Why does my ocarina have airy high notes?

Ocarinas can have airy high notes for a number of reasons. The most common being poor breath control. It's also a symptom of a badly designed ocarina however this is less common than it used to be. These and other points are covered in detail below.

Note that an airy timbre is desirable in some circumstances. This is appropriate for certain kinds of music and helps the ocarina to blend with other instruments.

Poor breath control

The most common reason that an ocarina will have airy high notes is not blowing hard enough. As holes are opened air can escape the chamber more easily. To compensate for this you must blow harder or the tone will become more and more airy. Exactly how much you have to raise your breath varies hugely from one ocarina to another.

As the ocarinas pitch also depends on blowing pressure if your high notes are airy they are almost certainly flat. Use a chromatic tuner to check the pressure needed to sound them in tune. You'll also notice that they sound a lot cleaner.

Blowing, posture and hand positioning

How you blow an ocarina has a significant impact on the tone you get out of it. Particularly you should align the instrument so that you are blowing directly down the windway without kinking the air-stream. Keep your head up while playing and your thought open. Keep the back of the tong at the bottom of your mouth. When using the tip of the tong to articulate notes it should be moved back away from the teeth as this can create a noisy tone as well.

Hand positioning also matters a lot. When playing the high notes the air leaving the voicing can strike the left palm and make a noise. You should twist your palm out of the air-stream if possible.

More holes equals more airy high notes

The more holes an ocarina has the more airy sounding it's high notes will tend to be. This is a side effect of the instruments basic physics. A 10 hole ocarina will have a cleaner sounding high end than a 12 hole. Multichambers are even better as the individual chambers only provide a small portion of the total range.

Your perception of the instrument differs from what your audience hears

How an ocarina sounds to you is not the same as how it sounds to an audience. The high notes will sound more airy to you because the ocarina is only inches from your ears. This isn't a problem from the perspective of an audience. Wind noise is much less audible to someone listening from a distance.

Room acoustics

The ocarinas pure timbre is quite susceptible to an acoustic effect called comb filtering. The sound reflections inside a room may make certain notes sound stronger or weaker than they actually are. Try playing outside in a wide open space to get a true sense of how your instrument sounds.

Airy by design

some ocarinas are airy by design, such as those made by Fabio Menaglio. These ocarinas where designed to fill large music halls and have a large voicing to achieve a high volume. A side effect of this is it makes the sound more airy. This isn't a problem from the perspective of an audience. Wind noise is much less audible to someone listening from a distance.

Badly made ocarina

If your ocarina was very cheap there is a good chance it is poorly made and will never be able to play cleanly. If an ocarinas voicing is mismatched to it's chamber or if the windway is rough it will have poor sounding high notes. If you've tried all of the options above I'd get a better instrument and don't skimp this time. Relative to other instruments good ocarinas are not expensive.

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