What Is A Syllabary

A syllabary is a complete listing of every possible syllable or sound that can be made in a language It is a set of written characters representing syllables and (in some languages or stages of writing) serving the purpose of an alphabet.

Cherokee Technology

In my twenties, I began getting interested in my native American ancestry.

I decided to attempt to learn the Cherokee language, but since I didn't know anyone who spoke the Cherokee language I failed to learn more than a few dozen words. However, I did learn about the history of the Cherokee written language. Sequoyah was a self educated Cherokee silversmith looking for a way to sign his name to his work. He had to create the spelling for his name, because the language had no written form. This eventually led to him devising his syllabary. Any word spoken in the Cherokee language could be represented with a combination of a small list of syllables. These syllables could be broken into smaller categories based primarily on what vowels they included. The written Cherokee language became universally accepted quickly and was widely used by virtually everyone in the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee written form along with the use of the revolutionary technology of the printing press, empowered the Cherokee people with the ability to distribute complex ideas.

So what does all of this have to do with didgeridoo?

Symbolic Didgeridoo

As I established in the previous article, the didgeridoo is a linguistic instrument. While studying the Cherokee syllabary, I noticed several syllables that matched syllables used in the rudimentary didgeridoo vernacular that was forming. Was this a coincidence? Hardly. This similarity was due to common linguistic traits in pronunciation. I tried to use other Cherokee syllables in my didge playing with limited success. But I had learned that this concept for a syllabary of didge sounds was possible.

I immediately began compiling a list of all of the didge syllables I knew. There were just enough to see the outline of categories coming into focus. I came up with K sounds, T sounds, Trumpets, Beat Box, Vocalization and Breath. I later discovered a need for a sort of miscellaneous category called Pressure. Finally I became aware that some of the higher pitched sounds were vowels. So a vowels category had to be added. But there were still many sounds being made by players I didn’t yet have covered. It was endless. I decided I needed help to compile a larger list. I was able to obtain a list of Yolngu Hard tongue didgeridoo syllables from Randin Graves, a leading expert in the Yolngu Didgeridoo artform. So I created a Traditional category. Now I believe I may have the most comprehensive list of didge sounds, yet I know it isn't complete. Even after all of this progress, I will continue to develop and compile syllables.

Once I had a Syllabary, it was time to put it to use in the DidgIt app.

Our Printing Press

But a language needs to spread to be useful. Just as the printing press was a technology that enabled the Cherokee written form to gain universal usage, mobile devices using the DidgIt Syllabary with luck will gain wide spread usage. Yet I know it isn't complete. I will continue to develop and compile syllables. My goal with DidgIt and the Syllabary is not to have this be the end of the story for didgeridoo notation. It is to begin a conversation. Let's do this together. When DidgIt is released, we will continue to add sounds and features in updates.

The possibilities belong to all of us.

Download the DidgIt Syllabary

We have designed this mobile app to make it as easy as possible to share your rhythm compositions with friends on social media as well as with-in the app itself. DidgIt contains a global library of rhythms to be submitted, downloaded and used by any DidgIt user.