Choosing your first ocarina

Get the best ocarina you can

Especially if you're new to music it's very important to have a good instrument. Unfortunately the majority of what goes under the term 'ocarina' in mainstream outlets such as music shops, at least here in the UK, is of incredibly poor quality. They are made as novelty items not serious musical instruments.

When approaching an instrument for the first time you will not have the experience to tell good from bad. A bad instrument will make your life miserable and may cause you to develop bad habits to work around limitations. These will get in your way when you do get a better instrument.

Ocarinas have a unstable pitch. They are tuned by raising or lowering your breath pressure. A well tuned ocarina has a regular breath change from note to note over it's whole playing range. However a poorly tuned ocarina would require you to raise or lower your breath pressure arbitrarily needlessly complicating the task.

For this reason i do not recommend 4 and 6 hole cross fingered ocarinas as there tuning system is an approximation. The transverse system has one hole per note so it can be tuned very accurately. They are also fully chromatic.

A good musical instrument is not a single use or short lived item. If looked after an Ocarina can easily last for hundreds of years. In fact there are still playable ocarinas made by Guisepi Donati in the 1800's. Getting a great quality musical instrument will last you for years and not hold you back as you develop as a player. They also retain there value if you don't get along with it and wish to sell.

How big are your hands?

The second most important thing is having an ocarina that fits the size of your hands. Higher pitched ocarinas are physically smaller than lower pitched ones and the spacing of the finger holes also changes. If you have big hands you may find it difficult or impossible to play a soprano range ocarina.

An important point to make is if you are only playing by yourself it doesn't matter what key you are in. All scales are equivalent. You may wish to choose a larger or smaller ocarina just to fit your hand size comfortably.

The following are a list of the distances between the centers of the finger holes of my ocarinas. You can compare them with your hands by measuring the distances between the pads of your fingers.

  • Soprano G: 15mm
  • Alto C: 17mm
  • Alto D: 17mm
  • Alto G: 20mm
  • Bass D: 23mm

Pitch range

This is most important if you are playing with other people. What note range do you need to play? Ocarinas, especially single chambers have a limited sounding range. You need to choose the 'key' of the ocarina based on the note range that you need, not the key you will be playing in.

Higher pitched ocarinas are louder and more pearcing than lower keyed ocarinas. If you're looking to play in a performance that could be just what you want, not so much if you are just practicing by yourself. If you are sensitive to high pitched sounds or if you live in a built up area with nowhere to practice alone, a soprano ocarina keyed above G may not be the best choice due to their loud and piercing sound. Lower pitched ocarinas tend to be quieter and have a more soothing sound.

Breath curves

Breath curves are a matter of preference but on the whole flatter is better. 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.

One reason for playing an ocarina with a steeper breath curve is to attain more volume. However in this day and age it's of questionable value due to amplification. Also the tone of an ocarina is piercing and they project most of there volume away from the voicing. Even lower pressure ones are louder than you may realize.

Ocarina for irish music

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