Ornamentation on the ocarina

Ornaments are decorations which you can add to your music to draw attention to certain notes. On the ocarina ornaments take the roll performed by volume dynamics on other instruments. Making effective use of these is essential to create an interesting performance.

Slides (Glissandi)

In a slide or "glissando" the pitch changes smoothly between two notes. They are a way of ornamenting notes which are slurred together. Slides are an effective way to create emphasis, when used sympathetically with the style of music. It is important to note that A slide should always go to or from a definite note. They are not an excuse for sloppy intonation.

Ocarinas can play two distinct kinds of slide, Finger slides and breath slides. These are described below.

Finger slides

To play a finger slide you slur two notes in a single breath and move between the notes by sliding a finger on to or off a hole. This is shown in the video above.

Sliding up or down multiple notes just requires that you move several fingers simultaneously. When doing this it is often easier to roll them up away from the holes, demonstrated below. Slides across a wide range are extreme effects in most kinds of music (like the opening clarinet wail in "Rhapsody in Blue") - you won't want to do this often.

Breath slides

As an ocarinas pitch is sensitive to pressure you can play slides with the breath. Breath slides are more limited than finger slides because of tuning problems. If you push a note sharp but want to start the following note in tune, you need to suddenly reduce your breath pressure. There is a good chance the second note would begin sharp.

Because of this, breath slides are most useful for sliding into notes. Sliding into a note with the breath changes its volume and pitch simultaneously, which can sound nice in slower music. This can also be used for bending notes, playing the note above or below then returning to the original. A breath slide as a final fadeout at the end of a tune is not a good idea. As doing this changes the pitch it disturbs the tonal resolution of the music. It usually sounds amateurish.

The lower notes can easily be bent up or down by a semitone with the breath; the high notes will only bend about a quarter tone without squeaking. Bending the pitch by a given amount needs a much larger pressure change on the high notes.


Th add interest to long notes of the same pitch you can apply vibrato, the notes pitch hovers around the desired note rhythmically. This is accomplished by varying your breath pressure.

To learn how to play vibrato it is best to start by practicing exhaling at different rates. This is best done without your ocarina at first. Take a deep inhalation from the diaphragm and exhale as rapidly as you can. Secondly do the same thing but exhale more slowly. Practice both of these alternately until they become natural, you may find it helpful to put your hand on your belly. Practice both with a large aperture between your lips to create a bit of resistance.

To play a vibrato you have to vary between slowly and rapidly. The three things are demonstrated in the video below, first exhaling slowly, then fast, and finally varying the pressure.

It is helpful to practice this to a metronome, start slowly between 40 or 60 BPM, placing the peak of your exhalation on the beat. To begin with focus on making the fluctuation of your vibrato consistent over time. The pitch change should not be excessive, a fluctuation of 10 to 20 cents is fine. It may feel difficult at first but gets easier as it enters your muscle memory.

Ocarinas are unusual in that the pitch of there high notes is much less sensitive to pressure changes. It is good to begin practicing on the middle notes as they are reasnably stable. As you get better you can practice on lower and higher notes. When the frequency of your vibrato is slower you will want a larger change of pitch. As you go faster the pitch change should reduce.

As you get better you can begin to increase the tempo with your metronome. You may also play two or three oscillations per beat.


Trills are a rapid alternation of two notes. Note that the demonstration below is quite slow, I don't use trills normally.

Trills are played by rapidly raising and lowering a finger. It is easiest to practice this to a metronome. As it is important to make trills even you can begin practicing with two ticks per trill, one when the finger reaches it's highest point, and the second when it reaches it's lowest. Start practicing this slowly. It gets easier over time as the action enters your muscle memory.


While playing a trill you have to rapidly vary your breath pressure so that both of the notes are approximately in tune. In effect this is a rapid, but shallow vibrato, assuming that the notes are adjacent.


Side Note

Please note that mordants and turns (next section) are classical ornaments and I am not an expert in classical music. I suspect that the execution of these changes with the musical era. Please check other sources.

A mordant is an ornament often found in baroque and classical music. They are used to ornament the start of a note. The note to be ornamented is played, then very slightly later the note above or below is played for a brief duration. After this the starting note continues for it's desired duration.

To play a mordant you lift or lower the finger for the next note of the scale you are in slightly after beginning the note. An mordant above is called an upper mordant, while a mordant below is called a lower mordant.

"Upper Mordant" A2 A/B/A | "Lower Mordant" A2 A/G/A
Side Note

Note: A mordant is not a cut / strike

When played fast a mordant may start to sound like a cut or strike, finger articulations common in folk music. They are distinct in that a cut is placed on the beat, while a mordant generally comes after it. Also the duration of a cut is constant regardless of tempo.


Turns are a multiple note ornament from classical tradition. They are applied to another note which I will call the parent note. Turns are indicated with the '~' sign above the note.


To play this the duration of the note is divided into 4:

  1. The note above
  2. The parent note
  3. The note below
  4. The parent note

And in standard notation:


Turns are commonly prefixed with another note of the same pitch as the lead in note.

A2 B/A/G/A/
Side Note

Note: A turn and a roll are not the same!

You should note that a turn is not the same thing as a roll, an ornament common in Irish traditional music. A roll is an ornament constructed of 3 notes articulated using a cut followed by a strike. Well played cuts and strikes are two short for there pitch to be heard, so they function as articulations rather than notes.

People involved with traditional music often notate rolls using the same symbol as a turn. If you see a '~' in a folk tune the transcriber is almost certainly implying a roll, not a turn. I will have a page discussing this in more detail shortly.


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