Is the ocarina easy to play?

The question is often asked: is the ocarina easy to play? It looks simple so it must be easy? Unfortunately this is not the case. Ocarinas are approachable and a lot of fun to play but I honestly cannot say that they are easy.

'Easy to play' generally means 'easy for a new musician to produce a passable sound'. Ocarinas are not ideal because there pitch is unstable. Actually, the ocarina has the most unstable pitch of any wind instrument I'm aware of. A small increase in breath pressure will push the lowest notes several semitones sharp. This wouldn't be a concern if the whole instrument went sharp by the same amount but it doesn't. On the high end the same change would only raise the pitch by a few cents. Because of this new musicians usually play the low notes sharp and the high notes flat.

If you are new to music there is a good chance you will be oblivious to these mistakes. I fell foul of this: after playing for several months I began to develop confidence in my playing. When someone revealed that my intonation was all over the place I felt like I'd been conned. I read many tutorials on the ocarina and none mentioned intonation.

To produce a pleasing sound multiple things must happen simultaneously. You have to read the note, apply the correct fingering, see where it fits in the rhythm and use the correct breath pressure to play in tune. For a new musician it's like rubbing your tummy while patting your head.

The easiest instrument to play is one that looks after some of these issues for you. A good option is to learn the basics of music on a digital keyboard. They can be obtained cheaply. Pitch is consistent and key velocity can be disabled so volume is too. Don't be intimidated by having so many keys, there are only 12 distinct notes in music which repeat in octaves.

All instruments in the western tradition are based on the same system. Consequently you can easily move between them. Once you begin to develop an intuitive feel for playing tunes, even with one finger, you will find it much easier to play the ocarina.

Intonation can be developed intuitively if you play with accompaniment and ignoring it is not a good idea. I found that out the hard way. While in ignorance my mind gravitated toward arbitrary pitches. This was frustrating when I started to develop my relative pitch as I would perceive both the correct and wrong pitch as correct.

I recommend learning the ocarina because it inspires you, not because it has a reputation for being easy to play. All instruments have challenges and limitations. Regardless what instrument you choose to play allow yourself to suck, I promise you will get better.