About the ocarina

The ocarina is a wind instrument most notable for it's pure ethereal tone. Quality transverse ocarinas are capable of creating beautiful mournful slow melodies, to highly ornamented upbeat tunes. They have a straightforward liner fingering system similar to a flute or tin whistle and are fully chromatic. Most ocarinas are small, easily slipped into a pocket or bag, and played wherever it takes your fancy.

Giuseppe_Donati and ocarina

The modern ocarina was created by Giuseppe Donati in 19th century in Budrio, northern Italy. At the time the only available vessel flutes were crude toys capable of playing just a few notes. Donati developed an instrument and fingering system capable of playing chromatically over an octave and a fourth. He also coined the term ‘ocarina’ which means ‘little goose’ in Italian, a reference to the instrument's shape in profile.

Transverse ocarinas have a linear fingering system much like the tin whistle and Boehm flute. Opening the holes in sequence sounds the notes of the instruments 'key', for example 'C' major. However unlike the whistle ocarinas can easily sound chromatic notes with cross fingering. Additionally ocarinas cannot be overblown to create higher octaves, so each diatonic note has its own hole.

In spite of there apparent simplicity ocarinas offer a great deal of scope for player expression. It is easy to play tin whistle ornamentation, cuts, taps, rolls and slides. Vibrato is easily achieved.

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Multichamber ocarinas

Donati's basic fingering system has been extended since it's creation, resulting in multi chambered ocarinas. These retain the same basic fingering system, adding additional chambers extending the instruments playing range from an octave and a fourth, to two octaves or more.

They take the fingering system of transverse ocarinas, and add additional chambers for the right hand to extend the range upwards, while maintaining the ocarinas characteristic pure tone. They play very similarly to single chambered ocarinas but have multiple wind-ways, one per chamber.

A double ocarina

Frequently asked questions Guiding principles: How to become a great ocarina player