How to play the high notes of single chambered ocarinas

In order to play the high notes effectively it is important to understand the ocarina's plains of balance. These allow you to support an ocarina with only a few fingers.

Ocarinas have two plains of balance. The primary plain runs between the right thumb hole and the right tail of the ocarina. This allows you to support the instrument using only the right thumb and pinky when held parallel to the ground. If anything there should be a slight tendency to roll towards the mouthpiece. Any ocarina which rolls forward is defective and will be exceptionally difficult to play.

The second plain runs between the left pinky hole and the mouthpiece. Note that this plain can only be used when the pinky hole is placed on the side of the instrument.

While playing the lowest notes there are so many fingers on the ocarina that these balance plains don't matter, but as you play higher support transitions to the primary.

During normal playing the primary plain is used with additional support from the secondary. Consequently it is possible to play up to the 'D' while using no additional support points.

How to play higher? Roll off the thumb. Rolling off the thumb shifts the point of support back from the plain of balance, so the supplemental support of the left pinky is essential. Due to the 3 contact points I call this technique the 3 point grip.

To play the highest note you have to remove the pinky thus another means of support is needed. This is provided by placing the left index finger on the cappello.

This technique keeps all of your fingers close to there holes, which is desirable for fast playing. Additionally it allows you to easily move between any note and any other. You should keep all of your fingers as close as possible to their respective hole at all times. Smaller finger movements require less energy which aids smooth and/or fast playing.

Basic technique

Step 1

Whenever you lift all four fingers of the right hand, place the right pinky finger on the tail of the ocarina, beside it's hole. The tail of Pure Ocarinas is curled to give a positive placement for this finger and prevent it from sliding off the end.

Step 2

When you want to play higher than C the thumb is removed from it's hole. At the same time as you remove the thumb from the hole place the left index finger onto the ocarinas cappello (Italian, 'hat'), besides it's finger hole.

In this position the ocarina is supported by it's primary balance plain between the right thumb and pinky. Additionally the left index finger is supporting the ocarina on the cappello and the left pinky is supporting the ocarina from the lowered left pinky hole.

the finger will rest with it's second or third joint against the ocarina.

Notice the vertical orientation of the index finger in the second image above, this is required. The perpose of placing the index finger on the cappello is to carry the weight of the instrument. In order to do this effectively the finger must be relatively vertical to the ocarina. Placing the finger flat on top of the cappello as shown below achieves nothing. The ocarina may fall down away from the finger.

Step 3

To open the right thumb hole and play the high E, the right thumb is rolled of it's hole. This is done by rotating the whole right hand from the wrist, allowing the right pinky finger to slide over the tail. The right thumb ridge provides a pivot point for the finger, allowing it to rapidly move away from the hole.

Things will feel awkward until they enter your muscle memory, they are not natural actions you would perform day to day.

If you bend the thumb in it's resting position you can straighten it to reach the high note. This minimises the movement needed.

Step 4

Once you have rolled the right hand forward, you are in the basic position of the 3 point grip. From here the ocarina is supported by the left index, right thumb and right pinky. You can safely remove the left pinky to play the high F.

Adjustments

When moving from notes below B, you have to slide the left index finger onto the cappello. The left index finger is straight in it's normal playing position, sliding it onto the cappello is simply a matter of straightening the finger while simultaneously sliding it sideways. The finger will end up with the second or 3rd joint from the tip resting against the ocarina's body.

How to slide the finger onto the cappello:

This is the same technique that you will use to move between the highest and lowest notes. In addition to sliding off the cappello, you simultaniously slide the left pinky finger onto the tail.

Depending on the preceding and following notes, the use of the cappello may not be required to attain a stable hold.

Both the cappello and the left pinky hole act to stop the ocarina rolling forwards. If a segment of music only involves playing up to the 'E', it is possible to not use the cappello, since the left pinky on the dropped pinky hole provides adequate support.

Pros
  • Maintains right thumb, the strongest finger, as main support point.
  • Distributes ocarina weight over both hands. This allows it to work effectively with larger ocarinas.
  • Keeps all fingers close to their respective holes at all times.
  • Permits easily leaping between high and low notes.
  • Keeps centre of gravity relatively consistent.
Cons
  • Can limit playing speed of the right thumb.

Palm grip tutorial

Pros

  • Allows right thumb to be removed; allowing trilling or fast playing of the note.

Cons

  • Locks right hand fingers a long way from their holes, effectively immobilising them (i.e. preventing finger ornamentation).
  • Takes time to switch into, requiring forward planning while playing.
  • Places the entire weight of the ocarina onto the right pinky and index finger, limiting it's use with larger heavy ocarinas.

leaping between the high and low notes is impossible using this technique. While this is fairly rare it is still important to be able to do so when you encounter it.

In the palm grip the entire weight of the ocarina is taken by the right hand, which allows the right thumb to be removed. This is useful for situations where the high E needs to be trilled or otherwise played quickly. However this technique has a number of ergonomic issues. It places the entire weight of the ocarina on the right hand, limiting it's use with heavy bass ocarinas. It also effectively immobilises 3 of the right hand fingers, making it difficult to leap between high and low notes, or to play finger ornamentation. Because of these limitations I only recommend using this as a supplement, rather than primary technique.

Step 1

Whenever you lift all four fingers of the right hand, place the right pinky finger on the tail of the ocarina, beside it's hole. The tail of Pure Ocarinas is curled to give a positive placement for this finger and prevent it from sliding off the end.

Step 2

Whenever you are playing a higher note, if you do not need to play a low note first and know that you need to access the high E or F, slip the right ring and pinky finger around the tail. This grips the ocarina into the palm.

In this position there can be a tendency to want to extend the remaining two fingers vertically upwards. I would strongly recommend keeping them bent, so they remain close to their hole and have less distance to move when returning to a lower note.

Take extra care not to shade the pinky hole as doing so will flatten the high note, requiring it to be pushed, resulting in a more noisy tone, especially if you are already playing in a cold environment. This may also result in the high note squeaking.

Exercises

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