How to play ocarina with sheet music

Learning to play the ocarina with sheet music is not as difficult as you may think. As discussed in The logic of sheet music, it is actually very simple.

Even basic knowledge has a lot of value as sheet music is so common. It is almost a given that you will find the notes for any music you want to learn. Sheet music is sheet music, and it is easy to adapt things written for other instruments to the ocarina.

Like written English sheet music is a series of lines, but these do not contain words. Each line of music is represented by 5 more lines like below. These 5 lines are collectively called the 'staff' or 'stave'.

Sheet music represents notes with the staff, a set of 5 equally spaced horizontal lines.

As you know, the ocarina is a melody instrument, and a melody is a series of notes played to a rhythm. Sheet music is designed to tell you which notes you need to play, and also when to play them.

Which note to play is shown by vertical position much like a graph. Sheet music tells you which note to play on your ocarina by marking that position.

For example, here are a small selection of notes, and how the same note is fingered on a C transverse ocarina. You can find these in your ocarina's fingering chart.

A diagram showing the fingerings of the notes G, A, and B for an alto C ocarina.

Notes are read left to right, and repeated notes in the same vertical position mean that the music is using a series of notes at the same pitch.

X: 3
M: none
L: 1/1
K: C
"G" G "G" G "G" G "G" G | "A" A "A" A "A" A "A" A

Now, you may be thinking 'these notes don't look right', as you probably have an image of a 'note' from common culture, something like a circle with a line attached.

You would be partially correct. In fact there are multiple types of note, and notes actually consist of multiple parts:

Music notes have 3 parts, a round head that marks pitch, and the stem and flags, which mark duration.

Only the position of the head within the staff defines the pitch, and all of the following show the same pitch, despite looking different:

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Which note is on which line is defined by the clef. Any music you will be playing on the ocarina will be using the treble clef, which you can see below. For all intents and purposes, the same note will always in the same vertical position on the staff.

The clef in sheet music is a symbol that tells you which note is on which line.

Getting started playing sheet music on the ocarina

Much of the challenge in getting started playing the ocarina with sheet music is because sheet music represents multiple things at once. As noted:

  • The appearance of the notes describes rhythm, how long each note is played before you play the next note.
  • The vertical position of the note head on the staff describes pitch, which note to play on your instrument.

Its much easier if you learn these things separately, and we will be focusing on learning to associate the different note positions to their corresponding fingerings.

While learning the pitches in sheet music, you can approach rhythm in a few ways:

  • Learn rhythms by ear. For example, if you start with music that you have listened to repeatedly, you will already know how it is supposed to sound.
  • Start with very simple rhythms. You could start by learning some very simple rhythm patterns and how sheet music notates them. And only practice music using those rhythms.

The example music in this article uses the second approach as I have no idea what music you know. The rhythms are all one note per beat. If you put on a metronome and play one note per click, it will sound correct.

To practice this:

  • Find a metronome, there are many virtual ones online if you search for 'metronome'.
  • Turn it on at a slow tempo like 60 BPM.
  • Clap every time you hear a click.

How to practice rhythms is discussed in detail by the pages How to practice rhythms and 'Reading rhythms: forget counting'.

Connecting notes to fingerings

The different vertical positions of notes represent different notes in your instrument's fingering chart. Learning how to read sheet music on the ocarina means learning how these relate to the notes on your ocarina.

X: 3
M: none
L: 1/1
K: C
"C" C "D" D "E" E "F" F "G" G "A" A "B" B "C" c "D" d|

There are two different ways of learning to associate note positions to fingerings:

  • Direct subconscious association.
  • Learning the names of the note positions.

These have their own pros and cons, and are described below.

Side Note

The focus here is to teach general principles that you can apply to your own sheet music. Music examples have been kept to a minimum to avoid reactions of 'I don't like that kind of music'.

Learning to read music by subconscious association

When you read your native language, do you read one letter at a time, or does the word just 'pronounce' in your mind the instant you see it? I'd guess the latter is the case.

The point of this analogy is to show that your subconscious mind is very good at linking triggers to responses. Learning to read music with subconscious association takes advantage of this to develop a direct connection between the notes that you see, and their fingering and blowing pressure.

How it works

Learning to read sheet music using subconscious association begins with sheet music within a very narrow range, and a small number of fingerings:

  • You choose 2 or 3 note positions in the staff.
  • You look up how to finger those notes on your ocarina.
  • Practice playing crafted music that uses only those notes, until you can read it fluently.

You may for example practice playing long tones of the different notes, while visualising how that note looks on the staff in your mind. Doing this will also help you learn how much blowing pressure is needed to play that note in tune.

Starting with such a small number of notes means that you can consciously remember them, and practice playing music immediately, without needing to name the notes.

To demonstrate this in practice, here are 3 notes and their associated fingerings on an alto C ocarina. Higher notes are being used as they are more pitch stable.

A diagram showing the fingerings of the notes G, A, and B for an alto C ocarina.

And here is an example of some simple music that you might start with. Try put on a metronome at about 40 bpm, then read the following notes, playing one note for every metronome click.

X: 3
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
K: C
G A G A | B A B G |

Once the fingerings in that range become subconscious, you slowly add more notes and their fingerings, until you know all of the notes within the range of your ocarina.

One downside of this approach is that it depends on crafted exercises, and it will take some time to learn enough notes to start playing real-word music.

You could get some music staff paper, and make your own exercises by drawing your own notes and practising reading them.

Learning the names of note positions

You can also learn to read sheet music using note letters:

  • First, learn the note names of the fingerings.
  • Second, learn the note names of the different staff positions.
  • You read the not letter, then connect this to the fingering

Learning the notes associated with the fingerings is taught in Learning the ocarina's fingerings.

Regarding sheet music, there are a few tricks to remember where the notes are. For instance, the spaces spell the word 'face' from bottom to top:

X: 3
M: none
L: 1/1
K: C
"F" F "A" A "C" c "E" e |

And the lines are E G B D F, commonly taught as "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge":

X: 3
M: none
L: 1/1
K: C
"E" E "G" G "B" B "D" d "F" f |

Other notes can be found relitive to these, by counting up or down within the C major scale.

After a while, you'll be able to decode the note position into the note letter, and then know how to finger it on your instrument. Eventually, this falls away, and you go directly from the sight of notes to their fingerings.

As this is quite arduous before you memorise the notes corresponding to various positions, it can help to write the note letters above the music.

C D E F G A B c d e f

You can break the music down into short sections, practice them in a loop until you start to memories them. As you do this more, you start to connect the positions in sheet music directly to fingerings.

Which is better?

Both of these approaches have pros and cons:

  • Subconscious association is good because it allows you to develop a direct connection between notes and fingerings, which makes it much easier to read music fluently. However, it can be boring initially as it forces you to start out with trivial music.
  • Learning the note names of staff positions allows you to start learning complex sheet music from the start, but developing the direct association may take a lot longer.

My recommendation is to try both and see which method works better for you.

Developing your skill

Overall, don't get discouraged and keep working on it. It does get easier over time. Find some sheet music and practice working out the notes being used.

You can practice reading notes using this tool, which randomly generates note positions. It is fine to look them up at first:

Here we have explored the basics, but these is more to learn, including:

  • Reading rhythms.
  • Reading sheet music with a key signature.
  • Transposition, and handling music that does not fit within the range of your instrument.

Learning how to interpret sheet music is also important, as it can present music in a very dry 'mathematical' way. There are many subtle details which exist in human performances that sheet music cannot represent.

Such interpritation is called 'musicality', and can be learned by listening to human performances. Find multiple renditions of the same thing, and pay attention to how they are playing.