Learning the ocarina's fingerings

The easiest way to learn the ocarina's fingerings is to approach them a few at a time. Pick two or three and cycle through them, moving your fingers as needed and saying the name of each aloud or in your head. This trains your subconscious when you sleep, and you'll know them instinctively after a few days.

It is a lot to think about blowing, tonguing, fingering, and the note names all at once. Consequently, it is best to learn the fingerings without playing at first. Hold the ocarina in front of you where you can see what your fingers are doing. Remember to hold your ocarina lightly and cover the holes completely. You should be able to feel the holes under the pads of your fingers. Try to keep the holes in the centre of the pad.

This page focuses on C ocarina fingerings. If you are playing an ocarina in a different key, that is not a problem. You can play it using C ocarina fingerings, treating it as a transposing instrument. Alternately, you can substitute the sounded notes from a fingering chart. See Handing ocarinas in different keys. Subholes and accidentals are covered below.

C, D and E

The best way to memorize the fingerings is to work on a few of them at a time. To start with, practise the lowest 3 notes: C, D and E. Finger each one in sequence and say its name aloud. I advise practising this slowly to a metronome, about 60 BPM one note per tick.

  • Finger and say C
  • Finger and say D
  • Finger and say E
  • Finger and say D

Repeat this until you become comfortable with it. If you have not played a wind instrument before, moving your fingers like this may be challenging. This is normal. Be patient and practise this slowly for a few minutes. When you sleep, these actions will be automated by your subconscious. It will start to feel natural after a day or two.

When you lower a finger, you may find that you miss the hole and end up with the finger to the side of the hole or partially venting it. If this happens, consciously work on lowering the finger so that the hole lands under the center of the pad. It is important to correct this mistake as mis-covering holes will cause problems with your intonation.

F, G and A

Once you are happy with those, work on F, G, and A. Use the same method described above, moving up and down through the fingerings and saying their names. Whenever you play the A, put the right pinky on the ocarina's tail to support it. See the video below.

Notice that A is played by lifting the left ring finger and not the pinky. The pinky is used to support the instrument and to play one of its highest notes. Lifting the ring finger by itself may feel awkward at first. It may help you if you move this finger with a finger of your other hand. This is shown in the video below.

A B and high C

Work on A, B, and high C using the same method. These are straightforward.

high D, E and F

Reilly Walker

The final notes are also straightforward but require different technique; this is discussed in detail on the page How to hold an ocarina on the high notes. In summary:

  • When you move from C to D, put your left index finger on the cappello, the area besides the left index finger hole.
  • To move from D to E, roll the left thumb off its hole
  • To play the high F, lift the pinky

You should play C, D, E, F, E, D repeatedly and slowly until you get used to them. They are demonstrated in the video below. Note that this is Asian fingering; the technique is the same for Italian fingering but E and F are reversed. You would lift the left pinky, then roll the thumb off last.

Subholes, accidentals, and alternate fingerings

Some ocarinas have one or more 'subholes'. These are holes that are played by sliding a finger forwards so that it covers two holes, and allow you to sound notes below the tonic of your ocarina's key. You can learn these fingerings using the same method given above: perhaps alternate between the tonic and subhole(s), saying the names of the notes.

Ocarinas are fully chromatic; their accidentals are played using 'cross fingerings', which involve covering holes out of the normal linear sequence. However, the fingerings for these notes depend on chamber acoustics and vary between ocarinas. It is best to get the fingerings from a fingering chart for your specific ocarina; fingering charts for Pure Ocarinas. Once you are aware of the proper fingerings for your ocarina, learn them using the same method as the natural notes. A good way to practise accidentals is to play scales which include them.

It is also commonly possible to play the same note using alternative fingerings but, like the accidentals, these vary between ocarinas. They are sometimes given in a fingering chart, but are often best found by experimenting with your ocarina and a chromatic tuner. If you are new to music, you may find these intimidating as you find learning the regular fingerings enough of a challenge—in which case, feel free to ignore them. Alternate fingerings can make certain note transitions easier, which can help when playing quickly. You will naturally discover their value as you get more experience.

Limiting your finger movements

It is common for new players to lift their fingers much higher than needed. Lifting your fingers too high achieves nothing and can actually harm your playing. In particular, it will hold you back when you try to play faster. That being said, it is possible to have your fingers too close to the holes. A finger just above a hole will cause the pitch to be flatter than it should be. Usually lifting your fingers about two centimetres is enough, though it is a good idea to check using a tuner.

Play a note steadily as a long tone and slowly lift a finger for a higher note, noticing when moving it further no longer alters the pitch. You have to be careful not to change your blowing pressure while doing this. Also be aware that shading any hole will lower the pitch. It is possible for the slight shading of multiple fingers to flatten the high notes enough to make them squeak.

Excessive finger movement
Controlled finger movement

To learn to control your finger movements, practise lifting and replacing your fingers slowly in a mirror. Aim to keep them close to the holes. If you practise with one hand at a time, you can use the other hand to block excess movement. How to do so is shown in the pictures below.

Closing

If you practise the fingerings every day, within a week or two you will begin to know them without thinking. Over time, you will learn to associate the fingerings directly with the positions of notes in sheet music so that the intermediate step of learning their names falls away. However, there are still good reasons to learn the names. It gives them labels which can help you to remember them initially. It also allows you to communicate what you are doing to other musicians.

Exercises

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