Playing your favorite songs on the ocarina

Arguably the most valuable thing you can do as a beginner to music is to start learning to play your favourite songs. Hearing something that you recognise emanating from your instrument for the first time feels awesome. Through playing, you begin to develop a natural understanding and music stops being a black art.

And this is easier than you might think. If you like a song, there's a good chance you can sing it from memory or hear it in your head. And if you can do either, you already know what it's supposed to sound like.

Learning how to play your favourite songs on the ocarina is just a matter of finding out how to play the notes on the instrument, and there are quite a few ways of doing so:

  • Watch other players: You can watch someone else and copy their fingerings.
  • By ear: If you just play around with the instrument, you'll start to find patterns that sound like music you know. See Getting started playing the ocarina by ear.
  • Using sheet music: Reading sheet music is much easier than you may think. Start by learning how scales work, and then get started reading sheet music.
  • Ocarina tabs: Tabs show you how to finger the notes of a song, and can be found online for a lot of popular music.

Different people will find different options easier, and I'd recommend trying things to see what works best for you.

Do note however that ocarina tabs have limitations that will hold you back as you progress in your music journey. It is not a problem to use them to get started, but you'll want to move on to other approaches pretty quickly.

Breaking things down, how to learn complex music from the start

As we explored in learning the fingerings, we can only handle so much new information at once. If we try to learn too much too quickly, it feels overwhelming.

There are two very easy techniques that help bring things within our capability, which are:

  • Breaking things down into a series of smaller parts.
  • Slowing the music down.

By applying these, even the most complex music can be approached regardless of your skill level. You can think of it like zooming in, focusing on a narrower subject.

To demonstrate, lets use 'out on the ocean', a common Irish jig. If you listen to it you'll see its pretty long:

But you wouldn't have to learn the whole thing in one go. Instead, lets break it down into smaller parts. Here is the first part of the melody:

  • You'd repeat the fingerings for this part, and after a muinite or two this will start to become automatic, the finger transitions start to happen without consious effort.
  • Then you move on to learning the next small part.
  • Once you can play a few parts of a melody separately, try joining them together, and so on.

Breaking down music like this has never been easier. There are numerous software tools which can break down music, change its tempo, and loop a selection of notes:

  • Audio editors like Audacity and Reaper can be used to loop parts of recordings, as well as slow them down without changing the pitch.
  • Music notation software like Musescore can do the same thing, while showing you the notation and current note being played.
  • If you know how a melody sounds you can do the same thing in your head! Imagine the sound of a small part at a time, and use vertical lines to visually break up any notation you are using.

Finger transitions

As you play more music, you'll start to notice that there are patterns which show up in the movements between notes. For example, lifting or placing a single finger:

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And in other cases, you'll lift or place two or more fingers at the same time:

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And finally, there are other cases where you lift one or more fingers, while simultaneously placing another finger. These are called cross fingerings.

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For the latter two, its really important that you learn how to move multiple fingers so that the leave, or contact the instrument at the same time, or you'll get an unintended 'blip'.

Developing this skill is really about practising moving your fingers slowly and in a controlled way, and it does get easier after a few days. Its possible to learn the transitions for the whole instrument, which is discussed in Scales, intervals and arpeggios.

How to hear a unison

As you've been playing, if you're playing over a recording you may have noticed that what you're playing doesn't sound right. Most probably, it's due to playing sharp or flat.

Its a great time to start training your ear to hear when you are sharp or flat, and contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be born with this skill. Learning how to hear pitch is extremely valuable as it allows you to refine your intonation organically over time, by hearing 'this note sounds wrong', and fixing it.

As you are playing over a melody, you want to learn to hear when the note that you are playing is exactly in tune with the note that you are hearing. Which is called a 'unison'.

Hearing a unison is actually really easy, and the following tool demonstrates what to listen for. it plays two notes, one of which you can control with the slider. Notice how when you drag the slider to the right or left, you can hear a 'warbling' sound.

Using a dynamic drone

Another really useful tool is a dynamic practice drone, a tool which listens to the note you are playing, and plays the closest in tune note for you as a reference on headphones. When you are sharp or flat, you will hear an unpleasant sound, but when your pitch matches it will sound clean, without variation. Fantastic !


Allow yourself to suck. Do not judge your ability on your first experiences as they will not be your best. Nobody sounds good immediately, but with persistent effort it does get easier.