Finding notes and playing longer melodies - Playing the ocarina by ear part 2

In part 1 you learned how to play some short melodies by ear on the ocarina, using a range of 3 notes. But what about playing music in a larger range? How can you find the notes?

While it may feel intimidating, its easier than you might expect with a few additional techniques. The key things for learning longer pieces of music by ear on the ocarina are:

  • Breaking the melody into shorter sections.
  • Finding the first note of each section.
  • Identifying the shape of the melody and key notes.

Breaking a song into short sections.

Music isn't a continuous stream of notes, it can be broken down into phrases, much like the sentences of a language. These can then be learned one at a time, before finally playing them together.

For example, if you consider the following melody:

It can be broken down like this:

In songs you will be able to identify the phrases easily by listening to how the singer adds pauses and where they breathe.

But once you know where the phrases are, how do you break it down to learn them? Depending on the source you are using to play by ear, there are a few ways of doing this:

  • There are software programs like Audacity (free) or Reaper (paid) that can loop small parts of recordings, and slow them down without changing the pitch.
  • If you have a teacher or a friend who plays an instrument, you can ask them to play a melody in short sections for you.
  • The learning aid used in this article series automatically breaks music into phrases, and you can add your own music to it here.

Note that phrases in the learning aid look like this:

How to find the first note

Finding the first note is just a matter of playing any note on your instrument and listening. Is the note you are playing higher, lower, or the same as the note you are hearing?

This is how a note sounds when it is higher.

This is how a note sounds when the pitch is the same.

This is how a note sounds when the pitch is lower.

So to find the first note, all you need to do is:

  • Hold the pitch of the note you want to find in your mind
  • Play any note on your ocarina, is the pitch higher, lower or the same?
  • Raise or lower your pitch as needed, until they sound the same

Practice with Match the pitch

Match the pitch is a simple game that you can use to practice finding notes on your instrument.

  • It plays you a note within the specified range.
  • You find the note on your instrument as quickly as you can, pitch detection is used to know when you have played the correct note.
  • The more notes you find in the allotted time, the higher your score.

Note that to use this game you really need to know all of your ocarina's fingerings. You can learn them by reading Learning the fingerings. You could learn fingerings for a few notes, and then practice them with the tool, before expanding your range.

Also note that this same game can be played in-person if you have a teacher, or friend who plays an instrument. Just ask them to play notes for you to find on your ocarina.

Hearing the shape of the phrase

Generally once you know the first note in a phrase, hearing which notes are in the rest of the phrase is pretty straightforward as the notes are usually close by.

You could start with the same technique you learned in part 1. First listen to the whole phrase, and observe how it moves from note to note. You may want to draw it's shape on paper, before playing it on your instrument.

At this point it's worth realising that you don't need to learn the entire phrase in one go. Melodies have key notes, or 'bones'. And just like the bones of an animal hold up its body, the bones of a melody support its details.

Remember the tune from above? If you were to play only the key notes it would sound something like this:

When you are learning to play some music by ear, you don't have to pick out every single note from the start, rather you can pick out the 'bones' of the music first, and then fill in the details later.