The Pure Alto D was designed for playing folk music, such as English and Irish traditional music in the original key. These tunes are normally played in D, G or E minor in communal sessions, and having a D ocarina allows you to join in, and play in the same key.
The range of the pure alto D is also ideal for playing music of the Sackpipa, an indigenous bagpipe of Sweden. Its 1 octave E to E range fits perfectly on this ocarina. You can find a tunebook for Sackpipa here, the second half having many tunes in standard notation. And here are numerous play-along videos of Swedish pipe music.
Why D over C?
While you can play in D on a single chamber C ocarina, you lose two notes of range relative to an ocarina in D, specifically the high F# and G. Having these two notes allow you to play a lot more folk tunes in the original key, which allows you to play them with other people in a session, or in unison with commercial recordings.
Playing on a D instrument also simplifies the fingering of such tunes which can allow more possibilities with the fingered articulations commonly used in this genre of music. Playing cuts, strikes and rolls on the ocarina is as easy as on a tin whistle.
Pure Ocarinas include many innovations designed to help you play better, including:
Pure Ocarinas were designed from the start as concert quality musical instruments, and great ergonomics is a key focus. They are carefully balanced to sit comfortably in the hand, with ergonomically placed and angled finger holes.
All Pure Ocarinas have a functional tail and cappello that make it easier to hold the ocarina on the high notes. They can be used in combination with the 3 point grip, a technique that keeps the right hand fingers close to their finger holes when playing the high notes. Using these support points allows large leaps to be played easily.
The physical weight of the ocarina has also been reduced, as it is easier to support a lighter instrument. Learn more about ergonomics --->
11 holes – better tuning and no acute bend needed
Pure Ocarinas deliberately dispense with the second sub-hole found in Asian 12 hole ocarinas. Eliminating this hole allows the instrument to play with a shallow breath curve and balanced timbre across the entire range. Having a shallow and predictable breath curve makes it easier for you to play complex music with good intonation. Eliminating this hole also allows the ocarina to have strong clear high notes with no need for the acute bend, further improving the ergonomics.
The tuning of Pure Ocarinas are individually adjusted by hand to ensure an even breath curve over the entire playing range. All glaze is cleaned out of the holes before firing as stray glaze would mess up the tuning.
These ocarinas are tuned to play in a440 concert pitch at 20 degrees centigrade, with a shallow breath curve that is consistent over the instrument's entire range.
How the different finishes feel
It is important to note that different finishes feel different to play. I can summarise as follows:
- Glazes. Fired glazes are easy to clean and durable, but trap a layer of moisture between the skin and glaze. This gives the ocarina a 'sticky' or clingy' feel and make smooth finger sliding difficult.
- Shellac. Natural shellac has been used to finish ocarinas for hundreds of years. It has a better feel than fired glazes, and feels much less sticky under the fingers.
- Plain. The plain surface of the ceramic. A plain finish is advantageous if you tend to have damp fingers as earthenware is porous. It will absorb finger moisture and keep your fingers dry, resulting in a more consistent feel. Though it does stain over time and can only be cleaned by re-firing to burn it out.
Sliding movements on glazed and shellac ocarinas can be made significantly easier by covering your fingers with talk or chalk dust. This serves to absorb any moisture present and prevents the gripping surface of the skin touching the instrument.
I personally prefer plain finished ocarinas as they have the best feel to me. The staining does not bother me as they age to a slightly yellowed appearance similar to old bone, a likeness frequently cited by people who have seen my instruments.