Playing the ocarina at high tempo

Learning to play fast can be frustrating, these are a few tips I've leaned from my experience.

Firstly ocarina design, tuning and player technique have a considerable impact on the ease of playing quickly. It's a good idea to make sure you are not getting hung up on these issues as they are easy to rectify.

Minimize your finger movements

A lot of players move there fingers far more than necessary. There is a point around two centimeters above a hole where the finger no longer changes the pitch. Moving beyond this point is a waste of energy. The further you move your fingers the faster you have to move them which can bog you down.

Excessive finger movement
Good finger movement

It is not difficult to train yourself to limit your finger movement. Hold your instrument and practice lifting your fingers to a controlled point. If you practice with one hand at a time you can use the other hand to block excess movement. How to do so is shown in the pictures below.

After a few days you'll start to limit your finger movement subconsciously but mistakes will happen. Any time you notice a finger flying off uncontrolled while playing make a point to correct it. Stop what you are doing and practice lifting it in a controlled way.

Additionally if you are not already learn to play the ocarina using the 3 point grip. This keeps the right hand fingers close to there holes at all times. It makes leaping between the high and low notes considerably easier.

Play an ocarina with a low air requirement

Ocarinas have a non-linear response to pressure changes. A small pressure increase on the low end requires a considerably larger increase on the high end to maintain the same pitch. The chart below shows 3 different breath curves. Green has the lowest starting pressure, red has the highest. orange falls in the middle.

The curve with the lowest starting pressure has the smallest difference between the low and high note.

The red curve begins at only a slightly higher pressure but spikes much more quickly. Resulting in a larger pressure difference between the low and high notes.

If you only have to move your breath pressure a little when changing between notes less effort is required. Larger changes require more effort and impose greater chance of landing the note out of tune.

Play a 10 hole or a multi chamber

As more holes are added to an ocarina, more air is required to maintain sound production. This change is not linear; adding a sub-hole or two greatly increases the pressure needed to sound the high notes. This in turn increases the pressure difference between the low and high end. It also amplifies the nonlinearity in the instruments breath curve.

Sub-holes impose another issue when playing quickly. Lifting fingers is easier than sliding them due to sliding friction. Consequently I recommend working on tunes what do not use sub-holes. Eliminate the low note with folding or transpose into a higher key.

10 hole ocarinas may be tuned with a flatter breath curve over there sounding range. Multi chambers also side step this problem as each chamber has a smaller sounding range even where sub holes exist. Because of this they can be tuned with a flatter breath curve.

Do not tongue every note

As the tempo goes up tonguing every note can hold you back. Even if you can keep up it tends to cause intonation issues. The tung restricts the air flow and the ocarinas pitch goes flat. Especially if your instruments air requirement is around the limit of what you are able to produce.

Instead of tonging every note, only tung the notes needed to maintain the phrasing of the music. When you need to separate two notes within a phrase finger articulations can be used instead. These respond better at speed as the instrument does not have to stop and start sounding. When you stop the airflow it takes a certain amount of time for the ocarina to start sounding again.

Pushing yourself to play faster

Human time perception is not absolute. Perceived speed depends on a number of factors including how well you know the tune, your experience with the instrument and your typical playing tempo. If you've ever tried recording yourself you will have observed this. The recording sounds slower than it felt when you played it.

Becoming comfortable with playing at a higher tempo requires that you develop all of the above. It is helpful to push yourself to play faster using a metronome. Remember, allow yourself to suck. As you will be playing right on the limit of your ability you will not sound your best. This is fine as the goal of the exercise is to get yourself used to playing at a higher speed.

Before pushing speed you must be able to play the tune start to finish to a metronome without any serious errors. If you cannot do so practice the tune slowly to a metronome for a few days. Once you are coumftable playing at that tempo bump up the speed 5 to 10 BPM. Play through the tune a few times. If this feels comfortable bump it up a little more.

You will reach a point where you can still hit the notes but you feel a tension while doing so, a niggling feeling that you should back off. Once you reach this point stick with it. As you keep playing repetitions the initial tension you experienced from pushing yourself will start to go away. Note that you should not play so fast that you are making a lot of errors.

Practicing in this way begins to move the task from your conscious mind to your subconscious. As this happens you will be able to play it faster. As this transition often hapens when you sleep you may not see immediate results during your practice session. When you practice the next day you'll notice that you are able to go faster. Due to the Spacing Effect even having a few hours of break in the same day can make it feel easier.

When you push yourself you'll notice that you can play some parts of your tune faster than others without making mistakes. The parts where you are tripping up is where you should be spending your practice time. Work on them at lower speed.


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