Why are ocarinas in different keys necessary?

Why are ocarinas in different keys necessary? The main reason is range: a single chambered ocarina can only play about an octave and a fourth. This greatly limits expressive capability. Playing in a higher or lower octave dramatically changes the effect of the music. It's also good to vary keys over a performance, since playing too long in the same one is fatiguing to listeners.

Multichambers go some way towards addressing this, but they are far from perfect. Typical multichambers add range above that of an alto ocarina, giving you higher notes but not lower. While bass multichambers exist, they are large and heavy. They also cannot play as high since there are practical limits to the number of chambers: beyond 3 or 4, you need very large hands to reach them.

This problem is easily solved by playing multiple ocarinas. You can play a bass, alto, or soprano depending on the effect you want to create. Yet, playing ocarinas in different octaves but the same key still isn't perfect. Due to the range limitation, it is often only possible to play something in a single key; even multichambers can run into this problem. What if you want to play in a key that overlaps the range of two ocarinas?

Having ocarinas in different keys allows you to easily do this. The alto G ocarina's range, for example, overlaps with both a bass and alto C; it can play higher than the bass and lower than the alto. This is an effective expressive tool as it's more subtle than shifting up or down by a whole octave.

Other reasons to play in a given key include accommodating the range of a vocalist, fitting with diatonic instruments, and playing with groups. Since groups often have arrangements of music in certain keys and won't change to fit around you, playing in a group can restrict you to using a certain set of notes. Using ocarinas in different keys is often the only practical way to accommodate these things (see 'Choosing the best ocarina key for a tune').

Using an ocarina in a different key has other benefits. It can allow you to play in a required key with dramatically simpler fingerings. This is a great help with faster music and often allows you to play smoother. Simpler fingerings can open up new ornamentation possibilities, as well.

You may be intimidated by the thought of playing ocarinas in different keys, but it really isn't difficult. How to do so is introduced on the following pages. 'Choosing the best ocarina key for a tune' shows you how to match the key of an ocarina to the range of a tune, and 'An easy method of handling ocarinas in different keys' introduces sight reading at pitch.