The fingering systems of multichamber ocarinas

The fingerings of multi-chambered ocarinas are an extension of the single chamber design. Because a single chamber can only produce a limited amount of range, multiple chambers are used, and each of these produces a small part of the total range. As each chamber has its own set of holes, multichambers can look more complicated than they actually are. The fingerings of the first chamber remain almost unchanged from a single chambered ocarina, and higher chambers retain a linear fingering but are played only by the right hand.

There are several different systems used to tune multichambered ocarinas, with the most common being the 'Asian' and 'Pacchioni' systems. The Asian system focuses on maximising range, while the Pacchioni system is instead focused on player convenience. The latter offers a number of features that make complex music easier to play, and makes some things possible which are difficult or impossible on the Asian system.

Within a single tuning system, chambers are additive. The first chamber of a double is almost the same as a single chambered ocarina, and a triple is just a double with a third chamber added; i.e., the fingerings of second chamber of a triple are identical to a double using the same tuning system. The most chambers you will see in practice is four due to the physical constraints of the hand, though doubles and triples are far more common.

The diagram below shows the physical relationship of the chambers of a quad ocarina. Don't worry if you are playing a double or triple; as chambers are additive, you can freely ignore ones not present on your instrument. All of the chambers besides the first are played exclusively with the right hand, and generally have four holes, one for each of the fingers. In some cases, a single hole is split into two, played with a single finger like a split hole. As these details vary between tuning systems, they are not shown in this diagram and are elaborated on later. Subholes are also not depicted, as they are not always present. They behave the same as they do on a single chamber.

Because depicting every hole on a multichamber takes up a lot of space, to keep the images readable on mobile I will only be showing the fingerings of a single chamber at a time. No information is being omitted by doing so, as typically only one chamber is played at a time, and you can reference the above diagram to see how they relate in physical space. The holes of an inactive chamber can be covered, and this can be used to your advantage by fingering a note in anticipation of a chamber switch.

First chamber

Regardless of whether an ocarina uses the Asian or Pacchioni tuning system, the first chamber is the same. The fingerings of this chamber are almost identical to a single chambered ocarina, but differ in a few key ways. Most importantly, the first chamber lacks a second thumb hole. Consequently, the highest note of this chamber is on the left pinky. In order to keep the size of the pinky hole manageable, it is normally tuned to an accidental: on an alto C, the left thumb would play D and the pinky D#, with E on the second chamber.

Note that only the fingerings that differ from a single chamber are shown here since the fingerings of lower notes are identical to a single chambered ocarina. If you are not familiar with them, see An introduction to the ocarina's fingering system. The note marked '*' in the diagram above can be tuned up a semitone to E, similar to Italian fingering. This is not standard as it makes the hole a lot bigger. If this is done, the tuning of the second chamber remains the same, meaning that E is playable on both chambers.

Higher chambers on the Asian system

In the Asian system, the second chamber continues directly from the first. On a C instrument, it begins on E and continues to C. The highest note can be provided using two different fingerings, a split hole for the right index finger or a thumb hole on the second chamber. The split hole is preferable in some regards as it completely eliminates the right thumb hole, allowing the right thumb to be used exclusively for supporting the instrument. Fingerings are displayed vertically, with the lowest circle corresponding to the pinky finger and the highest to the index finger.

Because there are so few finger holes available for cross fingerings, accidentals using only these holes are often poorly tuned. Because of this, it is not uncommon to see additional split holes introduced. On the second chamber, the ring finger hole—second from the bottom—is frequently a split hole for this reason. Accidental fingerings of the second chamber are shown below, and the notes F and G are also included to give context to the split hole.

Third chamber

The third chamber, if one exists, provides a linear range extension above the second: D to A, although the exact range provided as well as fingerings vary. Some multichambers have a subhole on the second and/or third chamber that provide a note of overlap with the chamber below.

Fourth chamber

The fourth chamber, if one is present, continues this pattern in exactly the same way.

Pacchioni system

The Pacchioni system places much more emphasis on player convenience, and was originally called 'semplice', meaning 'simple' in Italian. Chambers are tuned so that there is an overlap, allowing a small number of notes to to be played on both chambers, reducing the need to switch in many pieces of music. The second chamber is tuned an octave above the first, and the fingerings are identical to the left hand of the first chamber, sounding the same notes an octave higher.

The basic fingerings of the second chamber are shown below. Note that Pacchioni system ocarinas can have a subhole on higher chambers which is placed between the voicings; this is used both to play a note below the tonic and to play the low sharp. This is omitted at first and will be covered later in the page.

Due to the overlap, the chamber switch can be placed in several different places. If you want to play a major scale beginning from high C, you could start playing C and D on the first chamber, switching to the second to play E and higher notes. Alternately, the switch can be placed between C and D, or you can just begin on the second chamber without needing to switch at all. This freedom gives you the ability to place switches in line with phrase breaks, and can reduce the need to switch chambers.

Doubles using the Pacchioni system can be made with a thumb hole offering an additional note, called the P* (P star) system. It is technically possible to have this note on a split hole, like the Asian system, and I have made an ocarina like this previously. However, the highest note on the Asian system is a semitone, meaning the hole is smaller. The highest note on a Pacchioni system is a whole tone and, consequently, the final hole is larger, thus the split hole is less practical. Triple Pacchioni system ocarinas do not have a right thumb hole, as the higher notes are provided by the third chamber.

Third chamber

The third chamber is tuned at a fourth above the second, thus its lowest note is F. You may notice an oddity in the fingering chart below, as the note B is played as a cross fingering. An unusual characteristic of the Pacchioni system is that all of the higher chambers have the same fingerings and sound the same intervals. If the holes are opened in order, you always get whole, whole, half, whole. Covering only the top index finger hole reduces the pitch by a whole tone, just like it does on the second chamber, resulting in B flat.

The chart below shows the chromatic fingerings and associated notes. These fingerings are the same across all of the higher chambers, as well as the lower notes of the first chamber. This highlights the simplicity of the system, given that the fingerings for all 3 chambers can be shown in a single place. Note that the small hole added in this diagram represents the subhole. It just happens that this fingering pattern results in well tuned accidentals with no need for split holes, so these fingerings can be used over all of the chambers, but the sounded notes do change.

Fourth chamber

The fourth chamber, if one is included, is tuned a fourth above the third and extends the range by a fourth. It retains the same intervals as the others, and this means that the lowest note available on this chamber is an A sharp/B flat, an oddity that arises from the tuning system. It is possible to play B natural using the subhole, although it is difficult to reach, and playing this note on the chamber below is preferable.

Harmonies between chambers

While the primary purpose of the transverse multichamber ocarina is to gain more range, it is sometimes possible to play harmonies between the chambers. The ability to do so depends a great deal on how a given instrument is tuned, and should not be assumed. Ocarinas are lossy instruments: as more holes are opened, more air is needed to maintain sound production, so pressure ramps up towards the high notes. This is a problem if you play different notes on two chambers at once, as one is usually overblown. Thus one of the notes tends to be out of tune as changing pressure affects pitch.

Because the individual chambers of a multichamber provide a smaller part of the total range, they can be tuned with a flatter breath curve than a single chamber. If the left-hand notes of the first chamber are tuned to sound at a (roughly) constant pressure, and this pressure matches with the second chamber, it becomes possible to play harmonies across the chambers. The fingerings for these are given below; these are applicable to both the Asian and Pacchioni system, although the intervals sounded will be different. They produce a fifth or tritone on the Asian system, and a combination of major and minor thirds on Pacchioni.

Within each bar, the left group of notes shows the interval sounded on an Asian system ocarina, while the right group shows the notes sounded by the same fingering on Pacchioni system. These are annotated 'A' and 'P'.

If you study these fingerings, you'll see that there is nothing remarkable about them; the fingerings are the the same as when the notes are played separately. Extending from this idea, it is also possible to play other intervals on both systems. As the Asian tuning system has a larger interval between the chambers (a tenth), it favours larger intervals like fifths, and the number of narrow intervals that can be played is pretty small. This is reversed in the Pacchioni system, as the smaller interval (an octave) favours smaller intervals like thirds.

Which, if any, of these harmonies are acceptably in tune is going to vary between ocarinas. Even if an ocarina is made with this in mind, some will be better tuned than others. This is due to factors like equal temperament being imperfect and the shape of an ocarina's breath curve varying with temperature. Providing enough pressure so the high notes don't sound airy is also a concern.

It is possible for the player to correct for errors by partially venting or shading holes, but doing so reliably takes a lot of practice. Having a left hand subhole on the first chamber can be useful as it allows the hole to be shaded or closed to compensate for lower notes being overblown. It is not possible to cover a first chamber right hand subhole when this hand is playing higher chambers.

Thoughts on...