Sleep Apnea? Break out your didgeridoo

Those who play and enjoy the didgeridoo know that creating the low, keening sounds on the instrument can relax and inspire you. The instrument, made from hollowed out wood or PVC pipe, is played using breathing techniques that improve as the user gets better through practice. What an avid player of the didgeridoo might not expect is that the instrument and the breathing techniques could help you get a better nights rest and solve the rising problem of sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is an issue for over 18 million people worldwide, although the condition often goes undiagnosed and the number of people suffering from this problem could be as high as 30,000 million. Occurring when the soft palate collapses and the airway is blocked, the individual with apnea stops breathing. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring while sleeping and daytime sleepiness due to an inability to get adequate rest at night. It is a problem that often plagues those who are overweight or the aging population, but it is not known why some have sleep apnea and others do not.

To diagnose this condition, the individual must have a referral from a doctor for a night in a sleep lab. The sleep lab measures the times that breathing has stopped and rates it on a scale from mild to severe. Once the condition is officially diagnosed, there are few ways to treat this problem. The solution generally chosen is a sleep mask. The mask is connected to an air pump, which sends air through the patients nose and keeps air flowing all night. The result is fewer episodes where the individual stops breathing. The mask is bulky and similar to wearing a scuba mask, which results in patients tossing it aside due to how constricting it feels when on. Unfortunately for those who suffer from sleep apnea, the problem does not go away on it’s own. The patient is expected to wear the mask for the rest of their lives, as this has been the most modern and safe way to fix the issue.

A recent British study has focused on a new and non-invasive way of assisting those with sleep apnea, and the surprising alternative has been found to be the didgeridoo. The technique of circular breathing used by those who play the didgeridoo was put to the test by patients with sleep apnea.

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The theory was that the breathing techniques strengthen the upper airway that collapses when apnea occurs. The result? Those who played for six days a week and 30 minutes per day reduced the amount of times they stopped breathing at night by a significant number. It was also found that their daytime drowsiness decreased.

If you are one of the millions that suffer from sleep apnea, grab yourself a didgeridoo and put it to the test. The instrument that you will come to love to play may just help you get a better nights rest.

Learning to play the Doumbek

Like any hand drum, playing the Doumbek can be an uplifting experience. This beautiful goblet shaped drum has a sound that differs from other hand drums. The sound comes across as crisp and the slaps yield an openness that carries across the room. When you are listening to the Doumbek being played, you are immediately drawn into a feeling of being surrounded by Middle Eastern culture, and it's impossible to not want to join in the fun.

Meinl Copper Doumbek, Hand Engraved played by Christoph Schacherl, Percussion Student
To master the Doumbek, you need a sense of rhythm and timing, as well as knowledge of the basic hand techniques that will bring this instrument to life. Your first step should be to find a timing chart that is specific to the Doumbek, and master the sounds that accompany each note on the chart. Timing is truly everything when playing the hand drum, and it is important to play the correct beat with the correct note. When you vary the high notes with low notes, your music will come across as energetic.

There are three basic sounds you can create on the Doumbek; Doum, Tek, and Ka. The 'Doum' sound is created by using the four fingers of the hand you primarily use when drumming and striking the center of the drumhead. When hitting the drumhead, you should be trying for a resonating tone. To achieve that, pull your fingers away quickly as though touching a hot object.

The 'Tek' sound is also created using your primary drumming hand. To make this sound on the Doumbek, you should focus on the space where the head leaves the rim of the drum and use the tips of your fingers. You can use one finger or two when creating the Tek sound, but your focus should be on removing your fingers quickly so that the sound resonates across the drumhead. The sound should be tinny or slightly ringing in nature.

The 'Ka' sound is similar to the Tek, except for that it is created using the opposite hand. When creating a Ka sound, you strike the drum in the same area but you can also include hitting the shell. The Ka sound is said to be more difficult for a beginner to master, as you are required to angle your arm across the drum or grab at the drum to make the sound.

In addition to Doum, Tek, and Ka sounds you can create on the Doumbek, there are also many advanced techniques that you can master on this drum. Open slaps, snaps, and rolls are used together to create inspiring music that will have your audience captivated. These techniques are more difficult to master than the average beats, and as you advance in your drumming career you will be able to develop an ear for alternating beats on different areas of the drumhead.

The Doumbek has an almost mystical quality, both for the individual playing it as well as those listening and dancing to the beats. Work on increasing your skill by mastering simple techniques, then work your way up to more advanced drumming.