About Pure Ocarinas

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My name is Robert Hickman. I discovered the ocarina in roughly 2008 and immediately found a liking for there ethereal tone. My interest in the ocarina is that of a musician. The transverse ocarina is a highly capable musical instrument and fully chromatic over it's sounding range.

I started making ocarinas in 2011 and my current design has evolved with my skill as a musician. Being both a player and a maker allows me to understand exactly what is needed to make a great ocarina. As my musical ability developed I noticed areas in which the instrument was limiting me, and modified it to work around them. This process continues to the present day, and as such Pure Ocarinas are a continually evolving product.

To me ‘Pure’ signifies a number of things. In a literal sense the ocarina has a very pure/ethereal tone. It is also ‘pure’ in its simplicity, a hollow lump of ceramic with holes. However in capable hands, this simple thing is able to produce beautiful music.

The following is an outline of my instruments:


The 3 point ocarina hold

The 3 point grip, please note that I have curled my fingers to clearly show the 3 contact points, this should not be done in practice.

Ergonomic design is an area which is frequently lacking in ocarinas. The typical 'rounded' shapes provide no good grip points and it is easy for finger to slip off as a result. Pure ocarinas places ergonomics as a very high priority.

The ocarina poses particular ergonomic challenges as playing higher notes leaves fewer fingers to stabilize the instrument. In particular the highest note since all the holes must be uncovered. To address this Pure Ocarinas are designed to be played using the 3 point grip - figure right. This is a very stable hold, yet still makes it easy to leap from the lowest to highest note. For more information on this technique please see (How to hold an ocarina)

All pure ocarinas include a functional capello. The capello is the ramp on the left hand side of the chamber and is a secure resting place for the left index finger. Equally the slight curve in the tail prevents the pinky sliding off the end. They are balanced to place the center of gravity over the right thumb, giving just enough upwards force on the pinky to feel secure, without being tiring. The reduced weight and careful balancing makes it easier to play the ocarina agilely, as less effort is needed to hold the instrument.


Pure Ocarinas are tuned with an even breath curve across the entire playing range. The subhole is tuned in line with the rest of the curve, without the abrupt breath cut found in many Asian 12 hole ocarinas. As ocarina's are inherently unstable in pitch, this regularity makes it easier to hit notes on pitch when playing at speed.

As ceramic is a variable material, the holes of each ocarina are adjusted individually to create an even breath curve.

Glaze free finger holes

Ocarina glaze free finger holes

As the ocarinas tuning depends on the relative sizes of the finger holes, should any glaze stray into a hole it will reduce the hole's size and negatively effect the tuning. Due to this, I painstakingly wipe all the glaze out of the finger holes and do not spray apply glazes.

10 holes and multichambers - no acute bend needed

The physical principles that make the ocarina function are fragile. As more holes are opened the player must provide more air until a point is reached where tone production stops altogether. 12 hole ocarinas function right on this limit, forcing design compromise resulting in quiet, muddy low notes or weak top notes. Combined with an irregular breath curve.

Having an very unbalanced timbre between the high and low notes is highly undesirable. While it isn't that apparent in stepwise music, it is in music with leaps. One of the notes sounds out of place.

Sticking to 10 holes works within the instrument's physical limitations, allowing all notes to sound clearly. This also means the ocarina can be tuned with an easy to manage breath curve and no arbitrary breath cuts. Pure ocarinas do not require the acute bend.

You can choose an ocarina which matches the range required by a piece of music. Multichambers are also able to side-step this issue as the individual chambers produce a smaller portion of the total range.