The Top 6 Australian Musical Instruments You Should Know

Australia has a rich culture of traditional musical instruments that are not well-known to individuals. 

The Aborigines, the indigenous people of Australia, created various instruments used for their traditional ceremonies and rituals long before the Europeans arrived in the country. 

Each instrument, from the didgeridoo to the clapstick, has its unique sound and history. 

This post will explore six of the most important traditional Australian musical instruments and how they came to be. 

The Indigenous Music of Australia   

Indigenous music of Australia belongs to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia.  

It has been a part of their cultural and ceremonial observances for thousands of years and still holds great importance today. 

The traditional forms of music vary from region to region and from group to group, with some common elements throughout the continent. 

The music of the Torres Strait Islanders is similar to that of adjacent parts of New Guinea. Music plays a significant role in the cultural maintenance of Indigenous Australians. 

Since the 18th century, European colonization has influenced the Indigenous Australian musical instruments scenario. 

Musicians have adopted and interpreted many Western musical styles, often combining them with traditional instruments and sensibilities.  

In the same way, non-Indigenous artists have also used Indigenous Australian styles and instruments in their works. 

Contemporary musical styles, such as rock and roll, country, rap, hip hop, and reggae, have featured a variety of notable Indigenous Australian performers. 

List of the Top 6 Australian Traditional Musical Instruments 

Here are the top Australian Native Musical Instruments: - 

1. Didgeridoo 

The didgeridoo is an Australian wind instrument developed 1,500 years ago by the Aboriginal peoples of northern Australia.  

It is the most famous Australian instrument and is conical or cylindrical in shape. It measures between 3 to 10 feet long, and the longer the instrument, the lower its pitch. 

The musician plays this Australian musical instrument didgeridoo by blowing air down one end with a blowing technique called circular breathing, producing a drone-like sound that is said to be similar to a growling dog. 

Traditionally, the Australian aboriginal musical instrument didgeridoo provided a rhythm during ceremonies and dances. 

Although the didgeridoo is used worldwide, it is mainly associated with Indigenous Australian music. 

Even today, only a few individuals outside the Aboriginal community can play the instrument, like David Hudson and John Butler.  

Key Features

  • The most well-known Australian musical instrument.  
  • The instrument is played by blowing air through one end and vibrating the lips to create a sound.  
  • Traditionally made from eucalyptus wood.  
  • Creates a deep, droning sound.  
  • Can be played solo or as part of a group.  

To gain some insights on about the types of musical instruments, read this detailed guide on the complete list of all musical instruments with names & types 

2. Gumleaf 

The Gumleaf is another unique Australian musical instrument played by pressing a leaf between your hands and lips, then blowing across the leaf's surface. This causes it to vibrate similarly to a reed instrument, creating a high-pitched sound. 

Originally, it was believed that hunters used this Australian native musical instrument to mimic bird calls as a decoy. But it's also thought they were used to communicating with one another and calling children home.  

Herb Patten is a famous leafist and one of the few professional gum leaf players worldwide.  

Key Features  

  • Unique Australian music instrument made from the leaf of a eucalyptus tree.  
  • Held between the lips and vibrated to create a buzzing sound.  
  • Creates a variety of sounds, depending on how it is played.  
  • Used in traditional Aboriginal music and storytelling.  

3. Bullroarer  

The Bullroarer is considered one of the oldest Australian aboriginal musical instruments in history, dating back to the Palaeolithic period of 18,000 BC.  

It is an ancient musical instrument used by Aboriginal Australians to communicate across large distances.  

A bullroarer is made from a thin piece of wood joined to a length of cord swung around, producing a roaring sound as it cuts through the air.  

According to the Indigenous Australian community, the bullroarer hosts the voices of great ancestral spirits that ward off evil influences.  

For this reason, the bullroarer is dubbed as a sacred instrument and can only be played by initiated Aboriginal men.  

Key Features  

  • Sound instrument made from a flat piece of wood attached to a string.  
  • Swung around in a circle to create a loud, droning sound.  
  • Traditionally used in ceremonies and rituals.  
  • Believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits.  

4. Wobble Board   

The Wobble Board is one of the unique Australian aboriginal musical instruments invented by Rolf Harris, an Australian musician and composer.  

It is made of a thin piece of hard composite and is played by holding the ends of the board and bending each end inwards and outwards. This causes the instrument to create its distinctive whooping sound. 

Key Features   

  • Percussion instrument made from a flat piece of wood attached to a handle.  
  • Struck with a stick or mallet to create a wobbling and vibrating sound.  
  • Often used in contemporary Australian music.  
  • Also has a long history of use in traditional Aboriginal music.  

5. Lagerphone  

The Lagerphone, also known as Monkey Stick, Zob Stick, or Murrumbidgee River Rattler, is a traditional percussion instrument that features metal "jingles" attached to a stout pole. 

The origins of this instrument are still unknown, but experts believe it was developed by Spanish, Romani, and Italian street performers during the Victorian Era.  

In Australia, the lagerphone is traditionally made with beer bottle tops to emulate the original Aboriginal lagerphones that would have used shells instead.  

Key Features  

  • Percussion instrument made from a metal can with metal tongues attached to the sides.  
  • Played by hitting the tongues with sticks or mallets to create a variety of sounds.  
  • Originally made from recycled materials, such as discarded beer cans.  
  • Creates a bright, metallic sound.  

6. Clapsticks  

Lastly, we have another percussion instrument called Clapsticks, also known as Clappers, Bilmas, or Musicsticks.  

They are made of pieces of wood that are struck together to create a sharp, clicking sound.  

They usually come in pairs, with one slightly larger than the other. The smaller stick is hit against the larger one to create the sound.  

These Australian traditional musical instruments were usually used to maintain the rhythm during ceremonies and dances and would have been accompanied by other instruments, such as the didgeridoo.  

Key Features  

  • A simple percussion instrument made from two sticks of wood.  
  • Played by hitting the sticks together to create a rhythm.  
  • Often used in traditional Aboriginal ceremonies and dances.  
  • Creates a clicking or tapping sound.  
  • Can be played in a variety of rhythms and patterns.  

The Ending Note 

There you have it: 6 musical instruments that made an impact on Australia's music history. 

Musical instruments in Australia offer a fascinating glimpse into the diverse cultural heritage of the continent. This includes everything from ancient Aboriginal traditions to modern interpretations, which continue to captivate audiences worldwide. 

The sounds of these iconic instruments evoke the spirit of Australia's rich cultural tapestry, whether heard in traditional ceremonies or contemporary compositions. 

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