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Didjeridu Tutorial

     Circular Breathing


Lesson Objective

I this lesson you should learn the basic idea of circular breathing. This does not mean to say that you will be able to circular breathe, but you will be along the path to getting it.


First a word about what circular breathing is. As you listen to didjeridu recordings, you will no doubt notice that the performer never seems to stop for a breath! Either he or she has a phenomenal lung capacity or there is a trick somewhere. Being world-wise, I'm sure you'll all choose the latter explanation. The "trick" is known as circular breathing. Physiologically its not possible to breathe in and blow out simultaneously, but it is possible to maintain air pressure, without blowing, by using your mouth like the airbag of a bagpipe. With this (small) reservoir of air maintaining the drone, you can sniff a quick breath through your nose, thus topping up your lungs so that you can then continue blowing. This process of snatching short sniffs will, with lots of practice, allow you to play continuously. It's not easy though, and may well be the trickiest part of learning to play.

There are many ways for you to learn the basic technique. Each teacher appears to have his or her own method, so I will try to include all the techniques I encounter. If you have any ideas, don't keep them to yourself, they may be very helpful to others, and can be included in this tutorial.

Ed Drury has the following advice on learning to circular breathe:


(A) It is helpful to do some strengthening exercises. Droning while squeezing the cheeks, as described in earlier lessons, will help. A useful adjunct which you can use away from the didjeridu is to employ a balloon as follows :


  1. Move air back and forth between the mouth and an inflated balloon by moving ONLY the cheeks in and out.
  2. This should produce an audible sound of air quickly moving back and forth between the balloon and the mouth. Breathe in and out through the nose as required. Try to complete a cycle per second. Start with one minute duration and work up to three minutes.


(B) Timing. Puff out your cheeks and use your lips to make a small opening in the center of your mouth as if blowing into a straw. Try to make a small steady stream of air come out of this opening using only the air in your cheeks. By placing the palm of your hand in front of your lips you should be able to feel the air stream. Breath in through your nose while you are squeezing the air in your cheeks out.


(C) Transfer the previous step to the didjeridu. Try to allow your lips to vibrate loosely so a low short tone is produced. It should sound something like "harrumph". Now blow the air in your lungs through your lips letting them vibrate as in the basic drone. Allow your cheeks to puff out as you run out of air and then repeat the process from the beginning of this step.


(D) Continue working with step C increasing the speed such that the pause between the sound emitted by your cheek squeeze and the sound of your basic drone decreases. Don't worry about the transfer between the cheek powered sound and the lung powered drone being smooth for now. It will come with practice. Just try to keep shortening the pause until it disappears completely.


(E) To work on smoother transfers between air coming from your cheeks and air coming from your lungs, place a straw in a glass of water. The glass should be only about a third full. Alternating cheek squeezing and blowing, try to keep a steady stream of bubbles coming from the end of the straw - breathing in while you squeeze your cheeks. If you can keep the bubbles going smoothly with out pause, you are circular breathing. This is from the London Didgeridoo Society pamphlet:


  1. Breathing in through the nose at the same time as expelling air from the cheeks. Take a sudden swift sniff of air into the lungs, while you are blowing air out from the cheeks.
  2. Create a steady stream of air coming out of the mouth. Most of the time, the air comes directly from your lungs, but while you are inhaling, the air is pushed out from the cheeks.

    Practice this by placing a finger in front of your mouth and try to keep a constant stream of air hitting your hand.

    During playing :

  1. Blow and let lips vibrate, creating a basic drone for about 2 to 3 seconds.
  2. Continue to blow from the stomach, but inflate your cheeks, and draw back the tongue.
  3. Continue the vibration of your lips, but use the air in your mouth by pushing in the cheeks and bringing the tongue forward.
  4. Continue to blow, and take in a quick sniff of air through the nose while doing step 3.
  5. Go back to step one.
John Pemble ( had this to say in a digest posting:

Again Circular Breathing is a term that doesn't literally mean to inhale and exhale for real. Like a magician performs a trick (appearing to do one thing but actually doing another), the didjeridu player appears to be breathing in as he/she breathes out. Storing air in your cheeks and blowing it out while inhaling a breath through the nose is what circular breathing, is all about.

Go to a sink where there is a mirror you can see your face and be able to spit out water. Fill your mouth with as much water as you can till your cheeks are bulging out (like a Dizzy G. thing). Spit the water out in a smooth tiny leak like stream and breath in and out through your nose.

As you slowly (about ten to twenty seconds) empty your mouth of the water in this smooth little stream keep breathing in and out through your nose. You are more or less circular breathing, or at least illustrating the circular breathing technique as closely as possible without actually doing it.

Do this water exercise number of times, maybe for a few days. Try to do the same thing using air in your cheeks, instead of water. Slowly let air hiss out of your cheeks. Do this several times and gradually increase the amount of air you let of your cheeks.

After a while of doing that try it on your didjeridu. You may get it right immediately or perhaps in three weeks. While I could circular breathe on the didjeridu, it took me about a month to do it with any smoothness.

Also I recommend that on first trying to circular breathe to use a shorter higher pitched didjeridu. If your bamboo is too long (low) get yourself some PVC for practice.

Randy Raine-Reusch follows up with these pointers:


Step 1


  1. Fill your mouth full of air, puffing your cheeks. Hold the air.
  2. Breathe in and out through your nose.
  3. Still holding the air in your cheeks, empty your lungs through your nose. I refer to this as part A or "breathe out, cheeks puffed."
  4. Now slowly breathe in through your nose and simultaneously start pushing the air out of your mouth with your cheeks. Just as if the air in your cheeks was actually water, it helps to imagine that it is water.
  5. Continue this until you can do it comfortably and you can with confidence breathe in through your nose while pushing air out from your mouth. I call this part B or "in nose, push cheeks."


Step 2


  1. Breathe out of your mouth puffing your cheeks the whole time, stop anytime, but keep your cheeks PUFFED. (Part A)
  2. Now do part 4 of the above technique, that is, breathe in through your nose, pushing air out from your cheeks. (Part B)
  3. Breathe out, cheeks puffed
  4. In nose, push cheeks
  5. Continue this cycle until it's continuous. If you have problems go back a few steps, the most important step is part 4 of the first section: breathe in through nose pushing air out of cheeks. If you can't do this comfortably without thinking about it you will have great difficulty.
  6. You should be able to hold you hand in front of your mouth and feel a continuous flow of air, granted the pressure may fluctuate, but you must have a continuous flow of air, otherwise you are not doing it yet.


Step 3 (To the didjeridu)


  1. The most important factor in circular breathing on the didjeridu is to first have a good sound. It should be a full bodied sound so that you not only feel your didj vibrate, but you can feel the air around your didj vibrate. This should take very little air, but does require a good amount of pressure from your stomach. You should not at any time hear any air coming through the didj, if you do, you are wasting air and must learn to play with less.
  2. Get a good sound on the didj and then start to apply the circular breathing techniques, (A) breathe out puffing cheeks and (B) breathe in nose, push cheeks. At first there will probably be a gap between the two parts, not to worry, this is normal.
  3. Sit in front of the TV with a movie or something that will grab your attention. Play your didj doing the circular breathing techniques. It is important that you continually do the circular breathing techniques although you feel uncomfortable with them or there is still a gap. Watch TV and play constantly, ignore your playing just play and watch TV. The reason I say this is because your brain is you enemy here, if you are constantly criticizing yourself, it will take years to circular breath. This is a body thing not a mind thing and the more you think about it the less it works. TV as we all know, numbs the mind, so it is an effective tool in learning didj.
  4. You may find that going through all the steps daily will increase your confidence and understanding of this process.
  5. You may also find that all of a sudden it works! You did it and then it disappears, and you can't find it again. It disappears because you are looking for it. Don't look, just do.
  6. Again as you start getting the circular breathing on the didj, there may be a drop in pressure, this also is normal, the more you practice it the smaller this drop becomes, and if you really work at it, it can disappear altogether, if you want.
  7. Your breath points now become an important percussive element in playing, and with practice you will discover that there is a backbeat to your breath, that is also used extensively. Some people refer to this as a kind of bounce, although there are many types of bounces and backbeats.
Have fun and remember to turn off the TV! has this fun idea :

I came up with a useful technique (for me anyway) while trying to get the circular breathing (which i'm still in the process of trying to get) that I thought might be useful to learning players :
I found that a good way to practice when you can't get a hold of anything else is to just make a circle with thumb and forefinger and put it against the lips. I discovered this on a 3 hour flight. As a bonus, my bizarre behavior kept anyone from disturbing me while i practiced. At present, i can keep the breathe going on my finger circle, but can't do so consistently on the didj itself. This trick is also useful in showing interested beginners how to make their first drones.

Robert Harper makes the following interesting observations

I've been messing around with PVC didj's for several months now, and wanted to pass along a little of what I've learned. It's turned out that the biggest help to me was switching to really small pipes. All it took was a 2.5-3 foot length of 1" PVC to accelarate my learning dramatically! All of the instructions on PVC didj's that I'd seen specified at least 1.5" diameters... usually 2". However, I found that playing with the smaller version was much easier to learn new techniques on. It takes less volume of air, so learning to circular breath once I switched was MUCH easier than I expected. There's plenty of time to take a long slow breath while maintaining a drone. All sorts of new techniques were easier to learn how to do without losing the drone. Another advantage is the portability factor. I even took one on a multi-day desert backpacking trip... a VERY satisfying experience, I must say. Also, no mouthpiece modifications are needed... the smoothed off end works just fine. Of course the sound is higher pitched than the larger didj's, but I've come to like it quite a bit. One concern I had was whether what I learned on the small pipe would translate easily to the larger ones, but that has not turned out to be a problem. It's also been fun to insert the end of the 1" pipe into larger pipes (from 1 foot sections up to a few feet), which gives it a deeper, richer sound... and you can hear yourself play better that way.

Common Mistakes


Thinking that you will never get it.
Being too casual about getting in air. Sniff with abandon!
Trying to fill your lungs on the sniff. Short sniffs are what you are after - there's no time for sedate sniffs.
Getting dizzy (common) and falling over (less common)! Initially you will find that you will not be able to get in enough fresh air, with the result that you will become dizzy. Don't try to push on. This is not the route to any "Trance State," but is the route an unconscious flop to the hard floor! Just stop, breathe normally for a few minutes and relax, so that the balance of gases in your lungs, and diluted gases in your bloodstream can be restored.


Many experienced didj players will tell you that circular breathing is really quite easy. This is of course absolutely true as far as these experts are concerned, but don't be fooled, this is not going to be at all easy, and you will not master this technique for a long time. By a long time, I mean a long time, months of playing at least. Do not be disheartened though, as circular breathing is not an insurmountable obstacle. You will have a great sense of satisfaction when you discover that it really is possible, as you snatch your first sniffed breath! (A few days of frustration will get you to this point). From there on, its all practice, trying to refine and control the technique.

Hints and Tips


Patience. Lots of it. Persevere and you too will wonder what you found so difficult in the beginning.
Don't try be cool, calm and relaxed when it comes to sniffing that breath. Sniff in that air with purpose. You've got to move as much air into your lungs as possible, and given the short time that you have to sniff, you want to make every sniff count for a lot. As you get more experienced you will be able to relax these desperate sniffs.
Sometimes even though you are circular breathing nicely, you still have an urgency to breathe. In this case, try instead to empty your lungs a bit (yes I said empty) by breathing out through your nose while you are playing, before taking the next sniff. This appears to help balance the mix of gases in your lungs, reducing the urge to breathe.
If you get the straw blowing into the water thing right, go to a party immediately and impress your friends (Brian Pertl's suggestion).


cheek squeezes.... [.wav format]

 Last Updated: 12/29/07  tt-lp

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