The ocarina has been around since the 19th century and has taken many shapes, styles and sizes. I, like many, was first introduced to its existence by the Nintendo game “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time”, in which the hero uses the music of this instrument to perform various tasks.
Now, also like me, most people find that they can pick up one of these glorious instruments (painted and decorated to look exactly like in their favorite game!) for only $12 on eBay! It arrives in the mail, you rip off the wrapping and there it lies, shining like a diamond. You hold it. You feel the power course through your fingers. You lift it up to your lips and blow…
…and a noise like a mangled train whistle comes out.
I can assure you that this instrument is beautiful and elegant when played correctly. I will walk you through what you need to do to avoid catastrophe.
Buy a decent ocarina.
The first thing you can do wrong is buy it from eBay. Don’t.
I keep mine for sentimental reasons, because It was my first ocarina. I do not play it anymore. It sits on a shelf to remind me of my past mistakes, and how far I’ve come from there.
There are a few good dealers online, who are trustworthy and reputable, but like with all musical instruments, it’s always best to hold it and play it before you buy. Of course, this is not always an option, so the next best thing would be to do your research and look at reviews of the product.
Some reputable dealers:
I personally have done business with STL Ocarina, and I am very satisfied with their products. I personally recommend to beginners to purchase a plastic ocarina. They are inexpensive, tough to break, and sound just as amazing. Do not think that it is not professional because it is plastic. I know professionals who use them.
Hold it correctly, ya dingus.
When I first tried to play my cheap Chinese ocarina, I wasn’t even holding it properly.
On a traditional “sweet potato” transverse ocarina (usually 12 holes, but occasionally 10), your left-hand faces up and your fingers curl upward and cover the holes, while your thumb covers the bottom left hole. Your right-hand places 4 fingers on the top holes and your thumb rests on the right bottom hole. Observe:
That small hole you see in between the two thumb holes is called a fipple, or just “sound Hole” (because it’s where the sound comes out. Duh). It remains uncovered. Always. Make sure before you blow that all the appropriate holes are COMPLETELY covered. Leaks will cause the notes to fall flat. The pads of your fingertips must gently rest on top of, but seal completely off the holes. Another common mistake is squeezing too hard. All it takes is gentle pressure.
Make sure you do NOT cover the little holes. Those are for later 😉
As you may have guessed by now, the pitch of the note you are playing is directly affected by the covering and uncovering of these holes. Here is a fingering chart for a Tenor C, the most common:
The dark circles represent covered holes, and the light, open ones. As you can see, the tiny holes on the top are used to adjust the pitch by only a semitone. When you start out, you will only need the main scale, as the more complicated stuff is…more complicated.
STL Ocarina has some great guides and resources here.
TIP: When you get to the higher notes, above the second C, tip your head down and tuck your chin toward your chest. No one knows why it helps, but it does.
Find a tutor/self-study.
The best results will come from finding an ocarina teacher in your area and taking lessons. There is nothing better than to have real-time input and personal attention.
This won’t be an option for everyone, though, whether it be because of cost or inconvenient location (or in my case, both). If you absolutely cannot arrange for a personal instructor, you may wish to do some self-study.
The internet is swarming with free instruction and tutorials. I would do some browsing and learn from as many sources as possible.
Don’t think that you can play J.S. Bach’s “Badinerie” right out of the box. It will take time. That being said, it’s not a western concert flute, either. The ocarina is simple in design, and it doesn’t take long to become comfortable and familiar with it.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so put in some effort and commit to practice every day, and you will see improvements over time.
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧ ✧ﾟ･: *ヽ(◕ヮ◕ヽ)
The ocarina is a beautiful instrument, and it is virtually limitless in its potential shape and design. It’s well worth the trouble to master it.
I wish you the best of luck, and I’ll be seeing you…who knows when.