The range of didgeridoo notes extends over an entire octave, ranging from low notes to very high notes. With this in mind, it is not easy for a beginner to choose the right note to start! When one begins to play the didgeridoo, there are often two questions that come to mind. The first one asks which didgeridoo one should choose to learn on and the second asks which note one should use to play. So which note should you choose and how do you know if it is suitable for you? To clarify this difficult question, we must take a step back and understand that didgeridoos are classified into three large families of notes, each of which has its own characteristics. Let’s check it out!
The 3 large didgeridoo families
You certainly know it now, every didgeridoo has its own note. This unique note gives the basic vibration which, in addition to the form of the didgeridoo, makes up a good part of its character. The notes most played on the didgeridoo range from a high pitched ‘so’ to a low range ‘la’.
To locate them on the keyboard of a piano, these are these notes:
Three colors, three families: In green: the low notes | In blue: the medium notes | In orange (weird, I’ll admit it): the high notes
In this diagram, you can see that the lowest didgeridoo note is a A and the highest is a G#. It is of course possible to extend this scale beyond this range, mainly in the low/bass notes. Dubravko Lapaine was one of those who introduced the bass didgeridoo by playing on extremely long instruments (over 3 meters long!). Of course, the more you go to such extremes, the more skill it will require for you to play the didgeridoo appropriately. Do not start with a 3 meter long didgeridoo! On the other hand, for high notes beyond G#, their vibrations can come (dangerously!) close to the sound a trumpet makes, which does not mark a successful feat when playing the didgeridoo.
Thus, this panel of notes can be classified into three groups which have definitions that can sometimes slide a little: the low/bass notes, the mid-range notes and the high/treble notes. I shall present them at once!
A -B flat – B – C : The bass didgeridoo notes: warm but sometimes dark
The members of this family are rather calm and easy going. They like to move slowly in the same way that their vibrations so gently spread themselves. They are didgeridoos with an often very clear meditative aspect to them. You can still play fast rhythms with them, but you will have to shake them up a little! However, the are generally pretty inviting. If you want to develop the relaxation aspect of the didgeridoo, you can adopt a member of this family!
On the other hand, you will quickly find yourself in the extremes with this type of stick. As such, an instrument which sounds in A will be difficult to find in the didgeridoo market. Indeed, the deeper you go into the bass notes the less often the instruments are played. This is, first and foremost, for reasons of playability, but also for reasons of portability. With a form that matches the sound, the deeper note a didgeridoo makes, the longer the instrument will be. Thus a didgeridoo with a A note can easily reach a length of two meters and it can be a lot of work to lug that thing around on the weekends!
My last didgeridoo to date: an excellent B from CrookedStixz
If you want a didgeridoo from this family, then it is best to begin with a C. These are effectively the least low/bass. As a result, they are also shorter and easier to play. Furthermore, you will be able to find them quite easily, because this note is a standard one. The C has quite an advantage in having the qualities of a bass while also maintaining nice playability. So, if you are mostly searching for something smooth and well-rounded there is a good chance that a C would suitable for you.
Keep in mind that the lower/more bass you go, the more earthy and cavernous the didgeridoos will become. To paint a better picture for you, it is as if you begin to discover a small enclave nestled in a cliff with a C. Then, with the B, you enter a cave, the A will have you descending into a pit and the lower you descend with the basses, the further you will go into the depths of the earth. Suffice it to say, a bass note pushed to the extreme can quickly become creepy and uncomfortable…
F – F# – G – G# : High note didgeridoos: from dynamism to nervousness
Here we are with the polar opposite of the previous family…this is the home of the restless! This family moves, runs, and jumps in all directions. In short, it is full of life! And you need a good deal of expertise to control all that, because they can quickly take you away. However, once tamed, they have a substantial amount of natural dynamism. They are perfect for playing rhythms and for playing rapidly, but that is really it.
We could add a A, a high one this time, but no one really plays that note. Even the G# is just taken for pleasing the diehards. With a A, we really pass the limit where the drone begins to sound like an overtone. It is a didgeridoo technique that no longer uses the drone, but instead plays a note above, which becomes very high.
In this family, your lips will vibrate quickly and they will be tense. The rule to remember – which is quite the opposite of the bass notes – is that the higher you go with treble, the more tense your lips will become. This is why rhythms are often simpler (at least initially) to play with this family of notes than it is with the bass note family. And because of this tension, the pressure is greater, which facilitates the production of tongue attacks and thereby the creation of rhythm.
One of my first didgeridoos, a one meter long F# with a big diameter. THE didgeridoo to avoid when you are just beginning!
Be careful though! As you might imagine, the line between dynamism and agitation is very quickly crossed. Just as the bass notes can become gloomy, high-pitched didgeridoos can be tiring and oppressive if they are not mastered. It takes practice to play this type of instrument. Once again, the extremes which these can reach are demanding; the low notes demand a certain degree of suppleness while the high notes require good musculature.
If you really want to start playing with this family, then err toward the least high of these notes – FA (F). However, I really do not recommend you make this choice. While a DO (C) is a good one to start with because its detracted side adapts to the musculature of your body, a FA (F) will really push your breath and your muscles. Of course that will be difficult at the beginning. OK … I am tell you this, but 6 months after having started, I bought a F# that was very difficult to play (which I did not know at the time!). It was a good learning experience for me as I had to learn to really pinch my lips and to blow with force! So, follow my advice, but maybe not too much. ?
C # – D – E b – E : The mid range didgeridoos: the balance between two extremes?
This is the middle family, the one that connects the two extremes. And I’ll say straight out that this family is certainly the most balanced in character. Add to that the fact that often these didgeridoos have an average size of about 1m40 and are available at many retailers or manufacturers and you have the ideal family with which to learn how to play with continuous breath and to play your first rhythms.
They have the advantage of having the best of both worlds. The C# and the D have a tendency most like that of the bass notes but with a vibration that maintains a comfortable amount of tension. These two notes will offer you a relaxing character, but they will will also offer good dynamism for the days when you are playing at your best! Meanwhile, the Eb and E will have a little more tension (and consequently some rhythm) without being overly tense.
My favorite E, which I purchased second-hand during my tour in Russia
To summarize, we could say that a C# or a D is 2/3 meditative and 1/3 dynamic, while a E or Eb is 2/3 dynamic and 1/3 meditative. That is just a quick summary, but it is pretty much the idea.
All of this to say that when you are beginning to play, these are the notes that I recommend. They are multifunctional and easy to access.
What do you want to play with your didgeridoo?
You are certainly attracted by a particular character trait of the didgeridoo – something that has touched you upon hearing it. Maybe it is the relaxing side, or maybe it is something in the rhythmic elements. Perhaps for some players it might be the connection with nature, and a few players will like the natural “electro” aspect. There is something for every taste! It is often what initially touched us that drives us to play so we want to find it with our instrument. What I have presented in this article is a “mini-guide” for you to understand the different notes and their characteristics, however, it’s the same old song I’ve been singing all along: listen to yourself and always choose a didgeridoo that inspires you! This is essential.
Order on the internet without trying?
OK … a didgeridoo that inspires you, yes; but not just any one! I have already talked about cheap didgeridoos to avoid and you should know that you will not have a plethora of choices to buy your first didgeridoo. Unless you have the chance to meet a didgeridoo maker at a festival, one of the only choices you have will be to order it on the internet (I advise you to avoid music stores that often know very little about the didgeridoo). All this is to say that you will not likely have the chance to test out your future instrument.
So if you order your didgeridoo without trying it, I urge you to aim for the mid-range family or a C. This is where you will be less likely to go wrong (or to read further about this: which didgeridoo should you choose when learning to play?).
Remember that there are three big families. At the risk of being a little simplistic: the bass notes are slow, the trebles are fast and the mid-range family of notes is a balance between these characteristics. Also, if you try a didgeridoo and manage to make a good sound then do not even ask what note it is – we do not care! Nothing is more important than producing that sound and all else will follow! Finally, keep in mind that the instrument’s note is one aspect, but that its character also depends a lot on the shape of its air column (for more on this: 4 essential criteria to understand the psychology of your didgeridoo! ).
I hope to have clarified some points for you. Ask me any questions you might have in the comments section below! I would be happy to answer.
Always a pleasure to read your articles Gauthier! Thanks and regards. ~ Bala 😉
Thanks Bala! 🙂