The Didjeridu

The most interesting Aboriginal musical instrument is the didjeridu. It was only known to the tribes of Eastern Kimberly and the northern third of the Northern Territory. The instrument is an unstopped hollowed piece of bamboo or termite-hollowed wood, usually the latter, about four or five feet long, and two or more inches in internal diameter, with a mouth-piece made of wax or hardened gum. The player blows into the instrument in trumpet fashion.

The Didjeridu is used with other instruments such as the Bull Roarer and Click (or Clap) Sticks. It is often used as an accompaniment to song and dance. It is also used in ceremonial functions.

Three distinct styles of traditional playing have been identified. West Arnhem Land uses quiet and uncomplicated patterns. A feature of that style is that hummed notes are used in conjunction with blown notes to produce slower patterns. North- East Arnhem Land uses the first overtone, at about a tenth above the fundamental droning note. This may be heard as a long hoot or a short sharp "toot". Eastern Arnhem Land styles use the second pitch as well as a variety of techniques using manipulations of the tongue, lips and breath to create fast energetic rhythmic patterns. The precision and variety of rhythm produced on the didjeridu are very striking. Sometimes it sounds like a deep pipe organ note being played continuously; at other times like a drum beaten in three-four time, and so on, varying according to the type of song and dance which it is accompanying.

The continuous nature of the sound is most remarkable. The breath is taken, or "snapped", through the nose. Two quick breaths are usually taken but some of the incoming air is kept in the mouth to be blown into the instrument while the next quick intake is being made. This process, called circular breathing, results in the cheeks being used much like a bellows.

The Didjeridu is the center-piece of most of the Corroborees danced by the Northern tribes in the Territory and the East Kimberleys. A corroboree is an important ceremonial when all the various tribes of a region would come together to hear and recount the sacred stories.

- Ed Drury