How air temperature affects an ocarina's pitch

As described on the page 'The ocarina's breath curve', an ocarina's pitch is pressure sensitive. When an ocarina is made, the notes are tuned with a breath curve that produces a good sound.

But there is a catch, as their pitch is also influenced by ambient air temperature. When you blow an ocarina, the voicing mixes your warm breath with air from your environment, and the internal temperature stabilises between the two.

Ocarinas are tuned to play in concert pitch at a given temperature, such as 20°C. If played with the same pressure, the pitch will be flatter in colder situations and sharper in warmer ones. The pitch of an ocarina changes linearly at about 1 cent per degree Celsius (1.8°F),

Compensation for ambient temperature variation

You can compensate for the pitch variation by blowing harder or softer as the the pitch is also affected by blowing pressure. But this is a little more complex than it may seem.

If you have an ocarina give this a try:

  • Finger a low note and vary your blowing pressure from low, until the ocarina squeaks, tracking the starting note and the highest note with a chromatic tuner.
  • Repeat this same exercise on the highest note, again tracking with a chromatic tuner.

What you will find is the pitch of the high notes is much less sensitive to pressure variation than the low notes. Due to this irregularity, when playing in a colder environment, you have to increase your pressure more on the high notes than the low, and vice versa in warm environments.

Compensating for pitch means that the shape of the breath curve also changes, and the following graph visualises what is going on:

How an ocarina's pitch responds to pressure changes over its range. The low notes are much more sensitive to pressure changes, so to create the same change in pitch on the high notes requires a much larger change in blowing pressure
  • Curve B represents the breath curve of a hypothetical ocarina at its original tuning temperature,
  • the steeper curve C represents playing in a colder environment,
  • and the shallower curve A playing in a warmer environment.

Particularly, notice how a small change on the low end requires a larger change on the high notes.

Side Note

Should you have also read the page on breath curves, you may have noticed that the graph is the same as the one that I used to demonstrate the breath curves of high and low pressure ocarinas. I am not being lazy; they are actually the same thing. Tuning an ocarina to play at a higher pressure requires blowing harder, and thus requires a steeper breath curve. Compensating for a cold environment also requires an increase in pressure and has the same effect.

The impact of ambient temperature on the pitch of an ocarina can be compensated for within a limited range., and a variation of about plus or minus 15°C (27°F) from the tuning temperature is normally tolerable. Do note that playing towards the extremes of available compensation will not produce an ocarina's best sound.

Pitch compensation is limited by the high notes as they are so much less sensitive to pressure changes. If an ocarina is played in an environment is considerably colder than the ocarina was tuned to play in, the high notes will squeak before you can push them into concert pitch.

It is recommended to get an ocarina tuned to play at a temperature close to the environment you intend to play it in. Practicing pitch compensation is explained on the pages 'Playing the ocarina in tune' and 'Dealing with warm and cold environments'.

Measuring best sounding pitch

If you do not know what temperature an ocarina was tuned to play at, best sounding pitch can be used as a basis instead. Best sounding pitch is just the pressure at which the high notes sound best in your opinion.

The high notes of most ocarinas sound best in quite a narrow pressure band. If blown too softly the note will sound weak and airy, while blowing too hard makes it airy and harsh. Pushing the note further will cause the ocarina to squeal.

To find your ocarina's best sounding pitch, play one of its high notes, such as the high E or F on a C ocarina. Vary your breath up and down to find a point where the note has the cleanest sound. The pitch can then be measured with a chromatic tuner, and correlated with the temperature of your environment.