How to Make a Bamboo Didgeridoo
Although it is widely assumed that the original Australian aboriginal didgeridoos where made from termite hollowed eucalyptus wood, traditionally it is suggested that the first didgeridoos were in fact made from bamboo. In this article I will explain you how to make a bamboo didgeridoo, how to play it, and how it can improve your health.
What is a Didgeridoo?
The didgeridoo (also known as a didjeridu, didj or didge) is a wind instrument developed by indigenous aboriginal communities in Northern Australia. It is sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or "drone pipe", and probably originated 1,000 years ago. Musicologists classify it as a brass aerophone.
Didgeridoos are made from a hollowed cylindrical or conical tube with a beeswax mouthpiece, usually they are 3 to 6 feet long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Generally speaking, the longer the instrument, the lower the pitch or key of the instrument.
The Australian aboriginal didgeridoo comes in many different shapes and forms but it is suggested that it was originally made from Bambusa arnhemica bamboo. It is possible that termite hollowed Eucalyptus trees were also used in pre-colonial times but evidence suggests that bamboo was the predominant original material. Back then, internal bamboo diaphragms were propably removed by dropping hot coals down the tubes.
Traditionally, the didgeridoo was only played by men and served as an accompaniment to ceremonial dancing and singing. Today, the majority of didgeridoo playing is for recreational purposes in both indigenous Australian communities and elsewhere around the world.
How to Make a Didgeridoo from Bamboo?
To make a didgeridoo from bamboo, you'll only need a few inexpensive hand-tools and materials. For beginners who are just learning how to play the didgeridoo it is recommended to make the didj about 5 foot long. Longer or shorter didgeridoos are harder to learn circular breathing on because you'll need more air to keep them going.
Want to make a Bamboo Didgeridoo like this? Keep on Reading!
Materials and Tools Needed
- Bamboo Pole (2" - 5')
- Threaded Rod (3')
- Measuring Tape
- Fine Hand Saw
- Propane Torch
- Fine Sandpaper
- Black Shoe Polish
1. Selecting the Bamboo Can
There is not a preferred species to make a good bamboo didgeridoo, but it is advisable to select a 5-6 foot long bamboo pole with long internodes and strong walls.
The diameter of bamboo usually taper from one end to the other end of the pole. Make sure that the small end (which will be the mouthpiece) has an inside diameter (excluding the thickness of the bamboo walls) of about 2 inches. If the mouthpiece is too small, you wouldn't be able to let your lips vibrate freely enough to make that typical didj drone. If the mouthpiece is too large, you won't be able to get a good air-seal around your lips.
2. Cutting the Bamboo
Choose a piece of bamboo of 5-6 feet long and focus on the smaller end first. This is where the didgeridoo mouthpiece will be. Make sure this part of the bamboo cane ends with a node. If not, cut off the excessive part, and cut right through the middle of the last node. This way you will create a nice wide surface to attach the mouthpiece on.
Next, measure down about 60 inches towards the other end of the bamboo and cut it to length. If there is a node here, cut it off. A node at the bell end of the bamboo didgeridoo might muffle the sound and can possibly constrict the airway.
It is best to cut bamboo with a fine tooth hand saw to make a smooth cut. When using a coarse blade or power saw, it is advisable to wrap the bamboo with masking tape and cut right through the tape to prevent the bamboo from splintering.
Finally remove any rough edges or splinters with a rasp and/or a piece of sanding paper.
3. Removing the Bamboo Nodes
The next step is to remove the nodes inside the bamboo. The idea is to knock out all the nodes so that there is a relatively smooth and clear air passage throughout the entire bamboo pole.
Use a small bolt and a hammer to break out the first diaphragm of the bamboo cane. Next find yourself a 3-4 foot piece of 1/2 inch rebar or threaded rod to insert into the bamboo. Ram the rod back and forth to knock out all the membranes, do this for both ends so that the entire bamboo pole is free of any membrane material. You can also use the threaded rod as a "rasp" to clean the inside of the bamboo tube.
4. Making a Beeswax Didgeridoo Mouthpiece
To make a high quality didgeridoo mouthpiece you will need a small pan or metal cup and some beeswax. Only use organic beeswax, because other waxes could contain harmful additives that may cause skin irritation.
Making a Beeswax Didgeridoo Mouthpiece Video
- Melt a little beeswax in a small pan or metal cup, and dip the mouth end of the didgeridoo into the hot wax. This is to create a foundation for the beeswax mouthpiece to adhere to. Remember to use low heat because beeswax already starts to melt at temperatures that are slightly higher than body temperature. Be careful, if beeswax gets to hot it won't boil but start to smoke and catch fire!
- The next step is to prepare the actual beeswax didgeridoo mouthpiece. Soak some beeswax in warm water (not boiling water!) for about 10-20 minutes until the beeswax is soft enough to mold with your fingers. Mold a sausage like tube of beeswax around the mouthpiece and press it around the edges so that it forms a complete ring.
- Finally, dip the didgeridoo mouthpiece into the melted beeswax one more time to seal and create a better looking end. Do not hold the didgeridoo in the melted beeswax, just dip straight in and out.
- When you play the didgeridoo, the wax will make a good seal. Once the wax warms up it will mold itself to your lips and make it much easier to play.
5. Tuning the Didgeridoo
By making adjustments to the length of the bamboo it is possible to tune the didgeridoo. When the didj is too short (less than 45 inches) it will sound more like a trumpet. Longer didgeridoos (more than 62 inches) produce increasingly baritone drones which are more difficult to play. For the beginning to intermediate didgeridoo player it is best to size the bamboo didge to a 45" - 62" length.
Tuning a didgeridoo can be done by cutting off a small portion (not more then 1 cm at a time) from the bell end of the bamboo, you will get a feel for how much the pitch of the didgeridoo goes up for each amount you cut off. Once you have a good pitch, sand the end to smooth the edges.
6. Making a Black Bamboo Didgeridoo
There are 2 methods to obtain that black bamboo didgeridoo as seen in the video earlier. The first one is heating the bamboo with a propane torch (this method is preferred for fresh green bamboo), the second method is to stain dry (yellow) bamboo after it was scraped or heavily sanded. As you can see, for both green or dry bamboo, it is necessary to remove its outer layer. That's because bamboo contains a natural wax that doesn't permit any finishes in its natural condition.
Heating up the outer layer of dry bamboo with a propane torch may induce cracking. Therefore it is recommended to apply this technique only to relatively fresh green bamboo from which the inner membranes were removed.
Watch this Video on How to Stain Bamboo
Use the propane torch to heat an area of about 3 to 4 square inches. Gradually, you will see how the color of the bamboo changes from green to tan, from tan to brown, and from brown to nearly black. In other words the longer you keep the propane torch over a certain area, the darker it well become. Be careful though not to burn the bamboo by heating a certain area to long. Once you have obtained the desired black color move away from that area, and wipe the hot cane with a wet rag. Wiping the bamboo will remove waxes and oils that came to the surface from heating the cane.
If you are planning to use this heating technique, make sure to add the beeswax mouthpiece AFTER you finished this process.
Finally, you could apply paste wax or black shoe polish to give your bamboo didgeridoo a shiny finish. Better would be to apply a few layers of sealant and varnish to give it the ultimate finish and protection. Make sure though to only apply varnish to bamboo that is completely dry or mold forming might occur.
Learning How to Play the Didgeridoo
At first it is quite challenging to learn how to play the didgeridoo because it is played with continuously vibrating lips to produce the drone, while using a special breathing technique called circular breathing. This requires breathing in through the nose whilst simultaneously expelling stored air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks. When using this technique, a skilled player can replenish the air in their lungs, and sustain a note for as long as desired.
Learn How to Play the Didgeridoo Video
The best way to describe the vibrating technique of the lips is to put your lips on the mouthpiece, sort of like a trumpet and make a drone sound that when done right makes the didgeridoo resonate with a nice sound (also called the "sweet spot").
Healing Didgeridoo Sounds
Various didgeridoo sounds can be made by adding vocalizations to the drone. Most of these vocalizations are related to sounds emitted by Australian animals. To produce these sounds, the players simply have to use their vocal cords to produce the sounds of the animals whilst continuing to blow air through the instrument.
Watch this amazing video, illustrating the unique sound of the didgeridoo!
Apart from its unique sound, playing the didgeridoo can also be very beneficial to the health. A study in the British Medical Journal found that practicing the circular breathing technique when playing the didgeridoo helped to reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep. Circular breathing also has significant healing benefits for asthmatics.
The extra breathing and lung activity when playing the didgeridoo has a similar effect to exercising because it increases the oxygen supplied to the body. During the creation of sounds and rhythms, diaphragm muscles are actively used which has an effect on the internal organs, similar to specific yoga exercises designed to enhance the assimilation of food and elimination of waste.
Playing the didgeridoo can reduce stress levels and elevate the spirit by giving a sense of well-being and achievement.