Playing your first music on the ocarina

Playing your first music on the ocarina involves two things:

  1. Finger the right notes in sequence
  2. Use the correct breath pressure so these notes sound in tune

The first of these is easy. Assuming that you have memorized the fingerings, it's just a matter of moving between them in the right order. Try fingering this tune, for example. If need be, you can break this down: play the notes of each bar repeatedly until they enter your muscle memory. Remember to keep your fingering light; you don't need a death grip. When you lift your fingers, lift them straight and do not curl them. Curling your fingers moves them a long way from the holes and greatly increases the risk of mis-covering a hole.

G A B A | G B d2 | A2 B c | d2 B2 |
d B G B | e B A2 | A2 cd  | A B G2 :|

Unfortunately fingerings are not the whole story. Opening finger holes allows the air in the chamber to escape. As higher notes are played you have to blow harder to compensate. This is called the breath curve.

To learn how much pressure you need to use for the notes in a melody it's best to begin with long tones. As the melody above begins on G you can start with that note. Check the pitch using a chromatic tuner and adjust your breath pressure until the note is in tune. Once you are happy with this continue with the other notes in the melody. Play around 10 to 20 long tones on each.

If you notice one note that seems to require an unusually low pressure make sure that you are covering the holes properly. Even slightly venting a hole will cause intonation problems. With your fingers placed lightly on the ocarina you should be able to feel the edge of the finger holes. You should feel that the hole is roughly in the centre of the pad of your finger. As you play more this feeling will immediately tell you if a finger is out of place. Check in a mirror if need be.

I can't play in tune without squeaking?

The ocarinas pitch is sensitive to temperature so if you are playing in a cold environment it may squeak. This is covered on the page playing the ocarina in tune. Also some ocarinas on the market are so poorly made that they are impossible to play in tune.

Changing between notes

Once you can play the notes in tune by themselves you can learn to move between them. You do so as follows:

  • Play the first note
  • Stop the air with the tongue
  • Change your fingering
  • Change your breath pressure
  • Lower the tongue to start the next note

To start with play the two long tones starting and stopping each using the tongue and place a large gap between them. Over time gradually reduce this rest time until the notes are played one after another. Make sure that you start the second note in tune. If you don't change your breath pressure enough the note to begin sharp or flat. Don't worry too much about this but make a conscious effort to correct it. Don't be tempted to rush ahead ignoring breath control. This just wastes time as you'll only have to come back to it later.

In closing

Now that you understand the basic techniques I advise that you start learning music that you like. Practice using the same method, long tones a bit at a time. It is also important to begin learning to hear your intonation without a tuner, a skill called relative pitch. How to do so is described on 'playing the ocarina in tune'.


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