Hello everyone! I’ve done over half a dozen Ocarina Experience videos for you all, and thought I might do something a little extra. The ocarina is a really fun instrument to play, but not everyone was forced to learn an instrument in their early childhood.
It’s really difficult to write about playing an instrument. In this article, I mostly want to focus on a few basic steps in playing and choosing an ocarina. There are many sites that sell them, but I think all you Zelda fans will enjoy STLOcarina and SongBird Ocarina the most. They have a special section made just for us, with various ocarinas designed from the games we have come to love and adore.
There is a difference between the two that I should point out. Yes, the SongBird Ocarina looks amazing and has a pretty tone. I’ve played it, but sadly it is more expensive than the STLOcarina version. The STLOcarinas still have a beautiful sound and look to them, and I adore every ocarina I have bought. I plan on buying as many (even non-Zelda) as I can as long as I have the funds to do so.
I’m going to go ahead and give you all a brief history lecture on the ocarina. Believe it or not, the ocarina has existed for thousands of years. Nintendo was not the creator of this instrument, though they have definitely made it popular.
There are ceramic ocarinas that date more than 12000 years ago. Yeah. Holy crap, that’s old. They were often small whistles shaped like animals and birds. One similar earthenware clay relic, known as the Xun, is egg shaped and dates back more than 7000 years. There are various Chinese versions of the instrument, as well as Mayan, Aztec, Inca, and Native American. The Aztecs brought the European version we see so often, but I should point out that although they are all ocarinas their sounds and way of playing all varied.
If you want to learn more about the history of the ocarina, both STLOcarina and SongBird Ocarina have pages with more.
What Is An Ocarina
The ocarina is an ancient flute-like wind instrument. There are so many different variations to the instrument, but it is basically an enclosed space with holes and a mouthpiece that projects directly from the instrument.
Okay, here is an easy explanation on why the ocarina isn’t a flute. The flute does not rely on the pipe length to produce its tone. When playing a flute, you can adjust the head joint to tune instrument. The ocarina’s tone is effected by the ratio of the total surface area of the opened holes to the volume enclosed by the instrument. The sound is created by resonance within the instrument. The location of the holes on the ocarina doesn’t matter, though the size does. The size of the holes will affect the surface area of the ocarina.
Choosing An Ocarina
Ocarinas are typically made out of ceramic, but are also glass, clay, plastic, wood, and metal. You might see some people make them out of potatoes. My uncle often jokes he did that himself working at the carnival, and is always trying to get me to come and play.
If you have never played an instrument before, and are wary of wasting money, don’t buy one of the expensive models. The plastic ocarinas are extremely affordable, and don’t break as easily. They might not have the nicest sound quality, but many of them are just perfect for beginners. If you don’t have much musical background, don’t spend a lot of money. Of course, if you want to buy an ocarina primarily for its prettifulness, the more expensive models are probably more for your taste. I have a hylian shield model that I love, as well as a beautiful double octave. They are ceramic and I play them daily.
Of course, the ocarinas come in various keys and ranges. I own a soprano 12-hole, a 12 hole tenor, a double octave, and two six hole ocarinas. As would be assumed, the more fingerings the ocarina has, the more notes you will be able to play. If you already have an ocarina, I would suggest buying a simple tuner. I use one when I first buy a new ocarina so I can see how I can adjust my playing to match the instruments abilities.
Another little detail to look into is the style of the ocarina. The transverse, also known as the sweet potato and how the Zelda ocarinas look, is more popular. It’s more traditional, and is held much like a flute. It’s known as the Boehm style. It’s a little awkward at first, and figuring out how to hold it might be strange. I suggest watching one of my Ocarina Experience videos to see how to hold one. It is more difficult to play for extended periods of time if you aren’t used to it. With enough practice you won’t notice. Neck positions are also a little strange, but I don’t notice it too much. You all sit looking at television screens and computer monitors enough that I doubt the ocarina will be the cause of your neck problems.
The inline ocarina is held straight in front of your mouth. Sort of like a recorder or whistle. You simple hold it with your hands side by side. It is more comfortable to play, and you can see an example of one in my Bolero of Fire video.
Reading Ocarina Music
It would take me an entire book to fully explain how to read music. Ocarina music basically comes in three forms. The first form I know are notes on a staff. Here is a treat for you to look at, which is the sheet music for the battle song in Zelda II.
The second one that many beginners read, and that I have been providing are fingering charts. These are everywhere, but they don’t show how long to hold notes or when there are pauses and breaks. They simply have a basic image of an ocarina, and have filled in fingerings for the notes. This helps beginners, and isn’t a bad way to learn how to play the ocarina. I was taught to read music over eight years ago, so I don’t prefer this option personally after I have the notes memorized.
The last way to read ocarina music I had never even seen until I got a booklet from STLOcarina. They use a notation system that is pretty easy to understand. Each note is a number, with various dogs and sharp/flat symbols. I still have trouble reading it at times since I never took the time to really learn it, but it is a way to learn if you have no music background.
Playing The Ocarina
This is really hard to explain through words and not example. Whatever you do, don’t just blow with all your might into the instrument. You will either get no sound at all except for a bunch of air, or a very painful high note. When you place the instrument to your mouth, the opening should be very small. This will focus the air and allow it to strong without forcing it, and you will get a better tone quality.
The amount of air you use is pretty important with the ocarina. Some ocarinas require more air for the higher notes, but if you practice enough the sound will get better. Other ocarinas will need an even airflow when moving from the lower and higher notes. Bending your head downwards helps sustain a better sound. Don’t give up too soon!
On the other hand, lower notes don’t require as much air. To get the best sound from these, you mostly need to make sure the holes are being completely covered. The subholes, which are those teeny tiny holes, are easy to miss.
Another key factor in playing the ocarina is articulation. That’s a really scary word for those who aren’t into music, but it mostly means how you move from one note to another. That’s the easiest way to describe it. When you hear beginners play, they mostly use a legato style. It is a very soothing way to play, for you simply move your fingers without tonguing. There is no separation between the notes.
Tonguing is using your tongue to tap the roof of your mouth and make a small break in the airflow. For a basic note transition, when you move your tongue, make it as if you are saying “tuh” or “duh”. If you want a harsher or more apparent separation between the notes, known as staccato, “tuu” is the movement you should try to make.
Tips On Practicing
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT! The best way to practice is to do a chromatic scale on your ocarina at least once a day. It is simply playing up and down the scale, with all the sharps and flats included. It helps you remember all the notes and fingerings, and get a better sound.
If you are trying to learn another song, but are having problems, break it apart. It’s known as unit practice, and you simply take the sections of the music apart and play them separately. After you have them down better, slowly combine the different parts back together. If you are having particular trouble with a certain part, keep trying it over and over again.
One way to do that is to play each note using the staccato technique I mentioned earlier. Play each note one at a time. Sometimes it’s better to play one note, then repeat that note and add another, then repeat those notes and add another, and so forth. Take it slow. Nobody is rushing you. This technique also trains you to move your fingers before blowing into the ocarina. The notes are less sloppy, and the music transition is much smoother.
Vibrato is the wavering sound that you sometimes hear people sing or play on an instrument. The same can be done on the ocarina. One was is to use your diaphragm to produce the sound. You have to have control of the diaphragm to do this, so simple exercises can be done to do so. Put your hand to your stomach and laugh, but do so softly. Then do the same while blowing into the ocarina. It will take some practice, like usual, but it should be noticeable that the airflow is being propelled differently so the sound vibrates. It takes time to train this sound, but eventually you can get it. Vibrato is something musicians practice for hours and hours. There are other ways to practice vibrato as well.
Get Out There And Practice!
I really hope this was helpful and informative. It took me a while to plan out what I should talk about, but I found a way to do it. Even if you do not plan on getting an ocarina, I hope you were able to learn something today.
If you guys want more instructional videos or posts about playing the ocarina, just say so! After my short break, I am glad to say my Ocarina Experience videos will be continuing again. I continue to practice and get better, and maybe one day I will finally splurge on getting proper equipment for better recording. The sound quality for the videos before Tom edits them for me isn’t that great. I swear I’m much better in person.
Erica’s Ocarina Experience