Identifying sheet music that fits in your ocarina's range

Because the ocarina has a limited range it's extremely important to learn to quickly identify sheet music that fits in your ocarina's range.

To determine the range of some music, we look at the distance between the lowest and highest note it uses, called an interval.

  • A difference of one staff position is called a second.
  • Two staff positions is called a third.
  • An interval of an eighth is called an octave.
  • larger intervals than this are named 'octave and a second', 'octave and and a third'.
  • And so on.

Have a go at working out the intervals in the following example. Note that only the difference between the note heads is important, not their absolute position. The order of the notes is not important either, just start from the lower one.

To work out the range of a piece of music, you look through the whole melody, finding the highest and lowest note that it contains, then find the interval between them.

E8 C4 D3D/E/   | F8 A4 A4       | F8 G4 A3A/B/ | c8 c4 c4 |
f8 d2c2 A3B/c/ | d8 c2d2 e3e/d/ | c8 B8        | c16 |

Note that the low C on the staff technically refers to C4 or middle C. On the ocarina, it is common to consider this to be the instrument's low C regardless of octave. Alto C ocarinas play an octave higher than written and sopranos two octaves higher.

The ranges of common ocarinas

  • A single chambered ocarina can play approximately an octave and a fourth. This is roughly 6 lines or 6 spaces of standard music notation.
  • Multichambered ocarinas of have more range. An asian system double for example has a range of around two octaves, 8 lines or spaces in staff notation.

Note that these ranges exclude subholes. If you want to accommodate for them just add one or two notes to the bottom of the range. For the rest of the examples here I will assume the range of a single chambered 10 hole C ocarina.

The same idea holds true for ocarinas in other keys, we just need to shift the note range up or down. You can find the range of the ocarina starting from the root note of the scale. Here for example are the ranges of ocarinas in D and G in relation to a C ocarina.

There is a trick to finding the ranges of the root note of the major scale of any key signature:

  • In sharp keys, the key note of the major scale is always the note above the last sharp in the key signature.
  • In flat keys it is 3 scale degrees below the last flat.

This is true for both the treble and bass clef. Remember that it's perfectly fine to look up the key signatures in the circle of fifths, it is not essential to remember all of them.

Transposing music

Any music that is within these ranges will be playable on an appropriate ocarina. Music in the C range can be played on a C ocarina, and G range can be played on a G ocarina.

But what about if you wanted to play something in the range of a G ocarina on a C ocarina?

GdcBgbg2 | GcAc gf g2 |

If you scan over the notes of the above notation you'll see G to B, and at first impression it might seem that this is unplayable as it would go out of range at the top. In fact, it can be easily adapted due to a technique called transposition.

Because all of the major scales are based on the same pattern, we can take the notes of one scale, and substitute the equivalent notes from a different scale. The pitch will be higher or lower, but will be recognisable as the same melody.

Here is the melody transposed to fit an alto C ocarina:

CGFE cec2 | CFDF cB c2 |

How to transpose music is something we'll address in the next article.

Other notes regarding music ranges

You'll often run across music that has an appropriate range such as 6 lines on the staff, but which doesn't neatly fit in the range of a single major scale. Such as music with a range of D to g, with a one sharp in the key signature.

X: 1
L: 1/2

In this case, the highest note is F♯, which is out of range of an alto C single. Playing this music requires either using an ocarina in D, or a multichamber.

You may find it interesting that the base note of natural, melodic and harmonic minor scales can be found with this trick:

  • In flat minor keys the name of the key is two scale degrees above the last flat.
  • For sharp keys it is one scale degree below the last sharp.


Firstly the Swallowtail Jig. A quick scan over the notes reveals that the tune has a range of G to high B, this is an octave and a third which fits easily. You could transpose it down a fifth to fit on an alto C. Alternately it can be played as written on an ocarina in G.

X: 1
T: The Swallowtail
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Ador
|:cBA eAA|cBA edc|BGG dGG|gfe dcB|
cBA eAA|cBA e2f|gfe dcB|cBA A2d:|
efg a2b|a2b age|efg a2b|age g2d|
efg a2b|a2b age|gfe dcB|cBA A2d:|

The next tune, The Girl I Left Behind Me, has a range of D to G which fits fine within the desired range. If you transpose it down a major second it will fit on an alto C in the key of F. One accidental is required to replace B with B♭.

Music where the key note in the middle of the range is not uncommon. Such tunes usually need to be played on an ocarina in a different key than the key of the music to get the needed range of notes.

X: 1
T: The Girl I Left Behind Me
R: polka
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
|:g/f/|ed BA|BG E>F|G2 G/A/B/c/|d2 dg/f/|
ed BA|BG E>G|FA DE/F/|G2 G:|
|:z/A/|Bd ef|gd BG|Bd ef|g2 f>^c|
ed BA|BG E>G|FA DE/F/|G2 G:|

This next one is somewhat odd. It's in D Major with a range of F♯ to high A. It fits but a naive approach transposing it down 6 semitones leaves it in A♭ Major. It can be played much more easily by assuming an ocarina with a sub-hole, transposing down 7 semitones to G.

T:Michael Wiggins
R:Country Dance
B:T. Westrop’s 120 Country Dances, 1860’s, p. 8, no. 40
Z:VMP-R.Greig 2010
A|f2f (fe).d|(cB).AA2A|f2f (fe).d|(g(e2)e2)A|
f2f (fe).d|dcB AFA|Bcd cde|(f(d2)d2):|
(d/c/)|dBA ^GBd|ecB Ace|fdB ^Ged|(c(e2)e2)e|
a2ea2e|aec Ace|fdB ^Ged|(c(A2)A2)+D.C.+|]

Lemmy Brazil's Number 2 also has the same range and will fit using a subhole, although whether this is advisable is debatable. The low F♯ in the tune occurs on a strong beat. This note needs to be strong and a subhole may not be adequate.

X: 1
T: Lemmy Brazil


Learning to recognise the range of any music you're viewing allows you to broaden your repertoire. As you get some practice you'll be able to spot playable music in unusual keys or ranges at a glance.

Although, just because a piece of music fits within range does not mean that it is practically possible to play it, or that it will work musically. Some music is written for an instrument with a certain characteristics, such as a specific timbre or considerable volume dynamics, and simply will not sound right without it.

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