How to hold an ocarina

Side Note

If you are interested in how to hold an ocarina on the high notes please see How to hold an ocarina on the high notes.

Learning to hold your ocarina correctly allows you to get the most out of it. You may find these hand positions uncomfortable at first. This is normal. Generally this will go away after a few days of playing. If you notice hand soreness over a longer period of time see if you can get rid of it by changing your finger positions. Often a change of a few millimeters will create a large improvement.

It is a good idea to use a mirror to check your posture while reading this page. This should be at eye level as tilting the ocarina sharply up or down will change your hand/finger positions.

Right hand position

The right hand comes in from the top of the ocarina with the mouthpiece facing towards you. The right thumb covers the large hole on the bottom right of the ocarina keeping it straight at the joints. The thumb should rest with the pad covering the hole and at a slight angle, so the thumbnail is closer to the ocarina on one side than it is on the other.

If you are able to bend your thumb backwards, i.e. 'hitch-hikers thumb', make sure you keep it straight. Bending it will cause issues with the placement of the other 4 fingers.

It is perfectly fine for fingers to over hang holes, everyones hands are different so you may have to do this to be comfortable.

The 4 fingers cover the 4 holes on top, covering them with the pads of the fingers, never the tips. Your fingers should all have a gradual curve along their length; if any have sharp angled joints or if one finger lies at a different angle, try sliding the pads of the fingers forward/back a little to see if you can bring your fingers into line, with a gentle curve. Also check the section below on poor thumb placement.

Hold the ocarina lightly, there is no need for a lot of tension or 'death grip', you aren't going to drop the instrument. With your fingers placed lightly on the ocarina you should be able to feel the edge of the finger holes. Keep this feeling in the center of the pad. As you play more this feeling will immediately tell you if a finger is out of place.

Positioning middle finger for sub-hole

The sub-hole is a small hole which may be covered with the middle finger to play a semitone below the tonic. When the sub-hole is open, the right middle finger should rest with a subtle curve along it's length, as shown in the left hand picture below. From this position it is easy to cover the sub-hole by straightening the finger, as on the right.

Common problems with right hand placement

If any of your fingers feel uncomfortable, there is probably something wrong with your thumb placement. For example the following picture shows the ring and pinky fingers with a sharp bend and resting at notably different angles. Such finger placement issues may be caused by tension; holding the ocarina too tightly. It is also commonly caused by bad placement of the right thumb.

Never cover right thumb hole with tip of thumb

You should NOT cover the right thumb hole with the tip of the thumb, as this will force your fingers into a scrunched up position.

Never bend the right thumb backwards in resting position

You should never bend the thumb back on itself while it is in it's neutral position. Bending it back as shown below will cause issues with the positioning of the top fingers, does not provide stable support for the ocarina, and may cause pain/damage to the joint of the thumb. Doing this will also prevent you from rolling the thumb off the hole effectively.

Ending up in this position may be a side effect of holding the instrument too tightly; it should be held loosely. Holding tension in the muscles limits there ability to move and results in choppy sounding playing.

Left hand position

It is important to keep the left hand and palm in a relatively vertical position. By lowering the left pinky hole onto the side of the chamber and positioning the hand vertically, this hole can be used as an additional support point for holding the ocarina on it's high notes, which will be described later.

In order to allow the hand to be positioned vertically, the left thumb hole must be covered more on the tip of the thumb; curling the thumb forwards at the first joint is fine.

As with the right, the left hand fingers should cover the holes on top of the ocarina.

The following photo shows the approximate 45 degree resting angle of the left pinky finger. This angle allows it to grip on the side of the instrument, providing an extra support point while playing the 'D' and 'E'.

General posture

When playing the ocarina standing you should stand straight with your head turned slightly to the left. You should look straight, nether tilting the head up or down.

If sitting, it is advisable to sit on a rolled up towel, block or smiler on a hard chair, as doing so allows the pelvis to tilt forwards, avoiding a 'slumped' posture and opening the chest, maximising it's volume.

Your elbows should be positioned so that the wrists lie neutrally, neither folded forwards nor kinked back on themselves. You should never forcefully kink the wrists back on themselves, as this may cause wrist pain; particularly if done repeatedly over a number of months/years. For most this will mean the arms will rest with the elbows down and slightly away from the torso.

When your wrists are straight with the arms, but you are viewed from the front, the wrists will appear bent slightly backwards; as in the right picture below. This is due to the shape of the hand. You should always look along an angle parallel with the top of the hand to see if it lines up straight with the arm or not, as in picture 1.

Exercises