The ABCs of Didgeridoo - Spring 2014
Learn to Play Didgeridoo in a Group Setting in the Heart of New York City
Sundays, March 23 - May 25, 1-3pm
MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, Near W36th St and 8th Ave
Full details at www.didgeridooclass.com
How to Strengthen The Breath and Expand Lung Capacity
Take a deep breath. Notice any movement in your body.
When I was young I would have taken a huge gasp of air, maximum 3 seconds long, swelling my chest and shoulders. The study of wind instruments showed me that breathing like this does not utilize the full potential of the respiratory system and often results in short (and weak) breathing. The information contained in this article is what I learned to get me to inhale ten times longer and play notes on didgeridoo for over one minute on a single breath... Continue Reading
6 Steps to Mastering Circular Breathing
Circular breathing is a wind instrument technique that allows the player to sustain a tone for an extended period of time. This is accomplished by storing air in the mouth (inflating the cheeks) and using this reservoir of air to inhale through the nose while air is still coming out the mouth. People always ask me if it is difficult to circular breathe and I usually reply that it is just a slight variation on normal breathing. Circular breathing is key to didgeridoo playing because it allows for the continuous drone to remain unbroken, forming a strong foundation for the complete sound. Learning to circular breathe is like going to the gym in that you are working to develop muscle tone, flexibility and control. While it may seem challenging, practice of the following exercises you will give you an understanding of how the mechanics work and how to successfully master the art. Some people find it easier to learn circular breathing by playing the didgerdioo but you do not need an instrument to practice these exercises.
1. Breathe through your nose with inflated cheeks
Fill your cheeks with air so they are puffed out and hold your lips tight so no air escapes. Inhale and exhale naturally through the nose, keeping the cheeks filled with air the whole time. Inhale slowly. Exhale slowly. This first step serves to establish independence between your breath and the air in stored in your mouth reservoir.
2. Spit water
Fill your mouth with water so that your cheeks are bulging out. Gently squeeze your cheeks and bring your jaw up as if biting so the water streams out. Maintaining a constant stream, inhale and exhale naturally through your nose. Your goal is to have an uninterrupted flow of water coming out of your mouth as you breathe. This exercise can be practiced each time you step into the shower.
3. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with inflated cheeks
Start with your cheeks inflated and mouth closed. Inhale through the nose, keeping your lips sealed and your cheeks inflated. Then exhale through your mouth, keeping your cheeks just as full. On your next inhale, seal your lips again. Continue with this cycle maintaining inflated cheeks throughout.
4. Inhale through the nose while squeezing air out of your mouth
This is the first stage in what will become a full breath cycle. Start with your cheeks inflated. At the same moment you begin to inhale through the nose, squeeze the air out of your mouth by bringing your jaw up and tightening your cheek muscles. You should strive for a strong but quiet inhale through the nose. With some practice you should be able to synchronize the flow of air coming in your nose and the flow of air going out your mouth. Practice this until you get good at it.
5. Add the "HA"
Start with exercise 4. After you simultaneously inhale through the nose and squeeze air out your mouth, make a strong exhale from the lungs by saying "HA". This out-breath should come from deep in your core so be sure that your diaphram is engaged and abdominal muscles are tightening to push the air out. This exhale should also push air back into your cheeks.
6. Find the rhythm
Once you have combined steps 4 and 5, repeat them over and over again until you start to feel the groove. Make the repetition as musical as you can. The goal is to get air constantly coming out of your mouth with no gap between the inhale and exhale. With practice you will be able to blend the air flow from the two sources (mouth and lungs) into one rhythmic cycle, the circular breath.
After you have mastered step 6 and completed the cycle, you've done it! It is time to pick up a didge and put your new circular breathing skills in action.
Didgeridoo for Sleep Apnea
"I've had breathing problems during sleep for at least a year and a half, maybe much longer: snoring, gasping for breath when I was sleeping. At best it was a loud snore. I have now been playing didgeridoo for about two months and I've been practicing four or five times a week for about thirty minutes a day. This past weekend I was at my friend's house and he said that throughout the night my breathing was just beautiful. He was so thrilled to hear such a difference, just quiet constant breathing. I'm very proud of that. It's a big change."
- Paul Auerbach, educator
The Study: Playing the Didgeridoo as a Natural Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
In 2005 The British Medical Journal reported on a study conducted at the University of Zurich in which researchers hypothesized that regular didgeridoo playing could be an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. The sleeping disorder is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, often leading to daytime restlessness. Participants, mostly men aged around 50 and experiencing high amounts of daytime sleepiness, were to learn to play the didgeridoo by taking periodic lessons and practicing at least 20 minutes per day, 5 days a week for four months. All participants used identical acrylic didgeridoos (as seen in the first photo). Participants were given four lessons as follows (quoted directly from the study):
1. "participants learned the lip technique to produce and hold the keynote for 20-30 seconds"
2. "the instructor explained the concept and technique of circular breathing. Circular breathing is a technique that enables the wind instrumentalist to maintain a sound for long periods of time by inhaling through the nosewhile maintaining airflow through the instrument, using the cheeks as bellows"
3. "the didgeridoo instructor taught the participants his technique to further optimize the complex interaction between the lips, the vocal tract, and circular breathing so that the vibrations in the upper airway are more readily transmitted to the lower airways"
4. "the instructor and the participants repeated the basics of didgeridoo playingand made corrections when necessary"
Participants were tested at the beginning and end of the study for four different quality-of-sleep and daytime sleepiness indicators and were then compared to a control group that was not allowed to play the didgeridoo. For each indicator, the group that practiced the didgeridoo made significant improvements compared to the group that did not.
The most significant indicator is the Epworth scale, a measurement of daytime sleepiness (the higher you are on the scale, the more daytime sleepiness you experience). The figure here shows that those who practiced the didgeridoo saw their level of daytime sleepiness decrease, while those in the control group saw various changes, including testing better, the same and far worse.
The study was hailed as a success but only through continued research will we know the true effects of playing the didgeridoo to treat sleep apnea. It is unclear the level to which the participants mastered circular breathing, a technique which often challenges newer didge players. Enhanced results could potentially be found in longer experiment periods (greater than four months) and more in-depth and frequent didge lessons. For information on learning to play the didgeridoo, check out our current course offerings.
(Images taken from the British Medical Journal report)