Basic scales/keys for single ocarinas

While the ocarina is technically chromatic, its limited range does limit what scales you can practically play. This page outlines the keys which are most suitable to play, to begin with by using an alto C ocarina as an example. Later this is expanded to ocarinas in other keys, in order to maintain simple fingerings.

Basic major

The easiest scale to play is the native tuning of the ocarina, i.e. C. Can be played to a range of an octave and 3.


Second Major

The second playable major scale, using only one accidental is F major. On the surface this appears limited as it leaves no free notes at the top. However this lost range can be found at the bottom, which is useful as music often goes down below the tonic instead of up.

F G A Bb C D E F

Basic minor

By starting the above pattern from the D, the result is a sounded D natural minor scale. This is arguably the simplest and most applicable minor scale on the ocarina. It has a usable range of an octave plus a minor 3rd on top and a major second at the bottom, letting the leading to be played.

D E F G A Bb C D

'Native' minor

It is possible to play the minor scale of the fundamental note. Doing so involves using more cross-fingered notes, lifting and replacing multiple fingers. This can hamper legato playing as all fingers must change at the same moment to avoid the creation of blips/chirps, caused by brief hole venting. It can also make fast playing or ornamentation harder. However intonation is generally pretty good on the needed cross-fingered notes.

C D Eb F G Ab Bb C.

Other major

D major is playable on a C ocarina, but due to the nature of scale patterns, results in a loss of two notes from the top (f#, G), something I find very limiting in practice. Also intonation is a challenge as typical tuning and fingering leaves the low F# really flat or really sharp relative to the surrounding notes. The leading tone (c#) is also generally hard to play with good intonation.

Playing in sharper keys is increasingly limiting, mainly due to complexity of fingering, lack of range and intonation difficulties. E major is just about manageable, though offering limited range. Anything sharper, you would be better changing to a different keyed ocarina. For instance playing in C# on a C ocarina is possible, however intonation is difficult and the finger patterns complicated.

Playing other keys

By changing the tuning of the instrument it is possible to maintain the fingering patterns outlined above, but sound at a different pitch. This is useful when playing with other people, should a given key be required, transposition not an option. It is good to vary key as playing everything in the same basic pitch range does get monotonous.

The following table shows how the different keys relate and the scales that can be played on them. Some interesting observations can be made from this, for instance an ocarina in B major, uncommon in itself, may be used for music in E major, a relatively common key for the guitar. An ocarina in A#/Bb can be used for playing C minor.

Native 2nd maj minor native minor other maj
C F D C D, E
C# F# D# C# D#, E#
D G E D E, F#
D# G# F D# F, G
E A F# E F#, G#
F Bb (a#) G F G, A
F# B G# F# G#, A#
G C A G A, B
G# C# A# G# A#, C
A D B A B, C#
A# Bb D# C A# C, D
B E C# B C#, D#