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Title: The Art of the Didjeridu. Label: Wattle. Format: LP. Catalogue#: D4. Track: B-1.

Title: The Art of the Didjeridu. Label: Wattle. Format: LP. Catalogue#: D4. Track: B-1.

Title: Freedom; Danggultji--Yolthu Yindi, Witiyana Marika, voice and clapsticks, Bunimbirr Marika, didjeridu. Label: Mushroom Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: MUSH32464.2. Track: 10.

Contextual Associations

The didjeridu is and end-blown natural lip-reed aerophone of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is most closely associated with Aboriginal groups whose homelands are located in the north-central part of the Australian continent, the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory and Western Australia provinces. Although at least forty names exist for this instrument in Aboriginal languages (at the time of writing, perhaps the Yolngu term yidaki is the most widely known of these), it has become known throughout the world by the European onomatopoeia didjeridu. According to Jones “The [didjeridu] is played by male aborigines together with clapping sticks to accompany singing and dancing, and it is used primarily, although not exclusively, in ‘open’ (non-secret) ceremonies (including funeral and mourning ceremonies), clan songs (which express affiliation with particular lineages, emblems and territories), camp entertainment songs, djedbangari or djatpangarri (‘fun’ songs of young bachelors) and individually owned songs such as wongga and gunborg.” (p. 565) In recent decades aborigines from throughout Australia have adopted it as a contemporary solo and rock band ensemble instrument, and this has contributed to the instrument becoming a pan-Aboriginal cultural symbol. (Knopoff) One band in particular has contributed to the global perception of the didjeridu as an icon of Aboriginal identity--Yothu Yindi, a group of Yolngu musicians who toured internationally during the 1990s and 2000s, included the didjeridu in their performances (audio #3). Outside of the Aboriginal cultural domain, the didjeridu has been appropriated and re-contextualized by non-Aboriginal people for such ends as spectacle and therapy (Neuenfeldt) and as a business concern manufacturing instruments for global distribution and sale to any curious consumer for use in any way they see fit.


This didjeridu is made from a length (38.6 inches or about 1 meter; most instruments are between 1- and 1.5-meters long) of a termite-hollowed eucalyptus branch stripped of its bark. Stringy bark, woolybutt, and Red river gum are the most common species of eucalyptus trees used for making didjeridus. The instrument’s bore is roughly cylindrical (1.5 inches at the blowing end, 1.7 inches at the distal end) but, because no human effort was put into refining it, its interior surface is full of ridges and other irregularities. The blowing end rim of the tube is made smooth and rounded with a thin coating of beeswax or eucalyptus gum. The exterior of this didjeridu is decorated with clusters of painted bands over an ocher background.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the instrument in front of himself so that the end with the refined rim can be pressed against his lips and the distal end is pointed away from him. Two basic seated positions for didjeridu performance are found amongst aborigine players: for one the distal end is placed on the ground; for the other, the distal end rests one of the player’s upturned feet. The didjeridu can also be played while standing, allowing the player to move about with mobile singers and dancers. Some players will duplicate the clapping stick rhythms by tapping on the wall of his didjeridu with a stick. Playing technique is complicated and varies from group to group. Using circular breathing techniques, the player sustains the fundamental pitch of the instrument as a continuous drone. The drone pitch of the didjeridu pictured here is approximately G2. In some styles the player intermittently sounds a partial of the drone (audio #1), in other styles players create accents with pitch inflections to the drone while at the same time superimposing vocal sounds (audio #2). Amongst the Aboriginal groups with the longest standing traditions, the instrument is always played in accompaniment of one or a few singers, who in turn usually provide a rhythmic accompaniment to their songs with clapsticks (sometimes boomerangs are used for this).


The origin of the didjeridu will likely never be known with any certainty. Depictions of the instrument appear in rock paintings, but much speculation is involved in their dating. Knopoff suggests the instrument dates back perhaps no earlier than 1000 CE. There is a very good chance that for much of its existence the didjeridu was not made from wood, but from bamboo. Earliest European accounts of the instrument, dating from the first half of the 19th century, describe it as being constructed from large-diameter bamboo (Bambusa arnhemica) with its internal nodes burned out. Moyle (p. 322) points out as well that to this day “the word ‘bamboo’ … is still used in the lingua franca by some Aborigines when referring to the instrument.” Today, primarily non-Aborigine makers of didjeridus produce the instrument in great numbers, from a wider variety of materials (including resins), in more varied sizes, and often with smooth-surface bores. However, it is still possible to find traditional eucalyptus-wood instruments with termite-hollowed bores.

Bibliographic Citations

Jones, Trevor A. 1984. “Didjeridu.” NGDMI v.1: 565-566.

Knopoff, Steven. “Didjeridu.” Grove Music Online, accessed August 14, 2015:

Marett, Alan. 1998. “Didjeridus of Australia.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 9. Australia and the Pacific Islands. ed. Adrienne L. Kaeppler and J. W. Love. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 393-395.

Moyle, Alice M. 1981. “The Australian didjeridu: A Late Musical Intrusion,” World Archaeology 12/3: 321-331.

Neuenfeldt, Karl. 1998. “Good Vibrations? The “Curious” Cases of the Didjeridu in Spectacle and Therapy in Australia,” the world of music 40/2: 29-51.


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Australia and New Zealand

Nation: Australia

Formation: Aboriginal

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.121.11 aerophone--end-blown straight natural labrosone without mouthpiece: the tube is neither curved nor folded

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over open end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: none

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - selecting partials of a single cavity’s fundamental through overblowing


38.6 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter