How do I mute an ocarina?

Musical instruments can often be annoying to other people, and you may want to mute an ocarina in order to practise quietly.

You can mute an ocarina by blowing it very softly. Ocarinas behave differently depending on how hard they are blown, and when blown very softly, before they start to break into their normal sounding mode, they produce a low volume squeaking sound. Normally an ocarina can sound in this way over its whole range, and reasonably in tune with itself, but up to a semitone flat of its usual pitch.

Side Note

Some people have tried to augment this approach of muting an ocarina by partly covering the voicing with tape, or by folding a piece of paper such that it fits into the windway and partially blocks it. There are also devices on the market which aim to do the same by fitting over the mouthpiece. I don't advise using any of these options as they throw the ocarina out of tune and make it sound bad.

While you can play an ocarina quietly by blowing it softly, it will always be a compromise. An ocarina's pitch is closely tied to blowing pressure and doing this will affect intonation. An ocarina muted in this way is adequate for practising fingerings, but not much more than that. It is still important to practise anything you are going to play at normal pressure so you can learn to play in tune.

Ultimately, ocarinas are not well suited to muting. An ocarina can be made quieter when it is designed by making the chamber and voicing smaller, but there is a limit to this. As holes are opened more air is needed, so the player has to blow harder and this naturally causes more volume. You can only lower the pressure so much before the high notes start to sound really bad.

Muting an ocarina usually isn't that effective either as an ocarina's timbre is close to a pure sine wave. Sounds of this type are uncommon day to day, and stand out above ambient sounds. Even the approach of underblowing an ocarina to achieve a 'squeaking' tone is affected by this.

Ultimately, I think that the best way of muting an ocarina would be to develop a faithful electronic simulation of the instrument. You can't get much quieter than playing on headphones.