I'm learning to play didgeridoo and have a question - How can I write the rhythms on paper?

It's overtone musician instrument and I don't know how can I apply musical notation or something other. I have the same problem and with jew's harp.

4 Answers 4


Since it's rhythm I would suggest adapting drum tab to your purpose.

Something like:

enter image description here


        1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  

Whatever you're most comfortable with. Just replace the "HH" and other voices with an abbreviation for whatever effect you want to notate.


I like to approach this kind of question from the perspective of a composer: considering I want to write for an instrument that does not traditionally use notation, but will be played presumably by someone who is familiar with it, how best can I communicate what I am looking for to this person?

I definitely agree with Kevin that adapting existing notational practice is an appropriate tactic. I found this page that contains some discussion on the needs of didgeridoo notation: http://blog.didgeridoobreath.com/info-education/didgeridoo-notation-sheet-music/

In light of that, I think you might want to try using a line of "lyrics" underneath your traditional staff or rhythm notation to communicate the different kinds of sounds you can make with the instrument.


I dont know anything about the jaw harp. But i play the didgeridoo. They are probably very similar. Most didgeridoo players that is also into notation or talking vocaly about rythms use something refered to as anatomape. I dont know if i write it right or if the word is right. It means, to write down a rythm we use the letters that sounds like the sound that is made, said or comming from the didge... and they are also the same in relation to how and where we put tongue lips, mouth volume and throth when we play. That means when saying a high pitch overtone in the didge like english 'Eeee'. The mouth is shaped in the same position when you play it in a didge as you also would say. Now look up onatomape and perhaps didgeridoo in google.


Also there is something similar in the indian way of writing or saying rytms for tablas and other indian percussion instruments... witch has similarities too didgeridoo onatomapea. I think its called konnakol




Watch this exaple of rythms for didge on youtube:

I can further say that the most didgeplayers i learned didge notation too rythms from write a sircle around the letters/words that is made while the cicular breath is made. For a wobble breath most players use the letters 'wa'. Thats because wobble cicular breath sqeeses the air out of the cheeks or mouth in a rapid motion casing a 'wa' similar sound. For a bounce breath tecnique i personaly use a 'h' that is added to the sound of the airpush it follows. This is because the bounce breath is played as a push of air. then the crircular breathing happens shortly after this push... the mouth is full of air after the push... then that airpressure by it self keeps the lips vibrationg and continues the didges sound, giving the player time to breath in the nose... main diference to wobble is that you dont sqeese the air out... that makes the vibrating sound not having spesifick vocal, similar to a 'h'... that is mute or silent. For instance a puch/blow/attack starting with tongue up as in making the sound T... can be a T folowed by a mouth volume that resembles the sound 'o' or 'a'.... in the youtube video, you see this in the first pronontiation Toh... where the 'h' means the mute, countinous vibrating. I guess it could also be written with an extra o... but that is less clear perhaps... then i would make a sircle around the 'h' to show that here is possible with breath if needed. (Didge player dont always need to breath where he can)

Now this was about the sounds. I dont know the art of writing music notes very well so I didnt know how to write about the length of rythms and so on yet. But i gues its can be done in a way similar to a singer/vocal notes. In general, i think notes for a didge needs to be written down together with the didgeplayer... in a way it is his or hers responsability. Because every didge player is so different and have very different abilities and playing styles... it is even difficult for me, to understand how i play and how i make the different sounds... we mostly all learn from practical playing. We learn to play rytms by just plaing and listening our own sound often without realising exactly what we are doing.

I tried ad a pic of some rytms that i am playing. My pic on cell was too big so I write down some exaples:

Po wa (Simple attack(push) simple wobble(i put sircle around wa, because of the breath))

Tu ho wa (Double attack(first with T(tongue up))-simple wobble)

Po wa wa (Simple attak, dobble wobble(2 wa indicates a special tecknicque with a 2 shortly wa sounds that is done with a double breath/air intake))

A longer rythm with 3 sentences/lines/rythms: Ta ka wa ee ta woooo Ta ka wa ee ta wo dee Ka wa ee ta wo

Toh ha ha hee hee ho wa (A rythm where the 'h' indicates the possibiltumy of a bounce breath)(ha ha hee hee is all just diaphragma pushes, witch will be understood by the h to start a sound, witch means the lips start in a open position and also the tongue is open as when saying the silent/mute 'h' to get a push then, it is only from the diaphragma.

I am going try ad more details to this system. For instance, when adding voice/vocalization into the didge. Big letters can be used. Hope this gives some idea.


In order to answer your question, 'How can I write the rhythms on paper?', we really need to ask, 'for what purpose?'. Is it for learning?; an aid to memory?;for composition?; for publishing?, or is it for sight reading in performance? Please, oh please don't let it be for playback on music notation software, because that way lies madness. Australia's most notable 'orchestral' didgeridoo player learns a piece by playing it fifty times, but then he still improvises. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/10/05/1065292466402.html?from=storyrhs . My suggestion would be to use drum notation for the pulse and rhythms (including the tapping of a clapstick on the didgeridoo) and then characterise, rather than codify, the vocalisations. If you are like me, you will have developed a repertoire of vocalisations, such as 'the kookaburra', or 'the dingo' and these are more easily memorised than notated. Guitar tab is really of no use in live performance. Similarly, all but the most basic of written indications will be impractical for 'sight reading' by other didgeridoo players. For an accurate reproduction of a didgeridoo performance, it's hard to go past a recording, but then again, improvisation is part of the style and appeal of the 'didge'.

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