Ocarina anatomy

Ocarina anatomy is quite simple, usually formed from a single piece of ceramic, but different parts of the instrument are given different names.

These are labelled in the diagram below. Note that while a single chambered ocarina is shown, multichambers feature the same components; they just have multiple of each.

Ocarina anatomy

Body

An ocarina's body forms a hollow chamber which is used to produce sound. It also features multiple points that can be used to support the instrument.

Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece includes the windway where the player blows. It is often slightly angled for ergonomic reasons.

Voicing

An ocarina's voicing is the part of the ocarina's anatomy that produces sound. The voicing consists of:

  • The windway, where the player blows,
  • the sound hole, which allows air to enter and exit the chamber,
  • and the labium, an edge which splits the airflow.
The different parts of an ocarina's sound production mechanism. The player blows into the windway and the air flows over the sound hole before being split by the labium. The chamber is a fixed air volume, and the voicing drives air into and out of the chamber.

Ocarinas function by creating negative and positive pressure cycles in the chamber. The air crossing the sound hole is directed towards the inside or outside depending on the pressure in the chamber, and this creates sound. The sound hole is never covered while playing. See How ocarinas work.

This kind of ducted voicing is sometimes called a 'fipple', but strictly speaking this use is incorrect. The term refers to a plug which creates the windway in a recorder, not to the edge witch splits the air. As ocarinas are made from a single piece of ceramic they don't have a fipple.

Tail and Cappello

The tail and and cappello are support points used to support an ocarina while playing the high notes.

  • The tail is a support point on the right hand side of an ocarina. When not covering its tonehole, the right pinky finger supports the instrument by placing it on the tail.
  • The cappello. The 'cappello', Italian for 'hat', is a support point on the left hand end of the chamber. The left index finger may be placed on it while playing the high notes. How it is used is addressed by the page 'How to play the high notes of single chambered ocarinas'.

Toneholes

The ocarina's toneholes are covered by the fingers. They are used to play different notes by opening or closing different holes, following the instruments fingering system.

Transverse ocarinas have 10 primary holes, 8 on top plus 2 thumb holes.

10 hole transverse ocarinas have 8 finger holes on top, and two thumb holes on the bottom

In addition, an ocarina may have subholes or split holes.

Ocarinas can have both subholes and split holes which look similar, but serve different functions. Subholes are holes that allow additional lower notes to be played, such as a B on an ocarina in C. Split holes are where a single hole has been split into two smaller holes to make an accidental like low C sharp easier to play. They are most often seen on 10 hole ocarinas

Subholes

A subhole is an additional hole placed besides one of the 10 base holes. These are used to play lower notes and are played by sliding a finger forwards, covering two holes with the pad of one finger. Subholes extend the range of an ocarina downwards. If they are ignored, an ocarina with subholes plays the same as one without. An example of a subhole is shown in the previous picture.

Ocarinas can have one, two, or rarely 3 subholes added, and such an instrument is called an 11, 12, or 13 hole ocarina. Not all ocarinas have a subholes, and they are covered in detail on the page An introduction to the ocarina's fingering system.

Split holes

Split holes look similar to a subhole but serve a different function. They do not increase the sounding range, but are a single hole that has been split into two to make an accidental (sharp or flat) easier to play.

The chromatic notes of an ocarina are played by 'cross fingering', covering the existing holes in a different order. On the high notes, this produces a well tuned accidental as there are many possible combinations. The number of options available decreases towards lower notes, and the available holes don't always allow a well tuned accidental. A split hole addresses this by giving the accidental a dedicated hole.

Note that the presence of a split hole does not change how an ocarina is named: while an 11 hole ocarina with a split hole technically has '12 holes' in the sense of having 12 holes to be covered by the fingers, it is still an 11 hole ocarina in naming and practice. You can think of a split hole as two .5 holes, together counting as a single hole.

This is done because strictly using hole count as a classifier would be ambiguous, as the holes can serve differing functions.