Is the ocarina easy to play?

'Is the ocarina easy to play?' is not a straightforward question to answer. It may or may not be depending on your past experience. The biggest challenge of playing ocarinas is their unstable pitch, so if you already play wind instruments and have a good sense of relative pitch, then you should find the ocarina quite easy to play.

Newcomers to music often find the ocarina attractive because it looks simple and the fingering system is approachable. These intuitions mostly hold true, but don't expect to become an awesome player overnight. There's more to playing musically than knowing a fingering system; you also need a general understanding of music and a sense of musicality. Developing those skills takes time on any instrument.

The fact of the matter is that all instruments are challenging in their own ways. The ocarina is more difficult to play than it first appears, but don't let that influence your decision to learn to play it. If you've chosen the ocarina because you enjoy its sound and you're determined to play it yourself, you've chosen it for the right reasons. The same goes for any instrument: play it not because it looks easy or difficult but because you enjoy it.

Using a good approach

Playing an instrument is difficult because it is not a single task, but a number of related ones. On the ocarina, this includes using the right fingering and breath pressure, covering the holes fully, and using the tongue so that notes start and finish crisply. Simultaneously, you're considering the next note in the tune as well as the rhythm.

Thinking of all these factors at once is overwhelming for a beginner. It's just too much information. Because of this, you want to break things down and practise them separately. You can practise rhythm of a tune by itself if you clap along with a recording. You can then begin to practise the fingerings, focusing on chunks of a few notes at a time. Practise intonation by playing long tones on every note on your instrument so you can keep the notes in tune start to finish. As everyone is different, you will find some of these aspects come more easily than others.

While this approach may seem arduous, it allows you to perform the individual tasks as accurately as possible, especially if you also practise slowly. This matters as when you perform a task repeatedly, it begins to enter your subconscious mind; it stops being a conscious effort and just happens automatically, like walking or talking. This transition happens during sleep, so one day you'll wake up suddenly able to play your tune, no longer overwhelmed.

If you are new, there is a good chance that you want to 'just play something', and you can do this, too. The easiest way to do so is to make use of a computer: MIDI sequencers let you play music without repetitive practice, as you just drag and drop notes in a timeline. The xylophone and related instruments are also easy to get a good sound from; you just hit the bars with a stick, so there isn't much room for error. There are mobile apps that offer similar functionality.

Often, things will feel impossibly difficult when first approached—playing by ear or music theory, for instance. The best way to handle this is to just start working on it and allow yourself to suck. Sometimes, it can take a while to grasp new ideas. Even though you will not be aware of it, your subconscious mind is taking notes. Expose yourself to whatever you are struggling with from multiple points of view, and one day it will suddenly click into focus.

You will be able to learn to play the ocarina if you follow a good approach and build your skills a bit at a time. I recommend reading the page 'How to approach music as a beginner' and my article series 'Learning to play the ocarina'. Don't be tempted to take shortcuts. Ocarina tabs especially are a double edged sword; while they can help you to get started, you should not become comfortable with them, as they will quickly hold you back.

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