The ocarina is an ancient wind instrument that has captivated musicians and listeners for centuries with its haunting, sweet tones. Though it may look like a simple ceramic or wooden whistle, the ocarina has a rich history and opens up an enchanting new world of music for any budding musician.
If you’re interested in learning to play the ocarina, this beginner’s guide will provide an overview of this magical instrument and get you started on your musical journey.
A Brief History of the Ocarina
The ocarina dates back over 12,000 years, with early versions fashioned out of clay or bone. Ocarinas have been found in ancient Mayan and Aztec ruins and were played by Native American tribes across North and South America.
The instrument gained popularity in Europe during the 19th century. The legendary ocarina maker Giuseppe Donati crafted the first multi-chambered ocarinas in Italy in the 1850s, allowing for greater musical expression.
The word “ocarina” comes from the Italian term “oca,” meaning goose, due to the instrument’s resemblance to the goose’s webbed feet. Ocarinas commonly have between four to twelve finger holes and are made from ceramic, plastic, or wood.
Advanced ocarinas like the double and triple ocarina have multiple chambers that allow them to play a wider range of notes.
Over the centuries, the sweet flute-like tones of the ocarina have captured the imaginations of musicians and composers. The ocarina rose to fame worldwide when it was featured in Nintendo’s classic Legend of Zelda video game series in the late 1980s.
Today, the ocarina remains popular thanks to a revival of interest in world and folk music. Musicians are again being drawn to the nostalgic and magical sounds of this ancient wind instrument.
Types of Ocarinas for Beginners
As a beginner looking to explore the enchanting sounds of the ocarina, you’ll first need to choose an instrument to learn and practice on. Here are some of the most common types of ocarinas that are ideal for beginners:
Plastic ocarinas are an affordable and durable choice for beginners. They typically have 4 to 10 finger holes and come in soprano, alto, and tenor ranges. The sound quality isn’t as rich as ceramic or wooden ocarinas, but they’re extremely easy to care for. Plastic ocarinas cost between $5-$25.
Ceramic is the most traditional material for ocarinas. While more fragile than plastic, ceramic produces a sweeter, richer sound. Beginner ceramic ocarinas often range from 4-12 holes and also come in different shapes like round pendants, sharks, frogs, etc. Prices range from $15-$60.
Wooden ocarinas offer an organic sound with excellent breath response. Common woods used are maple, cedar, rosewood, and purpleheart. Like ceramic, wooden ocarinas are more delicate than plastic but reward with a beautiful sound. Beginner wooden ocarinas cost $20-$100.
When choosing your first ocarina, opt for one in the key of C or G, as most beginner instruction uses these keys. Consider the 12-hole ocarina, as it allows you to play a fuller range of notes. Don’t worry too much about getting the highest sound quality as a novice – focus first on finding an ocarina you enjoy playing.
How to Play the Ocarina as a Beginner
Once you have an ocarina in hand, it’s time to start unlocking its magical voice! Here are some tips on how to start playing as a beginner:
Learn the Fingerings
Ocarinas use a simple system of finger holes and blowing to produce different notes, similar to a recorder. Learn the notes and fingerings for all the holes in your ocarina. Most ocarinas include a fingering chart to help you get started. Memorizing the finger positions is crucial to playing.
Focus on Producing a Steady Tone
When first starting, concentrate on producing a steady, rich tone by breathing slowly and deeply through the ocarina. Don’t rush the notes. Keep your ocarina at a slight angle downwards and blow gently but firmly into the mouthpiece. Experiment by adjusting your breath to find the ocarina’s sweet spot.
Start Slowly and Gradually Pick Up Speed
Begin by practicing very basic songs and melodies slowly. Play each note deliberately and clearly. Once you can comfortably play the notes, incrementally increase your speed. Moving too fast too soon can lead to sloppy technique. Take your time and gradually improve.
Use Special Breathing Techniques
More advanced ocarina playing uses special breathing techniques like circular breathing and double tonguing to play faster and more complex passages. For now, focus on your basic breath control and tone before attempting these advanced skills.
Maintain Good Posture
Sit or stand tall when practicing, keeping your back straight. Hold your ocarina at chest level with your elbows relaxed at your sides. Good posture improves breathing and technique.
Following these tips will help you produce your first sweet notes on the ocarina. Be patient with yourself as learning any new instrument takes time and practice. The rewards will come!
Useful Resources for Learning the Ocarina
Looking for resources to help you progress on your Ocarina journey? Here are some excellent tools for ocarina instruction:
- Online video tutorials – YouTube and other platforms offer thousands of Ocarina tutorials at every skill level. Search for your ocarina type, like “12-hole ocarina lessons.”
- Mobile apps – Mobile apps like Ocarina and Ocarina 2 teach you to play songs on a virtual ocarina that you can transfer to a real instrument.
- Sheet music – Buy beginner’s ocarina songbooks or find free sheet music online to practice reading notes. Musescore offers free community sheet music.
- Lesson books – Look for ocarina method books that provide graded lessons, exercises, and songs. Hal Leonard and Mel Bay publish popular ocarina methods.
- Online Ocarina communities – Join forums like OcarinaWind to connect with other Ocarina players, ask questions, and share tips.
- In-person lessons – Consider taking private or group lessons from an ocarina teacher to get feedback and customize your learning.
With the wealth of resources available today, you can find instruction tailored exactly to your skill level and musical interests. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of methods to discover what works best for you.
Fun and Easy Songs to Learn on the Ocarina
Playing your favorite tunes is one of the best motivations when learning a new instrument. Here are some fun and easy songs to learn on the Ocarina as a beginner:
- Ode to Joy
- Amazing Grace
- Canon in D
- Zelda’s Lullaby
- Kum Ba Yah
- Oh! Susanna
- Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In
- Happy Birthday
Search for the ocarina sheet music or tablature for these songs online. Try playing them slowly at first. Pay attention to the rhythm and articulation marks like staccatos and slurs. With practice, you’ll be impressing your friends and family by playing beautiful, familiar tunes.
Customizing and Caring for Your Ocarina
One of the joys of playing ocarina is finding a unique instrument that fits your personality. Once you progress past the basics, consider these ways to make your ocarina special:
- Add decorative elements like gemstones, beads, or carvings. Just avoid covering any finger holes.
- Personalize with paint, colored pencils, or markers – just avoid any moisture inside the ocarina’s chambers.
- Install a decorative music strap so you can play on the go.
- Shop for ocarinas in exotic shapes like fish, owls, or musical notes.
To care for your ocarina:
- Keep it away from extreme temperatures and moisture. Never submerge in water.
- Brush out any dust from the finger holes and mouthpiece.
- Store in a protective case or pouch when not playing.
- Avoid dropping as ceramics can chip and wood can crack.
A personalized ocarina that you treat with care will give you many years of magical music. Enjoy making each ocarina uniquely your own.
Bringing the Ocarina into Your Daily Life
Once you’ve started playing, how can you incorporate the ocarina into your daily life and routine?
- Keep your ocarina on display in your home so you’re inspired to play whenever you pass by.
- Take your ocarina outside and play among the trees, birds, and nature.
- Form or join an ocarina choir to play with others.
- Play for your family and friends. The ocarina’s sweet tones are sure to delight.
- Use the ocarina to reduce stress by playing meditative songs.
- Play your ocarina as part of holiday celebrations and parties.
- Serenade that special someone by playing romantic melodies.
- Join a weekly ocarina circle or class to motivate regular practice.
- Start writing your own ocarina songs.
The more you integrate the ocarina into your daily life, the more joy it will bring you and those around you. Let your imagination guide you!
The ocarina is truly an enchanting instrument that can transport you into a magical world of music. With a bit of patience and consistent practice, the ocarina’s haunting voice will be unlocked for beginners.
Start with the basics, be creative with your playing, and above all – have fun! The ocarina’s celestial sounds will help you express your emotions, connect with others, and discover new realms of beauty.
Now grab your ocarina and may the magic begin!