the feeling of anything you want to translate. From the drone anything is possible as all life springs from this sound.


It is about translation:

All traditional rhythms mirror the movement of the natural world. The way the seasons change, the approach of a storm, the running and howling of a dingo pack or even the walk of the millions of feet that make up an ant colony. Anything living can be translated via the way we move our breath into pure rhythm. There is no end to the pool of material available to play, there is only the question of what to translate.


How to start:

It will be surprising to many that to start playing rhythms on the Didgeridoo dose NOT require the ability to circular breath. One full intake of breath into the lungs by a person of average build will give around 8 to 10 seconds of playing time. This is the equivalent of four bars of music at mid tempo, enough to start exploring boundless playing styles and techniques. Circular breathing joins these sentences of rhythm together and can be learnt latter down the track. So, for those of you with the right kind of sticks ‘the hollow kind’ there is no better time to start exploring than right now.

1 Comment leave one →
2010 January 6
Dwayne B. Sapling permalink

Thank you for reminding me of the ultimate importance of breath.

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