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Title: Bunggridj-bunggridj: Wangga Songs by Alan Maralung; New Song--Alan Maralung, voice and clapsticks, Peter Manaberu, didjeridu. Label: Smithsonian Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SF 40430. Track: 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

Clapsticks is a pair of concussion stick idiophones (clappers) of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is used by Aboriginal groups throughout the Australian continent. Many names exist for this instrument in the Aboriginal languages and, in northern Australia, quite often the name used by one group will be similar to their name for the didjeridu. In northern Australia, clapsticks are played by male, didjeridu accompanied singers “… 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.” (Jones, p. 565) Elsewhere on the continent where the didjeridu is not found, clapsticks are utilized by most Aborigine groups to accompany singing in ceremonies and for dancing. (Marett, et al) By the 1990s, Aborigine popular music groups (most famously, Yothu Yindi, who toured internationally as a ‘world music’ group) were incorporating both the clapsticks and the didjeridu into their music (audio #2).


These clapsticks are made from solid hardwood that has been minimally shaped with an adz from the tree branch from which they originated to give each of the sticks pointed ends. There is no standardized size for clapsticks, but in comparison with clapsticks seen in published images and found in other collections, this pair is relatively short. Decorative designs are painted onto the sticks.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A player holds one stick near one of its ends in each hand and forcefully clashes their other ends together. A high, clear, penetrating, and loud sound of indefinite pitch and short duration results. A singer accompanying himself on clapsticks will often use the instrument to reinforce the primary pulse of his song (audio #1). Dance movement will be coordinated around the beat provided on the clapsticks by a singer or singers.


The origin of the Aboriginal clapsticks will likely never be known with any certainty. Depictions of the instrument, in conjunction with didjeridus, appear in rock paintings, but much speculation is involved in their dating. Suffice it to say that, like the didjeridu, clapsticks have been in use for at least the past one thousand years. 

Bibliographic Citations

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

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

Marett, Alan, and Paddy Naughton. 1993. Bunggridj-bunggridj: Wangga Songs by Alan Maralung. Booklet for Smithsonian Folkways CD SF 40430.

Marett, Alan, et al. 1998. “Traditional Australian Music.” 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. 418--449.

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


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Australia and New Zealand

Nation: Australia

Formation: Aboriginal

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.11 idiophone--concussion sticks or stick clappers: two or more are struck against each other

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - oblong bar

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - direct

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


6.5 and 7.5 in. lengths

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter