Didgeridoo Tutorial – Part 2

Circular Breathing

Copyright 1996 David Blonski…. (Taken from David’s CD Tutorial)


No matter how efficiently you learn to play the basic tone… sooner or later you will run out of air and you will have to interrupt the tone to take a breath. That is, unless you learn the technique of circular breathing. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this but we’ll concentrate on the simplest tongue and cheek method for now.  When you master this technique it will allow you to take in short breaths through the nose while you use the reserve air stored in your cheeks to maintain the fundamental tone. You do this by expelling air through the lips by using the tongue and cheek muscles to force air from the mouth cavity while at the same time you breath in using the nose and lungs. Listen for the short inhalation breaths as I maintain the didge drone.

Let’s go into what’s happening here just a little deeper. First, I am expelling air through the lips by using the lungs and diaphragm. Then, before I run out of air, I make sure that my cheeks are puffed out a bit as I close off the back of my throat to separate the mouth cavity from the nasal passages, esophagus and lungs.  To keep the lips buzzing I use my cheek and tongue muscles to constrict the mouth cavity which will continue to expel air through the lips.  This leaves my nose and lungs free to take a quick in-breath of air.  I then smoothly open up the back of my throat so that I can switch back to using my lungs and diaphragm….  As you can imagine it takes a bit of practice to master this technique so that you can switch smoothly back and forth between buzzing you lips with the lungs and then the mouth cavity and then the lungs again while maintaining the drone through it all.

A good starter exercise for this is a technique I call “the squirt”.   First puff up your cheeks with air and then close off the back of your throat. Now use your tongue and cheeks to force the air out between your lips…

Now do the same thing again but this time take a breath in through the nose as you expel the air out through your lips.

If you are having trouble with this, try filling your mouth with water while practicing this technique. It will probably be helpful to be outside or standing over a sink to avoid spitting water on the floor.

OK, now try this out in small steps with the didge. First get the drone going, then puff up your cheeks and try doing “the squirt” without taking in a breath.

Now do it again but this time take a breath in through the nose as you do your “squirt”.

It should be fairly simple up to here but now the trick is to open up the throat to use lung power once again in a smooth fashion so that you can maintain the drone all the way through. It’s kind of like using the clutch, shifting arm and gas pedal on a car to maintain the forward momentum of a vehicle while shifting gears. It just takes a lot of practice to master the technique and you’ll most likely lurch and kill the engine quite a few times until you get in the swing of things.  Be patient and try not to let yourself to become too frustrated.  If you stick with it,… you’ll get it.

A further aid to developing this technique is to blow bubbles into a tall glass of water with a drinking straw. First use the lungs and diaphragm.

Now try puffing up your cheeks with air and then slowly expel the air through the straw without using any air from your lungs. Just constrict the back of the throat and use only your tongue and cheeks to expel the air.

OK, you should have found that pretty easy to do.  Now let’s do this same thing again but this time as we expel the air out through the straw simply take a breath in through the nose.

You should find this surprisingly simple as well. The tricky part comes in when you try to switch smoothly from lung power …to cheek power … and then back to lung power all while keeping that steady stream of bubbles going.

Only time and practice will help you develop this technique… When you master the bubble technique you can start to apply the same basic principles to your didgeridoo playing.

Here are a couple of more tips. As you start to develop this technique with the didgeridoo you will most likely notice that you’ll get a break in the tone because your cheek air gives out too fast. This is why is so important to practice the basic tone until you can maintain the tone with very little air pressure. This will allow your cheek air to last a longer period of time. Another helpful tip is to keep your lungs topped off with lots of little breaths rather than emptying them out and forcing yourself to take larger breaths when your starved for air.At first you may only be able to get a breath or two in while maintaining the tone before you loose it but with practice you’ll be able to play longer and longer stretches without a break in the tone. Eventually you will be able to play for indefinite amounts of time without any strain at all.

There are a couple of more habits that you should try to establish right from the beginning.  First, maintain the practice of always breathing in through the nose during your playing sessions.  Second, always try to take in small short breaths on a regular basis and constantly try and shorten the amount of time that you allow for a break in the tone. In this way your setting yourself up to have the proper techniques in place for when you do begin to spontaneously develop this very important part of didgeridoo playing.

Don’t get discouraged if this technique eludes you at first. It could take days, weeks or months. It took me two months to develop this technique once I understood the process and it took several more before it became automatic and second natured. You should keep practicing this technique until you can keep up a constant tone for quite a long time.  However, don’t allow yourself to get stuck here if you can’t get it right away.  If you can maintain a good solid tone for more than 5 seconds you can go ahead with working on tonal modulations and rhythmic playing while you continue to practice your circular breathing technique.

  Go to Part 1         Continue to Part 3

Copyright 1996 David Blonski

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