Ocarina for irish music

This page notates some of the things I've learned about adapting Irish dance tunes to the ocarina. I realize that you may just be looking for a list of tunes, in which case see: https://thesession.org/discussions/35529. Most of these tunes will fit on a single ocarina in D.

Much of what I play on the ocarina is traditional music, and a decent chunk of it is Irish music. Like most traditional music ITM is historically dancing music, learned and played by relatively isolated communities for communal ceilidh dances. Passed down the generations mostly by ear and immersion. Because of this a great deal of the playing style is defined by the idiom, which means that the best way to learn it is through first hand experience at music sessions. My own playing has improved markedly since I started playing regularly at a session, and my first experience with one was largely a 'scrap everything and start over'. However my playing has improved enough that I won my regional Fleadh, and placed 3rd in the All Britain in 2015, playing the ocarina under 'miscellaneous'.

Adapting most irish music to the ocarina is quite challenging, especially playing in a traditional style with the correct phrasing and ornamentation. And playing to a good session speed.

Being a social music, ITM has standardized on keys and note range in order to allow a collection of different instruments to play together. The basic keys are D G and there relative minors. Within these keys the vast majority of tunes fit a note range of an octave and a 6th, beginning on D, and ending on b one octave higher. This is because B is the highest note in the first position on the fiddle, and D is the lowest note playable by a whistle or unkeyed simple system flute.

This range is a problem for the ocarina, as single chambers may only sound an octave and a fourth, leaving two notes out of range. This means that many tunes, including most of the 'standards' go out of range. Also changing the tunes to fit them within range is typically not an option. One of the defining characteristics of irish music is actually from the interplay and contrast between high and low pitched notes placed close together in time, most tunes simply don't sound right if the high notes are omitted.

However, there are a decent number of tunes that will fit within an octave and a fourth, many fitting within the D to g range of a single chamber D ocarina. Others fit within the range of a G ocarina. Many such tunes are mentioned in the discussion linked at the top of the page. If you are happy to go beyond irish music, a lot of English and Breton tunes will fit on the ocarina. Scottish music is also an easy sauce and entire repertoire of the highland pipes will fit on a G ocarina.

Playing with good style

As mentioned traditional music is idiomatic, and a lot of the playing style is implied within an idiom and is not indicated anywhere in written music. Something that can be applied to most tune types is a highly legato playing style. Irish music is flowing, like water in a stream, and rapidly flows from lower to higher notes and back. Tonguing should be used sparingly to emphasize the rhythm.

Different tune types have certain 'implied' playing and phrasing styles. For example hornpipes are typically written in 4/4 time with a straight rhythm, but they are played with all 8th notes dotted. Whenever a player sees 'hornpipe', they instinctively know to add this syncopation. While notating the music without keeps the notation cleaner. These idocincracies must be learned as ignoring them will be immidiatley obvious to an experianced traditional player.

4 common tune types, jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas. This is not a definitive list, other tune types exist.


Jigs are possibly the most well known of the irish tune types. They are in 6/8 time and are constructed mostly from two groups of three 8th notes. There rhythmic emphasis lands on the first note of the three.

Counted 'ONE 2 3 FOUR 5 6'.

-- Sheet music --


Reels are played in 2/2 or cut time, meaning that there are only two downbeats per measure, rhythmic emphesis should be placed on these. They are sometimes also notated in 4/4 which would imply four downbeats per measure and double the tempo. I find thinking of them this way tends to land the emphasis in the wrong place, generally there should only be two 'strong' notes per measure.

Counted ONE e and a TWO e and a.

-- Sheet music --


Hornpipes are in 4/4 time and are notated using mostly 8th notes. However as mentioned hornpipes have an implied dotted rhythm.

Counted ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and.

-- Sheet music --


Polkas are in 2/4 time. They are played with a straight rhythm largely as notated.

Counted ONE and TWO and.

-- Sheet music --