Learning to Play the Yidaki (Didgeridoo)
and with
Variable Pitch

David Beale

Learn The Didgeridoo And Produce A Wide Range Of Notes

The background track is me practising-learning changing from the fundamental key (A).
 Videos of practice demonstrations are here.

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This is about listening intently to sounds you're making; and feeling some new sensations that, at first, may seem to not be there. If you can learn to whistle in tune you can learn this way to play a didge and vary its pitch regardless of its length. Whether or not you can progress from the standard methods of playing the didge, to these I'm learning, you'll play the didge better for getting these ideas. They're about resonance, co-resonance and variable-pitch without variable length. Details of the ideas are on a related page.

Have a go at playing the didge. Pretend you've been hypnotized on a stage and told you are an accomplished didge player and this is your concert; believe you can do it and it happens.

Practice (try) each of these steps in any order according to what you already know and/or by going backwards and forwards through the numbers, feeling what each step's sensations offer to one's sense of what's happening (ordinary feedback from your body's natural senses of what's going on with itself). It's like some physical forms of yoga especially the type that, with practice, one can feel how to slow-down and/or speed-up the heart rate. I use this method for playing the didge. It applies equally well to the bugle, trumpet, saxophone...any wind instrument. The same principles apply to all musical instruments: listen as one of the audience; trust you've drilled enough both mentally, spiritually and finger-pushing-physically enough for the technicalities to be totally automated; tune into the feelings of everybody within intent-hearing-prayer-reach; apply your ministry and share joy and love.

The below method can get didge sounds, with variable pitch over a wide range, from any length of tube that has a comfortable end-bit mouth-piece. Always, please, remember to take it easy, relax, it's supposed to be done gently and effortlessly (ok, we all go red in the face and have difficulty playing very high notes and they sound, well, let's not talk about that...).

  1. Without the didge, blow air from your lungs slowly and gently out through your lips; like a silent whistle, with the tongue relaxed.
  2. Blow air out of your mouth, using the tongue to push it — like squirting water from your mouth accurately.
  3. Change pushing air out slowly from using the tongue to using the lungs and back to using the tongue.
  4. Breathe in and out normally while pushing air out of the mouth using the tongue.
  5. Breathe in and out normally except for little pauses to refill the air in the mouth.
  6. Push the air out of the mouth using the cheeks and jaw closing additional/alternatively to pushing with the tongue.
  7. When you can push air out of your mouth constantly ,while also breathing in and out comfortably, then vary the rate of pushing air out: from very gently to very strongly. Aim to constantly have air come out of your mouth.
  8. When you are certain you can control the rate of air coming out of your mouth, then put the didge to your lips and find the most comfortable position that neither squashes nor has big air gaps.
  9. Blow very gently into the didge allowing the lips to make tiny possible mouse-fart sounds into the didge.
  10. When you can make tiny mouse-fart sounds into the didge that do not happen when the didge is not there, then try varying the pitch of the sounds so you find notes that resonate with the didge according to the mouth shape. I said "mouse farts" because this is supposed to be Easy and it can be! You'll enjoy it more, have happier feelings in your mouth afterwards, and learn faster by being as gentle as you can --- the didge can make magnificent and loud sounds; they're done by using very little energy, the opposite of blowing hard into a whistle. A didge isn't a whistle that rewards for being blown into roughly which, for the didge, is a waste of effort.
  11. You'll find you can make any note using the same sensory feedback as enables one to sing various notes, by monitoring the pitch and adjusting your embouchure (mouth-shape, lip tension, positions...the whole complex system for producing sounds from wind instruments).
  12. Intend to feel the feeling of each possible note. It's like starting to sing accurately and holding a note (if you don't already sing, give that a go too) starting accurately on one note. You'll find you can start the didge on any note you want it to make and, when this technique is working for you, the didge tends to stay in the first key nominated (and needs to be somewhat forced to change the basic key after that).
  13. Practise extending the range of notes you can play. During this time you'll find some notes resonate in the didge gloriously and others are difficult. Concentrate on getting all notes to play with the same sound quality and volume.
  14. The lowest note the didge can play easily is the same as for a closed pipe of any type. The didge can be induced to go one octave below that, and even deeper, using mouth-shape changes (embouchure)!
  15. You'll find that the didge naturally changes pitch with mathematically accurate relationships between the notes. These jumps tend to follow natural arpeggios (chords) like a bugle, which has no valves to change pipe lengths, can play all the traditional military tunes needing a bugle to play — for example The Last Post.
  16. You'll find that the didge can play all notes that any instrument can play. However, playing a continuously-variable change of pitch, like a motorbike changing speed without changing gears, is more difficult than with a string instrument that changes pitch by changing string-length and tension.
  17. To some extent a didge is like a violin. Changing pitch continuously uses the same sensation-monitoring skills for a didge as for violins and guitars. The sensations related to tension and string/string-length changes are less obvious for a didge. For learning any musical instrument you are finding the feelings associated with success, as with biofeedback. A violin/guitar has external strings and positions to put fingers on, to learn the feelings/touch associated with sounding perfect.
  18. Feedback feelings are more external, with a violin for example; compared with the feelings of getting-it-right with the didge (which are literally often inside as in the mouth). Sensations, relative to making sounds, are similar for all musical instruments; you use the same abilities for monitoring/analyzing and getting-familiar with changes and movements that work for making sounds and affecting emotions/communicating with the audience.
  19. In the video examples on the other page, I mixed routines I do easily and automatically, now, with examples of results still needing intense concentration and conscious monitoring. When a technique becomes automatic, then it can be mixed with more difficult routines without reinforcing errors. Presently I'm avoiding adding rhythms and pauses, because continuity is more difficult for me so I want that to be perfected before adding rhythm. The tendency to take breaths, in pauses and rhythm, can spoil perfecting maintaining a note and its characteristics during many breaths in and out.
  20. When you can play a tune predictably and reliably, and are comfortable about hitting whatever note you want to first try, then consider encouraging, more and more, all the delightful variety of different sounds possible. For example very often you can hear clearly more than one note coming out of the didge; the varieties of harmonics are done by changing mouth shapes as for voice communications.
  21. Regarding vocal sounds, for conventional didge playing these can be added before learning to "circular" breathe. Playing in tune is more difficult. To add complications, until frequency-control is perfected...vocals can happen later. The didge has a huge range of sounds; and it can vary its volume; it's like learning to sing; perhaps let other didge players add the traditional sounds and you play the tunes and harmonize with other instruments.
  22. Rhythm can be practiced at any stage. It adds difficulty that's best avoided until applied to an automatic, properly-learned reliable routine; then rhythm is nice to add; best, though, after learning to breathe reliable. Incidentally, when one can make very loud sounds with reliable resonances, on different notes, then so little air may be needed that one has to remember to breath out!
  23. Make sure that your lips stay ok; always make sure your body is comfortable; there's nothing to gain from pain. Better to rehearse more by visualization, thought and emotion than by risking overdoing physical repetition.
  24. The didge can more easily hold notes by resonating with a nearby sound source. Using the above techniques, you can naturally tune to any note other instruments can play, with them changing key and without the didge changing its length. This new method sets up balances between the slight tendency of the didge to resonate naturally and the strong resonances a person can produce. The results are cooperative control, of the pitch of the didge (the slight tendency of the didge to resonate following and interacting with the strong tendency of the musician to form resonances).
  25. Conventional methods presume that the didge's natural length-related resonances are the only frequencies possible; they encourage the person to be secondary to the didge's slight resonances. Better to produce one's own resonances and co-operate with the didge; to play any frequencies you want to. After enough practice, you can begin playing on any note you chose. I'm getting there, too...
  26. Tibetan Singing BowlThis method I'm pushing, although very "new", is Very Old. It is more subtle than just producing one-note a didge can play with only its own resonance. OK, many notes, by over-blowing. But over-blowing can't produce continuous frequency changes. This "co-resonant" method can produce frequency variations as close to "perfect pitch" as a human voice can be.
  27. The co-resonance technique depends of making subtle adjustments to one's own resonance and fitting in with the didge using delicacy of touch-feel as the slight touch of a finger revolving on the rim of a glass, or a padded wand on a little Tibetan Singing Bowl.

Videos on YouTube and other notes about the didgeridoo.