What is the best ocarina for Irish music?

Irish traditional music is social music, often played in group sessions. Consequently, the genre has standardised on keys and note range in order to allow a collection of different instruments to play together. The basic keys are D, G, and their relative minors. Within these keys, the vast majority of tunes fit a note range of an octave and a sixth, beginning on D and ending on B in the octave above. B is the highest note in the first position on the fiddle, and D is the lowest note playable by a whistle or unkeyed simple system flute.

This range is a problem for single chambered ocarinas, as they only sound about an octave and a fourth, leaving two notes out of range. This means that many tunes, including most of the 'standards', go out of range. There are two ways of addressing this: look for tunes that fit in this range and use a G or D ocarina to play them at the needed pitch, or use a multichamber instead.

There are a decent number of tunes that will fit within an octave and a fourth, many fitting within the D to G range of a single chamber D ocarina. I give a few such tunes below, and more on the page Ocarina friendly Irish music. If you look to other folk traditions, there is a huge volume of music within this range. A lot of English and Breton tunes will fit, and the entire repertoire of the Highland pipes will fit on a G ocarina. Not all of it works musically due to differences in playing characteristics, however.

To play the majority of Irish music on the ocarina, you really need a multichamber. In my opinion, a Pacchioni system double in D is the best suited to this. Having an instrument in D helps as diatonic D instruments are the norm in this tradition. This eliminates the need for most cross-fingering and simplifies ornamentation. The Pacchioni system is also useful, as it tunes the chambers with a note overlap, reducing the need for chamber switching. The chamber break also aligns with the octave break on flute and whistle.

The following Irish tunes will all fit on a single chamber alto D. Note that the tilde refers to a roll, not a classical turn. How to play one is covered on the page Ornamentation: rolls, cranns, and strike cranns. Irish music is fundamentally an aural tradition, and a lot of the details of the music are not indicated anywhere in written music. If you want to play it authentically, you really need to listen to a lot of performances. The basic playing style is legato by default, with tonguing used sparingly to emphasise key notes and separate phrases.


X: 1
T: Jimmy Ward 
X: 2
T: Winnie Hayes 
X: 1
T: Tear The Calico
R: reel
M: 2/2
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
F|:~G3 F~G2GA|B~A3 BA.AF|~G3 F~G3A|BAGE EDDF:|
|:BddB ~G3 A|Bd.dB cAAG|Bd.dB GGGA|BAGE EDDF :|
G~E3 c2 cA|B2dB BA-AF|G~E3 c2 cA|BAGE EDDF :|
Thoughts on...