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What is a Didjeridu?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2014
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A didjeridu — pronounced DIH juh ree doo — is a drone pipe fashioned by various Australian Aborigine peoples. of northern Australia, particularly around Arnhem Land. While didgeridoo is a commonly found spelling, the Australian government has settled on didjeridu as the correct spelling of the instruments name. It is also called yidaki.

Many dijeridus exist today that are considered inauthentic because they are not made by Aboriginal craftsmen. Authentic instruments are constructed from 4 to 6 foot (1.2 to 1.8m) lengths of tree trunk that have been hollowed by termites. varieties of the Eucalyptus are often used. The length of the shaft determines the pitch of the instrument. Logs are cured, and a mouthpiece of beeswax may be applied, along with decorations that are carved or applied with paint.

The didjeridu may be played with several different techniques, some traditional and some contemporary. One way to distinguish the techniques is those that create overtones and those that do not. Some techniques require blowing with sound manipulated using the tongue, throat, and diaphragm. Techniques may also call for simultaneous blowing and singing, but the technique most closely associated with the dijeridu is circular breathing, which allows the player to perform a continuous sound without having to stop to breathe.

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Didjeridu may be played either sitting or standing. The end of the instrument may be held near the ground, propped on the player’s foot, rested on the ground, or placed in a container that forms an external resonator. Didjeridu is traditionally played as an accompaniment, providing a drone and rhythms that are integral to the performance. It is commonly combined with another Aboriginal instrument known as clapsticks.

Recent works have been written for didjeridu and orchestra, including Dance Gundah by Philip Bracanin, Songs of Sea and Sky and Requiem by Peter Sculthorpe, and Mr. Lewis comes to Wuppertal by George Dreyfus. Noted didjeridu players include Djalu Gurruwiwi, William Barton, David Hudson, and Mark Atkins. Also notable is the band Yothu Yindi, which acquired a following in the 1990s.

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