Music: What is a Didgeridoo?

Man playing the didgeridoo

Barni1 / Pixabay

In April 2010 on the popular TV show “American Idol” during Season 9, contestant Crystal Bowersox featured an instrument called the didgeridoo played by Ernie Fields as part of her “Come Together” performance of the classic Beatles song. This selection astounded the judges because it is not a common instrument.

You may be wondering, what is a didgeridoo? You’ve got to admit this is not the run of the mill type of instrument to hear about a performance in the competitive arena, especially on a television show like “American Idol”.

According to About.com, a didgeridoo is “an ancient wind instrument developed by the Aboriginal peoples of Australia”. The instruments have been traditionally hand-constructed using natural earth materials such tree branches and wax from wild bees.

The tree branches are hollowed out by termites or other bugs, and this hollowed structure allows the wind to flow through to generate the sounds. While an exact time frame of when the didgeridoo was first created is not really known, but speculation is the earliest didgeridoos date back centuries to approximately thousands of years ago and could theoretically be one of the first musical instruments ever developed. According to Aboriginalart.com.au, the didgeridoo was “used as an accompaniment to chants and songs”.

What is a didgeridoo?

Didgeman / Pixabay

The range of notes allowed in this instrument is limited due to the way it is constructed, and it is the breathing techniques that create the different sounds. The construction of the didgeridoo needs to be precise in width and length because any imperfections in the making of the instrument will impact the quality of musical sounds.

In modern day the didgeridoo can be made of other types of wood, but the construction must still be precise. If not, the sound will not turn out to be the one desired and it is important to pay attention to the width and length of the didgeridoo during construction.

What’s really fascinating about this instrument is there are no buttons to push or holes to place fingers over like other traditional hand or wind instruments. The sound is made by a continuous movement of lips and a simultaneous circular breathing performance. When done concurrently the notes can be played for lengthier periods of time which enables the musical sounds to emit.

The instrument has a distinctly unique sound and historically has played an important role in Aboriginal religious ceremonies, but has been increasingly been incorporated to modernized music too.

Crystal Bowersox and Ernie Fields playing “Come Together” in 2010 featuring the didgeridoo


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