Learning to play complex sheet music on the ocarina as a beginner
It is possible to start learning to play very complex sheet music on the ocarina as a total beginner, and can be a great feeling when you realise that you are playing your favourite song.
The key to this is learning how to take a piece of sheet music, and decode the note names from it. As was explained in 'How to play the ocarina with sheet music', the pitch shown in sheet music is represented by the position of the note's head within the staff.
In western music, we name the notes using the first seven letters of the alphabet, which may be called the 'musical alphabet'. These are:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Sheet music is simply a graphical representation of these notes.
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. The treble clef tells you that the note 'G' can be found on the second line from the bottom.
The other notes exist relitive to this point, as shown below. Lower case has been used to indicate notes in the higher octave.
By learning which vertical position corresponds to which note, you can 'decode' a piece of sheet music into a sequence of note letters. Using your ocarina's fingering chart, these note letters can be associated with fingerings.
For example, this can be done using the convention of writing upper octave notes as lower case, or using a caret (^) for notes in the higher octave:
C D E F G A B c d e f
Then you can break the music down into short sections, practising the note transitions in a loop, until you can play the whole song.
Remembering which note is on which line
There are a few tricks you can use to help remember where the notes are. For instance, the spaces spell the word 'face' from bottom to top:
And the lines are E G B D F, commonly taught as "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge":
You can practice reading notes using this tool, which randomly generates note positions. It is fine to look them up at first:
You might find it helpful to break things down into smaller selections of notes and learn them.
Below you can find examples with the notes of the staff broken into chunks of 3 sequential notes. These can be practised as follows:
- Start by looking at the 3 notes, and remember which note is in which position.
- Ask someone to write notes for you randomly so you can practice, and name the note as it is written.
A, B, C
D, E, F
G, A, B
c, d, e
f, g, a
b, c', d'
Decoding the note names
Take some piece of sheet music that you want to learn, then read through it note by note, decoding the note position into a name, and write these out on paper.
Practising once you have the note names
Once you've decoded the music into a sequence of notes, the other thing that you need to start playing it is the rhythm, and there are a few ways of getting that:
- Play music you already know. For example, if you start with music that you have listened to repeatedly, you will already know how it is supposed to sound.
- Use notation software to reproduce the rhythm. Music notation software like musescore is not difficult to use. You can enter a rhythm, and then copy it by ear.
Break the music down into short chunks, practice each chunk until you can play it, and then put all of the chunks together.
This is a shortcut method, it allows you to play complex music quickly, but it skips several steps in the process of learning to sight read, most notably learning to read rhythms, and mapping note positions directly to fingerings.
After a while you may find that you can decode the notes into letters, and then map those to fingerings in your mind, but even then sight reading will be difficult due to skipping learning rhythms.
Also, the mental chain of:
Position -> Name -> Fingering
Is not what you want to be doing when sight reading. Instead the goal there is to map the positions directly to the fingerings, and how to train this is explained in the article on Sight reading.
If your goal with sheet music is to just learn the notes to play one or two songs, learning to decode the note names is a great way of approaching that.
This approach allows you to start learning very complex music even as a complete beginner. However, note that unlike the gradual progression one uses when learning to sight read, learning to play in this way ultimately takes longer per song.