How to play the high notes of single chambered ocarinas

In order to play the high notes effectively it is important to understand the ocarina's plains of balance. Making effective use of these enables the ocarina to be supported securely with only a few fingers.

Ocarinas have two primary plains of balance, one runs between the right thumb hole and the right tail of the ocarina. Because of this you can support the instrument using only the right thumb and pinky when held parallel to the ground. It is possible to play up to the 'D' while using no additional support points.

The second plain runs between the left pinky hole and the mouthpiece. Since Pure Ocarinas positions this hole on the side of the body, the finger is able to carry the weight of the instrument. It is possible to support the ocarina between the lips and left pinky hole, but this support point is more commonly used to supplement others.

Ocarina balance plain 2

Options for supporting the highest notes

Due to the complicated ergonomics of the ocarina's high notes, a number of techniques are required to support the instrument while playing them. These are the 3 point grip and palm grip. The best technique to use depends on the notes being played before/after the high note. One technique may make certain intervals practically impossible, whereas they can be easily achieved with the other.

You should keep all of your fingers as close as possible to their respective hole at all times. Smaller finger movements require less energy which aids smooth and/or fast playing.

3 point grip tutorial

Pros
  • Maintains right thumb, the strongest finger, as main support point.
  • Distributes ocarina weight over both hands. This allows it to work effectively with larger ocarinas.
  • Keeps all fingers close to their respective holes at all times.
  • Permits easily leaping between high and low notes.
  • Keeps centre of gravity relatively consistent.

Cons

  • Can limit playing speed of the right thumb.

The 3 point grip is the best method I am aware of for playing the ocarina's highest notes while maintaining a consistent centre of gravity across it's sounding range and keeping all fingers close to their holes at all times.

As it's name implies, the ocarina is supported on it's highest notes, using 3 primary points of contact. These are the ocarinas tail, the cappello, and the right thumb hole ridge. While the mouthpiece is technically an additional point of support, it is not important as the grip allows the ocarina to be held securely away from the lips, and even upside down.

The second thumb hole is uncovered by rotating the right hand from the wrist, uncovering the hole without physically removing the finger from the instrument. This shifts the support back from the ocarina's centre of gravity, making it want to roll forwards. To stop this a finger is added to the cappello.

Step 1

Whenever you lift all four fingers of the right hand, place the right pinky finger on the tail of the ocarina, beside it's hole. The tail of Pure Ocarinas is curled to give a positive placement for this finger and prevent it from sliding off the end.

Step 2

After lifting the left 3 fingers, place the left index on the left end of the instrument, also called the cappello (Italian, 'hat'). Please note that I have curled two fingers for clarity, this should not be done while playing.

The left index finger is straight in it's normal playing position, sliding it onto the cappello is simply a matter of straightening the finger while simultaneously sliding it sideways. The finger will end up with the second or 3rd joint from the tip resting against the ocarina's body.

How to slide the finger onto the cappello:

In this position the ocarina is supported by it's primary balance plain between the right thumb and pinky. Additionally the left index finger is supporting the ocarina on the cappello and the left pinky is supporting the ocarina from the lowered left pinky hole.

From here the high D may be easily played by removing the right thumb from it's hole.

Right index finger ocarina support

The purpose of the cappello is to stop the ocarina rolling forwards due to the forward shift of the centre of gravity when the right thumb is rolled off it's hole. This can only work effectively if the finger is in a vertical orientation with respect to the ocarina's body. Placing the finger flat along the top of the cappello will achieve nothing as gravity will pull the ocarina down away from the finger.

Step 3

To open the right thumb hole and play the high E, the right thumb is rolled of it's hole. This is done by rotating the whole right hand from the wrist, allowing the right pinky finger to slide over the tail. The right thumb ridge provides a pivot point for the finger, allowing it to rapidly move away from the hole.

Step 4

Once you have rolled the right hand forward, you are in the basic position of the 3 point grip. From here the ocarina is supported by the left index, right thumb and right pinky. You can safely remove the left pinky to play the high F.

Optimisations

Depending on the preceding and following notes, the use of the cappello may not be required to attain a stable hold.

If you are only playing up to the D, using the cappello is optional as the ocarina can be securely supported between the right thumb and pinky, using it's primary balance plain.

Both the cappello and the left pinky hole act to stop the ocarina rolling forwards. If a segment of music only involves playing up to the 'E', it is possible to not use the cappello, since the left pinky on the dropped pinky hole provides adequate support.

Palm grip tutorial

Pros

  • Allows right thumb to be removed; allowing trilling or fast playing of the note.

Cons

  • Locks right hand fingers a long way from their holes, effectively immobilising them (i.e. preventing finger ornamentation).
  • Takes time to switch into, requiring forward planning while playing.
  • Places the entire weight of the ocarina onto the right pinky and index finger, limiting it's use with larger heavy ocarinas.

In the palm grip the entire weight of the ocarina is taken by the right hand, which allows the right thumb to be removed. This is useful for situations where the high E needs to be trilled or otherwise played quickly. However this technique has a number of ergonomic issues. It places the entire weight of the ocarina on the right hand, limiting it's use with heavy bass ocarinas. It also effectively immobilises 3 of the right hand fingers, making it difficult to leap between high and low notes, or to play finger ornamentation. Because of these limitations I only recommend using this as a supplement, rather than primary technique.

Step 1

Whenever you lift all four fingers of the right hand, place the right pinky finger on the tail of the ocarina, beside it's hole. The tail of Pure Ocarinas is curled to give a positive placement for this finger and prevent it from sliding off the end.

Step 2

Whenever you are playing a higher note, if you do not need to play a low note first and know that you need to access the high E or F, slip the right ring and pinky finger around the tail. This grips the ocarina into the palm.

In this position there can be a tendency to want to extend the remaining two fingers vertically upwards. I would strongly recommend keeping them bent, so they remain close to their hole and have less distance to move when returning to a lower note.

Take extra care not to shade the pinky hole as doing so will flatten the high note, requiring it to be pushed, resulting in a more noisy tone, especially if you are already playing in a cold environment. This may also result in the high note squeaking.

Exercises