The Drone

Considering how much contemporary didgeridoo playing has evolved away from relying on the drone, is it really that important to master?

A drone is played on a didgeridoo as a continual sound by manually squeezing a small amount of air past vibrating lips, while taking quick sniffs in through the nose. This process is known as circular breathing (See DidgIt’s Circular Breathing article for specific instructions). Once you are able to do this, a drone is the natural byproduct. This article is meant to help you understand how the quality of your drone is vital to your growth as a didgeridoo player.

The Drone is Breath Control

While it may be easy enough to learn to circular breathe in one sitting, producing a quality drone is a much more involved process. It requires the strengthening of mouth, throat, and stomach muscles. This takes time and dedication. Once the muscles are sufficiently developed, there will be much more control of quality of the drone. Always breathe in by pushing the stomach muscles out, and breath out your vibrating lips by pulling your stomach muscles in. You can practice this action without the didge.

Place your hand on your stomach and slowly calmly pull air in your nostrils by pushing your stomach muscles out against you hand. Then blow the air out of your mouth slowly pushing the air out by contracting your stomach. Never draw in or expel air using your chest. Once you feel you have that down, try it with the didge.

When the ability to circular breathe is first achieved by a beginning didge player, they will often hear a breathy unstable drone. That’s OK. It is just the next plateau. At this point, you need to practice the drone with no intentional rhythm. Think of it as meditation time - because it is.

Your next goal should be that your drone sound floats out effortlessly. You should be listening for a crisp clean fundamental tone that wavers little. To achieve this, pay close attention to good posture. Keep your head straight and face looking straight ahead. Try not to tilt your head. This will restrict your airway. The end of the digde opposite the mouthpiece should be no lower to the ground than your hips. If the didge is resting on the ground, you should be sitting on the ground as well. If you are sitting in a chair, prop up the end of the didge on a chair as well. If you are standing while playing, you must prop the didge up to the height of your hips. This will make certain that your airway is not restricted by pointing your chin down to have a good seal on the mouth piece.

Now Let Go of Control

If it sounds or feels breathy, you are blowing too hard. Practice playing a soft and quiet drone. Let the lips relax and blow as softly as possible while continuing to circular breathe. As you develop your drone quality, you will hear the destabilizing part when you take the breath in. If you are blowing too hard it will be difficult to maintain that pressure level while taking a quick breath. Be with that destabilizing breath. Let your brain acknowledge what is happening and then relax. Breath softer. You will likely have the drone get interrupted. That’s your limit of soft playing with your current muscle strength and control. You need to practice just above that limit. The more you practice a simple soft drone the better all of your playing will be. New rhythms will be easier to pick up and the quality of your tone will be more clean. You will discover that the drone will reveal new sounds hiding just under the drone that can come to life with just slight precise changes to tongue, mouth, and diaphragm movements.

As you develop a better muscle control that limit will fade and you will be able to play softer and softer. This doesn’t happen overnight. It requires dedication and intentional seemingly monotonas droning. What you're doing is building muscle memory. This is also teaching you how to relax while playing. This exercise in control will allow you to develop a playing range. Understanding your range is vital to becoming a dynamic didgeridoo player.