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No Worries - Playing the Didge.

The trick to playing the didgeridoo, Lester told me, is circular breathing. The young Aborigine explained that it had taken him about a year to learn how to breathe properly. "You breathe in through your nose, blow the air forcefully to the side, through your cheek muscles, and then blow it out through your mouth. Easy enough, right?"

Right. "You learn by blowing through a straw into a glass of water," he added, helpfully. "When you can keep an unbroken stream of bubbles going in the water for more than ten minutes, then you'll be ready for a didge."

The didgeridoo is a long, hollow wooden tube that you blow through. The musician controls the sound by changing the pressure or rate of blowing, rolling his lips, vibrating his breathing, and so on. "You can make all kinds of sounds, like a dog barking or the wind in the trees," said Lester. I told him the songs he had been playing reminded me of the sounds of the woods as night fell, and he beamed in agreement.

There is no specific format for the songs, he explained. He and other players make up what they're doing as they go along. Lester used to find it difficult to play with other people. It made him self-conscious about his breathing, and he cannot listen to what another player is doing while concentrating on his own blowing.

Each time he plays, Lester creates a distinct change of content, quality, tempo, and mood. No two songs are alike. But the didgeridoo does have a traditional storytelling role. "Sound conveys images, so-- through the progression of images--people gain a sense of story," he explained. The didgeridoo is used in aboriginal rituals and ceremonies and can be used for healing. It is believed that the vibration of the instrument blown onto the skin can be healthful.

The instrument is made by tribal elders, and there is some ceremony as the task is finished. Decoration on the didgeridoo can convey images or have symbolic meaning. Lester's "didge" has a natural finish. "I'm not spiritual," he grinned.

What of his elaborate body painting, I wondered? Lester explained that his markings suggest a lizard, which is his personal totem animal. It was assigned to him when he was a baby, he presumes, because it was the first creature his mother saw after his birth.

"Anyone can use my didge," he commented as I prepared to leave, "but traditionally, women shouldn't play one.

"When you breathe, you use your diaphragm," he explained. "This could create problems for women if they were pregnant. People didn't know about a pregnancy until the belly swelled up, so for safety's sake it was taboo for women to ever use the didge."


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Title Annotation:circular breathing and the didgeridoo
Author:Osmond, Stephen J.
Publication:World and I
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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