Controlling your finger movements

You may find that your natural instinct when you first start playing the ocarina is to lift your fingers really high, like this:

A demonstration of playing the ocarina with the fingers lifted needlessly high. This achieves nothing, and makes it more difficult to play the ocarina at high tempo

You could also find yourself curling your fingers back when you lift them.

A demonstration of a bad ocarina technique curling fingers when lifting them. This is bad as it moves the fingers a long way from the holes

Doing either of these things is problematic as it leaves your fingers a long way from the instrument, and:

  • It may make the ocarina feel unstable, like you may drop it.
  • It increases the chance that you will mis-cover a hole.
  • It will slow you down when you try to play faster music, as the farther you move your fingers, the faster you have to move them.

Its best to always lift your fingers straight, without curling them back, to a resting position about two centimetres above the instrument.

Excessive finger movement

Excessive, uncontrolled finger movement on the ocarina. The fingers are a long way from the hole, and would need to move a large distance to close it again. This is poor technique and makes playing quickly needlessly difficult

Controlled finger movement

A controlled finger movement on the ocarina, the finger is kept close to the hole, so that it only needs to move a small distance to close it again

Practising controlled finger movement

Slow and conscious practice is how you learn to control your finger movements:

  • Slowly lift the finger to the desired height.
  • Replace the finger, making sure to cover the hole.

Just work through this for each finger. Practising in a slow and deliberate way trains your subconscious mind, and after a few days it becomes automatic.

You may find it useful to use a mirror to clearly see what you are doing. Additionally, if you practise with one hand at a time, you can use the other hand to block excess movement.

Using the fingers of your other hand to learn to avoid excessive finger movements in the opposite hand. The fingers are placed above, waiting to block excessive movement

Using the fingers of your other hand to learn to avoid excessive finger movements in the opposite hand. The lower fingers are raised, and the opposite hand blocks excessive movement

You could also notice that as you lift your fingers, the previously lifted ones want to lift higher, like a 'fan'. Here are a few tips to learn to control it:

  • Consciously hold that finger in place.
  • Or, counter the upward movement by moving the finger downward, so it stays in the same place.

Another exercise you can try is:

  • Place your fingers flat on a table.
  • lift and replace each finger in sequence, without moving your other fingers.

And the inverse, holding your fingers in the air, and touching one finger to the table without moving the others.

Determining how high

Ocarinas are quite sensitive to shading, and if you have your fingers too close to the holes, the ocarina is going to play flat. It is possible for the slight shading of multiple fingers to flatten the high notes enough to make them squeak.

Usually, lifting your fingers about two centimetres is enough, though it is a good idea to check using a chromatic tuner:

  • Play a note in the middle of the range; G is a good choice on an alto C ocarina.
  • While blowing this note steadily, slowly lower the finger for the note below (e.g. F natural) toward its hole.
  • Take note of when it starts to alter the pitch.

Larger holes will start to be affected sooner, and will require you to move your finger further. Just try to find a sensible average that works for your ocarina.

Closing notes

It can take a few days to a few weeks for this to become your normal habit. During this time, you may find that fingers misbehave while you are playing. Just take some time to slow down, and practice that segment in a controlled way.

There are a few instances where you may want to curl your fingers, such as to play a pitch slide. Just keep the movement to a minimum.