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Since I started making udus back in 2009 I have done more than 200 prototypes until I arrived to the current design. Some interesting and promising designs were discarded. In the actual model one hand produces the sound by beating the round hole while the other hand regulates the pitch of the note, that separation of the action of each hand facilitates enormously the performance of melodies. The melodic udu is a very intuitive musical instrument and technically very simple.
Anatomy of the Melodic Udu
1- Almond shaped hole: it has the perfect shape to be able to gradually cover the opening surface with the palm of the hand. By the action of grabbing or letting go, the non dominant hand controls the open area and thus the frequency of the vibrating air inside.
2- Beating hole: the dominant hand beats the round hole and sets the inner air into vibration generating the sound this way. There are two different beats, in one of them the palm stays in contact with the udu keeping the hole sealed and in the other the palm or the fingers beat the hole briefly, kind of rebounding, leaving it open while the air vibrates inside.
3- Strap pin: the pin allows to secure a guitar strap and play the udu standing up. It also stabilizes the udu when playing sitting down.
One model, all different...
All udus have a very similar shape, only their size change. Just like every musical instrument, the bigger its size the lower its pitch.
Due to the inner tube of the almond shaped hole the melodic udu must be made by hand, that's why each udu is slightly different from each other. You may notice little differences in each udu's proportions, but every one of them follow the same pattern.
In some of the web's photos there are udus with several decorations, but nowadays all my works are finished the same way: plain red terra sigillata, which adds shine and protection.
Melodic Udu vs Traditional Udu
The traditional udu is a percussion instrument, the melodic udu is a wind one.
The traditional udu produces two musical notes, the melodic udu has them all.
The traditional udu makes various percussive sounds; in the melodic udu the percussive sounds have been minimized in order to enhance the aerophonic sounds.
In music bands the traditional udu's role is with the percussion, whereas the melodic udu is similar to the bass.
I make udus in all tonalities, from the biggest with fixed notes Bb2-Eb3 to the smallest, tuned Bb3-Eb4. All udus exten their range at least an octave lower than the low fixed note. For example, the Bb2-Eb3 produces every note from Bb1 up to Eb3.
The following chart shows all the tunings I make, from the lowest and biggest to the smallest and high pitched.
Range (notes it produces)
from Bb1 to Eb3
from B1 to E3
from C2 to F3
from C#2 to F#3
from D2 to G3
from Eb2 to Ab3
from E2 to A3
from F2 to Bb3
from F#2 to B3
from G2 to C4
from Ab2 to Db4
from A2 to D4
from Bb2 to Eb4
Udus with a lower pitch than Bb2-Eb3 are feasible, but the almond shaped hole would turn out too big for most hands.
¿What udu size should I order?
A big udu moves more air than a small one, that means more intensity and more sustain. The sound of big udus is more continuous and fluid.
The range (number of playable notes) in small udus can be extended towards the low pitches up to reaching a total of two octaves. In big udus an octave and a half is played easily, but reaching further than that is more complicated.
Personally, the quality of their sound makes me prefer big udus, the bigger the better, but there's a limit, and that is the size of your hand. I can comfortably play up to the B2-E3 udu. The biggest udu I make, Bb2-Eb3, has too large an almond hole for my hand, that's why it's difficult for me to get the lower notes, in which the hole must be covered in most of its area.
How can I know which one is the biggest udu I can play?
- The non dominant hand must be able to cover (sealing) most of the almond shaped hole.
- When closing the hand, only the tip of the almond shaped hole must remain open.
- This hole is never fully closed. In order to know whether my hand can cover the hole and thus obtain (most of) the notes the udu can offer I have to:
Measure the hand
- Measure the palm of my non-dominant hand from its "tail" (pisiform bone) up to the second fold of the index finger . Shown in the picture by the arrow:
Length of the almond shaped hole
- Check the length of the hole in this chart:
Longitud del Agujero Almendrado
- If the length of my palm is equal or bigger than the length of the almond hole I can produce all of those udu's note.
- If my palm is smaller it'll be difficult to get the lower notes.
How to play it?
In spite of all the musical jargon I use to describe it the melodic udu can be played by ear. Musical knowledge allow us to understand the way it works, but when playing it is more important the musicality of the interpreter and, of course, practice.
In the tutorial videos section I explain the basic technique for interpreting any melody.
The traditional udu is a rather quiet instrument, the melodic udu is so too.
You can play the udu whithout amplification in a silent room, but if playing along any other instrument or if you want to sound big you must amplify it.
Amplifying the udu from the outside with directional mics is not too good an option. It would reduce mobility of the interpreter, the equipment needed would be expensive, it would require a lot of equalization to damp the percussive sound... It is far simpler to introduce a mic inside the udu and get the sound from the inside, that is the way I do it and that is what I'll explain.
With a small condenser microphone set inside the instrument you can record on your smartphone, tablet or computer, but if you plug it directly to an amplifier the sound feedbacks and amplification is not feasible.
For amplifying the sound of the udu you need at least:
- A small mic to set inside the udu.
- A gadget to change the frequency of the sound. the most practical one is an electric guitar pedal called pitch shifter, which raises or lowers down the note the instrument produces. This is necessary because the udu is a resonator, if the note sounding inside is amplifed then feedback results, since the instrument begins sounding louder and louder. When changing the note being amplified through a pitch shifter the sound inside and the sound outside don't match and feedback doesn't occur.