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
    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 (pemble@duke.iccc.cc.ia.us) had this to say in a digest

   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

   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
         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

     * 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
         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
         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!

   Lehwhang@aol.com 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

   Common Mistakes

     * Thinking that you will never get it.
     * Being to 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

   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
     * 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

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