Discovering the breath curve - Ocarina basics

First pick up your favourite ocarina and a chromatic tuner, or use the one provided below. Pick any note, and blow.

As you blow, try blowing softly, as if you were speaking with a gentle whisper, and hard like blowing out a candle. What happens?

Somewhere in the middle of the pressure range you'll find the tuner shows the note displayed on your fingering chart, C for example. But as you blow harder or softer, you'll notice that the tuner says B, or perhaps even E or F if you blow really hard.

If you try this on every fingering, you'll find that they all require a different pressure to produce the intended note. And all these unique pressures come together to form what we call "the breath curve".

A graph visualising the breath curve of a well tuned single chamber ocarina. Pressure increases smoothly from the low note to the high note

Most ocarinas have a breath curve that increases gradually towards the highest notes following a curve like shown above. As you move towards higher notes, you will have to blow harder and harder.

Learning your ocarina's breath curve

So, to play the correct notes, you have to learn the breath curve. And how do I learn the breath curve you may ask ?!

A good place to start is to just play long tones, using a chromatic tuner to check the pitch. Start each note using your tongue with a syllable like 'ta', and try to get the whole duration of the note in tune, stopping it again with your tongue before you run out of breath.

If it's your first time playing a wind instrument, you may find it useful to practice blowing on your hand. It makes it easy to feel when you are blowing harder and softer. Then you can try to reproduce the same feeling while playing the ocarina.

Using a dynamic drone

Another really useful tool is a dynamic practice drone, a tool which listens to the note you are playing, and plays the closest in tune note for you as a reference on headphones. When you are sharp or flat, you will hear an unpleasant sound, but when your pitch matches it will sound clean, without variation. Fantastic !

For your convenience, I have provided a dynamic drone for you below.

Learning and knowing your ocarina's breath curve will improve your overall playing skill and once you're comfortable, you'll never have to worry about sounding wrong again ! :)