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Tips for Didgeridoo & Drum Jamming from EmDee, Tom Fronza & Si

Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 in Info & Education by Posted by

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Playing didge along with a drummer can be a slightly higher-energy pastime than solo didge playing. It requires both players to ‘lock-in’ together, listen carefully to each other and feel different aspects of the same rhythm while also being able to signal any changes to one another.

We’ve asked three of the best drum and didge players, Mark Hoffman from eMDee, Tom Fronza from Analogue Birds and Si from Wild Marmalade what makes a good didge ‘n drum outfit.

What are your best tips for playing didge along with a drummer?

eMDee – Listen, put your body and soul into the beat then let your breath pulse to the beats that are put in front of you, this is jamming it out. If I was holding the beat then I focus on my breath and always get into a beat and think ahead a few bars always so the body just follows its path if relaxed enough, this then will create a story so the drummer can talk back to me, then we have a chat and create a book.

Tom Fronza – Always choose the best and tightest drummer you can get hold of ;-). Drummers can be good and play only a little bit, but they can be good and play a lot. Try to play with drummers that suit your style of didge playing. Playing with a drummer should come natural and easy as playing alone. Choose a drummer that makes you feel comfy!

Si – Well firstly get a good a drummer! If your drummer is a good listener then it’s easy to play with them. Some drummers don’t listen at all and there is no remedy to this problem! Sonically I tend to find the similar sounds in the drum and the equal sound in the didge and then match the beats. For example if we juxtapose drum kit with didgeridoo the snare sound suits the toot and the kick drum suits a bass drone note so I’ll set up my groove with the drummer by matching these sounds. That establishes the basic groove. Then I will move away from it and improvise with some of the other sounds. Then come back to the original groove.

How important is your breathing when it comes to locking into a rhythm?

eMDee – Very. It is the key to the rhythm, as a didge player that performs 3 times a week for most of the year it is very important to look after your fitness (if you play as fast as myself) as after half hr of playing and there is still 1hr to go you get tired and your muscles get lazy but if you get lazy then the beat gets sloppy and so you must be able to hold a constant breath to stay on the beat. If you have a drummer that listens then you will find that it is OK to chill out a bit and your drummer will have space to make some interesting sounds.

Tom Fronza – Breath and heartbeat are the most basic rhythms you can find. They are VERY, VERY important for the rhythmical concept of didge patterns!

Si – It is the most important thing! The rhythm is the sound that everyone hears whereas the breath is the thing that influences the state of awareness of the player. It’s a deep thing. In this way when a didgeridoo player integrates the breath into the rhythmic cycle they start to move their consciousness and enter into a trance zone. The depth of this space really depends on how far the player is willing to go. It’s a great thing to try sitting on one rhythm, any rhythm, and just stay there. Focus on not changing and not doing anything but repeating a cycle. Try it!!! Observe what happens.

It’s all too easy to get caught in the ‘show’ aspect of playing didgeridoo, doing a million different sounds at an incredible tempo. This engages the mind of the player and also the mind of the listener but does nothing for the consciousness of the individuals involved or of the planet for that matter.

The sound of the didgeridoo really has the power to communicate the head space of the player to the listener. Thus if the player can successfully move their consciousness in a positive direction they will then take their listeners with them and then they all enjoy the ride together. It can be a very powerful journey when this happens.

What does the drummer have to do to make it work in a jam situation?

eMDee – Had a few drummers in my life and in the end no matter if they have just started to drum or are the meanest stick chopper out there or the fastest hand slapping conga blizzard that just hit town, if they don’t LISTEN and give you space it’s just a mess. A drummer for me is to highlight the essence of the didge and to hold the beat so it takes you on a journey. Then I give space for the drummer to wow and have fun.

Tom Fronza – Always adjust to the drummers style, never wait for the drummer to adjust to you. That always works for at least an ok jam. Coming back to the question, if he’s a good drummer, he’ll do the same, you are going to meet in the middle and it’s going to get wicked!

Si – Listen

What’s the best way on a didge to communicate rhythm changes to a drummer?

eMDee – Again the drummer should be there with you so the best way is ESP I’m sure of it, you just sink together and it just works, after years of playing and many gigs and countless rehearsals ha ha ha. I find that when Lukas and I lose it on stage which isn’t that often (not that you would know as we are experts at covering it up) what we do is go to the next 4 bar and hope that we are together in the same spot in the song. If not then one of us, generally me, will go to were Lukas is, (cause I’m deadly ha ha) and then we are back on track. This is the plan, it may take a secret arm movement from me to signal Lukas to the next bit of the song.

Tom Fronza – There are many ways, but the best way to communicate is always the way of no communication. Just knowing each other from trillions of hours playing together makes communication secondary 😉

Si – It’s hard to communicate whilst playing. I have tried many things and have come down to a few simple but clear hand gestures to indicate changes in tempo, sound level, or groove. We’ll then know that when it’s time for the next change we’ll move in the new agreed direction.

Also sometimes I throw in some accents from the next groove that I want to play, whilst raising an eyebrow and looking at my drummer and that sometimes seems to work as well. I have had it described that to be the drummer of a didgeridoo player is like working with a Ninja. Always trying to read subtle movements of the eyebrows and eye movements as the mouth is hidden!

Best thing is to get the drummer to make the calls!

Finally one  more thing: So didgeridoo players…….remember that it is fundamentally about creating a good feeling inside whilst playing and then this good feeling emanates inside the resonant sound of the drone.

Hope you have enjoyed this advice and all the best drumming and didge’ing! Huge thanks to emDee, Tom & Si for their valuable thoughts.