The didjeridu is a male-oriented musical instrument in Australian
Indigenous society. In the 'Top End' of Australia where the
didjeridu is endemic, men play the instrument in ceremonial
and recreational contexts, just as men play the clapsticks
and sing during ceremonial events (though women also have
'wailing songs' when news of a death is announced). It is
not, however, taboo for Aboriginal women to play the didjeridu
in this part of Australia, and there are occasions where women
role play and take hold of the instrument in comical mimicry
of men (for example, in the entertaining phases of circumcision
rituals). In rare cases, some Aboriginal women in 'Top End'
communities have become proficient at playing the didjeridu,
though they never perform in ceremonial contexts.
In other parts of Australia, there are stricter
restrictions on Aboriginal women playing the didjeridu with
outright prohibition in some areas.
Despite the didjeridu being a male-oriented
instrument in Australian Aboriginal culture, non-Indigenous
women around the world have begun to explore the musical possibilities
of the didjeridu. There is a diversity of opinions relating
to this among Aboriginal men, ranging from encouragement and
amusement to indifference and downright scorn. Generally,
Aboriginal men in 'Top End' communities do not have a problem
with non-Indigenous women playing the didjeridu. They reason
that the cultural rules and conditions that govern behaviour
in Indigenous society do not apply to non-Indigenous women,
which are bound by their own set of Western laws and moral
Traditional didjeridu techniques
The most sophisticated and technically refined playing styles
have developed among the coastal Aboriginal groups of northern
Australia. Indeed, the finest didjeridu players on this planet
are to be found on Groote Eylandt, north-east Arnhem Land,
and Western Arnhem Land. In these areas, didjeridu compositions
are rhythmically complex and multi-dimensional and the techniques
that are the cornerstone of these compositions are nothing
short of extraordinary. Traditional Aboriginal techniques
are based on pulsed accents effected through tongue, throat
and diaphragm manipulations.
Playing the didjeridu in the classical styles of Arnhem Land
is a source of continued inspiration and challenge for a growing
number of didjeridu players throughout the world. Whilst musically
diverse and geographically distinct, classical traditional
playing styles can be clumped into 2 general categories: overtone-present
The overtone-present style is endemic to Groote Eylandt,
north-east Arnhem Land, north-central Arnhem Land and south-east
Arnhem Land. Only the first overtone note is used in traditional
The overtone-absent style in used in other parts of the Northern
Territory including Western Arnhem Land and the NW region
of the Northern Territory.
Contemporary styles are basically anything that is not traditional.
Some Aboriginal players liken contemporary playing to aeroplane
noises! Typically, contemporary playing consists of swirling,
bouncing sounds with plenty of vocal effects. More accomplished
contemporary players are driven by beat and rhythm.