Picking Up Good Vibrations: The Surprising Physics of the Didjeridu #Acoustics23

Playing Australia’s most iconic instrument requires producing vibrations inside the vocal tract.

SYDNEY, Dec. 6, 2023 – Australia’s most iconic sound is almost certainly the didjeridu. The long wooden tube-shaped instrument is famous for its unique droning music and has played a significant role in Australian Aboriginal culture for thousands of years. Despite the instrument’s simple design, the playing technique can be highly complex.

Joe Wolfe and John Smith from the University of New South Wales conducted acoustic experiments to study the didjeridu’s unusual and complicated performance techniques. Smith will be presenting their work on Dec. 6 at 8:20 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time, as part of Acoustics 2023 Sydney, running Dec. 4-8 at the International Convention Centre Sydney.


Producing complex sounds with the didjeridu requires creating and manipulating resonances inside the vocal tract. Credit: Kate Callas

“We were interested in the effect of the player’s vocal tract on various wind instruments,” said Smith. “The didjeridu seemed like an obvious start because the effect is so striking.”

Much more than with almost any other instrument, a didjeridu player uses his vocal tract and vocal folds to produce striking changes in timbre.

“Resonances in the mouth tend to remove bands of frequencies in the didjeridu sound and we notice the remaining bands,” said Smith. “It’s a bit like a sculptor removing marble to leave the things that we notice.”

To study didjeridu performance, the team developed new experimental techniques. One involved injecting a broadband acoustic signal into a player’s mouth to measure the acoustic impedance spectrum of a didjeridu player’s vocal tract. The impedance spectrum is an indicator of which frequencies will resonate and which will be suppressed.

This information let Smith and his colleagues identify traits that make the best didjeridus, explore advanced techniques musicians use to create more complicated sounds, and expand their studies to other wind instruments.

In another study, the team were able to identify and understand the acoustic properties of didjeridus most preferred by expert players; these can be very different from the properties of other wind instruments.

“We looked at advanced performance techniques, not only in the didjeridu, but also in other wind instruments, such as clarinet and saxophone,” said Smith. “We continue to research subtle features of expressive playing of wind instruments.”


AIP Media


The Acoustical Society of America is joining the Australian Acoustical Society to co-host Acoustics 2023 Sydney. This collaborative event will incorporate the Western Pacific Acoustics Conference and the Pacific Rim Underwater Acoustics Conference.

Main meeting website: https://acoustics23sydney.org/
Technical program: https://eppro01.ativ.me/src/EventPilot/php/express/web/planner.php?id=ASAFALL23

In the coming weeks, ASA’s Press Room will be updated with newsworthy stories and the press conference schedule at https://acoustics.org/asa-press-room/.

ASA will also share dozens of lay language papers about topics covered at the conference. Lay language papers are summaries (300-500 words) of presentations written by scientists for a general audience. They will be accompanied by photos, audio, and video. Learn more at

ASA will grant free registration to credentialed and professional freelance journalists. If you are a reporter and would like to attend the meeting or virtual press conferences, contact AIP Media Services at media@aip.org. For urgent requests, AIP staff can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world’s leading journal on acoustics), JASA Express Letters, Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. See https://acousticalsociety.org/.

The Australian Acoustical Society (AAS) is the peak technical society for individuals working in acoustics in Australia. The AAS aims to promote and advance the science and practice of acoustics in all its branches to the wider community and provide support to acousticians. Its diverse membership is made up from academia, consultancies, industry, equipment manufacturers and retailers, and all levels of Government. The Society supports research and provides regular forums for those who practice or study acoustics across a wide range of fields The principal activities of the Society are technical meetings held by each State Division, annual conferences which are held by the State Divisions and the ASNZ in rotation, and publication of the journal Acoustics Australia. https://www.acoustics.org.au/

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