Want to play well? Stop using ocarina tabs!

Ocarina tabs are visually intuitive and make it easy to get started. Don't become too comfortable, though, as tabs have numerous limitations. They will quickly start to hold you back. Ocarina tabs are musical training wheels and you have to move beyond them.

Ocarina tabs look simple because they omit information. Rhythm, phrasing and note emphasis are all absent, leaving you to work them out by ear or from memory. Developing your ear is great but working from memory often leads to mistakes. Without the guidance of a teacher, these can go unnoticed for months or years. Tabs also imply that if the correct fingering is used you're playing the right note. This is not the case, as every note requires a different breath pressure.

Secondly, ocarina tabs are verbose. Showing the fingering for every note at legible size takes up a considerable amount of space. Two or three bars of standard sheet music could take a whole page in tab form. Because of this tabs can only represent simple music. You will never be exposed to more advanced ideas.

On this same train of thought, ocarina tabs will limit your repertoire. Only a tiny portion of the worlds music will ever be transcribed into ocarina tabs. At some point you'll want to play something that does not exist in tab form. What options do you have? Beg on a web forum for someone to transcribe it for you? Unless you learn to work form the source material, be it sheet music or by ear, you will never become an independent musician.

Working from tabs leaves you at the mercy of the transcriber. If they have made an error, you would not be aware of it. Fingerings also vary from one ocarina to another. Accidentals in particular vary a great deal depending on the shape of the chamber and it's acoustics. Unless you use the exact same ocarina as the transcriber there is a good chance you will be using a suboptimal fingering.

Finally, tabs obscure the mechanics of music. While tabs allow you to play the notes of a tune, they reveal little about why those notes are used. To this end you are blindly following instructions.

What now?

Side Note

If you've been using tabs for any amount of time they will feel natural to you, while approaching something new will feel very difficult. The human mind is naturally lazy so you will be tempted to continue to develop what you already know. You must resist this temptation as you'll only dig yourself into a hole.

I advise doing three things:

  • Learn the named notes of the fingerings
  • Learn to read sheet music
  • Develop the ability to play by ear

The first of these should be easy; as you already know the fingerings from your use of tabs, you're just learning their names. Find a fingering chart for your ocarina, pick 3 or 4 fingerings and loop through them while saying their names—obviously, you can't do that while playing. Note that the fingerings of accidentals (sharp or flat notes) can vary between ocarinas so you should use a fingering chart for your ocarina and not a generic one.

While learning, break things down and give each your full attention. The conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time.

Sheet music is simpler than it looks. Music consists of 5 horizontal lines and notes are represented by circling these or the spaces between them. Each of these positions is a different note and their pitch goes up toward higher lines:

Each one of these correlates with a fingering on your fingering chart. For example, the second line from the bottom is G and circling this tells you to play a G on your instrument. On an ocarina in C, you would use the fingering shown to the right:

Now you're probably asking 'how am I supposed to remember what all of these lines are?' If you remember that G is on the second line from the bottom you can find every other note by counting up or down. There are also mnemonics that can help. The lines spell the word 'F A C E' for instance. Look up a sheet music tutorial if you want others.

At first this will be difficult and you'll have to slowly work out every one, such as by counting from G. Remember that the mind loves to automate things that you do frequently. After a few days of working on this you'll begin to know the notes automatically. Remember to allow yourself to suck. Trust me—you WILL improve.

As your skill continues to improve you'll stop thinking about the individual notes and instead look at the shapes that they form or the spaces (intervals) between them. For example, the following shows two instances of a common pattern; play a note, play the note above, then play the starting note again. First from G, then again from high D. As you progress you will be able to play such patterns without caring about the named value of a higher note. You just ascend to the next note in the scale, then drop back down again.

While sheet music is able to represent vastly more information than tabs including rhythm and style it's still imperfect. There are subtle differences in real world music that bring it to life and they cannot be represented in sheet music. To learn these you have to develop your ear. In a sense learning from sheet music alone is like trying to pronounce a foreign language you've never heard, it will never sound right.

Rhythms are an easy way to begin cultivating your ear. First you find an audio example of a rhythm, perhaps in a song. Use an audio editor to make a small snippet, 4 or 5 notes and listen to this repeatedly. Learn how to clap and count it—search for 'counting rhythms' to learn how. The same rhythms can be found in numerous pieces of music. Over time, you will find that you can play new things without needing to learn there rhythms.

While I'm not going to go into the details of sheet music rhythms here, knowing rhythms when you see them is not difficult. Basically sheet music represents the duration of a note by modifying it's shape. The circle is called the note's 'head'; a stem and flags may be added to this to change its time duration. Note that regardless of the shape of the stem, or lack thereof, the line or space which the head 'circles' determines the note to play . All of the following notes are G. I have greyed out the stems to highlight the similarity of the heads.

To relate a rhythm to sheet music just count it while looking at the equivalent music notation. Your mind will begin to connect them and after a few days you'll start to know what the rhythm sounds like when you see it.

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