Ocarina - Globular Wind Instrument - Phamox Music (2023)

The ocarina Instrument

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The ocarina is a special type of flute made in different shapes. This instrument can be classified as a wind musical instrument because it requires a stream of air to create a sound.

Ocarinas are not as popular in classical and western orchestra music as other wind instruments like the clarinet, flute, oboe, or saxophone.

Nevertheless, the ocarina remains one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. This globular-shaped wind instrument has been around for thousands of years and is made in different shapes with different solid materials.

Interestingly, archaeologists’ discoveries have proven the long existence of the instrument, with the ocarina dating back at least ten thousand years.

Moreover, some of these instruments were made to look like birds or animals. More than that, some had only a few holes and could only play a few notes.

This ancient instrument has been invented and reinvented at different points in time and in different geographical locations.

Nearly every culture in the world invented and played its own version of Ocarina.

This post is focused almost exclusively on the ocarina. And we will try as much as possible to cover the necessary areas for you to understand the instrument better.

Going through this post will give you a good familiarity with the ocarina and more knowledge about the instrument.

Surely, it will save you the stress people go through learning about the instrument before learning how to play it.

What Exactly Is An Ocarina?

An ocarina is a wind musical instrument like a traditional flute, oboe, and the rest of the wind instruments.

However, it is not long and thin like a flute or oboe, which is a cylindrical or conical tube. Specifically, the ocarina is a globular-shaped wind instrument with a short and round shape like a sweet potato.

It is a hollow body with a fipple and a varying number of finger holes on its top surface. It is the most common type of vessel flute we have around.

Virtually, the word “ocarina” is frequently used as a catch-all for any type of vessel flute, which we can also refer to as a globular or hollow chamber wind instrument.

For instance, the ancient Chinese xun, which is commonly designed in an oval shape with a flat base, is still referred to as an ocarina.

Ocarinas are well known for their pure, delicate, and exquisite bird-like sounds. A well-constructed and quality ocarina can create diverse tones, from heavenly, melodic, lilting, and mellow to soothing and stimulating tunes.

Is The Ocarina An Actual Instrument?

We need to answer this question because most people consider the ocarina to be a toy. The ocarina is an actual instrument.

This ancient instrument is not a toy, as many people think, but a versatile and uncomplicated professional instrument.

However, it is fun to see it as a toy because it is a simple and straightforward instrument to learn.

These iconic instruments are excellent for playing several types of folk music and have a small repertoire of their own.

Many look down on this instrument, but it has more potential. Of course, if Ocarina’s potential is well explored, we will understand that it’s more capable.

Just like every other instrument, flute, oboe, violin, piano, guitar, and more, ocarinas can be transformed into capable, accomplished instruments by skilful players.

A Brief History of the Ocarina

The ocarina is a vessel flute with a globular and hollow body that operates like a Helmholtz resonator. This wind instrument has a long history reaching back to the Neolithic period.

The history of the ocarina may be traced back to prehistoric times, yet there is no written record of it. This instrument’s origin is most likely 12,000 years old.

There have been several archaeological discoveries in various parts of the world that confirm the lengthy existence of this instrument.

Of course, numerous forms of the globular or vessel flute have been discovered in a variety of cultures, including but not limited to Mayan, Inca, Aztec, Chinese, and Indian.

The Invention of Guiseppi Donati

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In the nineteenth century, Guiseppi Donati, a 17-year-old Italian musician and baker, reinvented the ocarina as a ten-hole instrument. Donati’s ocarina is famous in Europe due to its capacity to play up an entire chromatic scale.

Furthermore, the word ocarina, used to refer to the instrument right now, means “small goose,” and it was given to it by the same Donati.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

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During the 1990s, the Nintendo video game “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” released in November 1998, popularised the instrument.

The game allows millions of individuals all around the world to become acquainted with the instrument. simply because the ocarina was an important element of the game.

This game used an ocarina as an essential component of the game.

For instance, the player must first learn how to perform a variety of melodies on an ocarina to proceed in the game.

As a result, millions of fans of the game around the world are aware of the ocarina and thousands are eager to learn how to play the instrument.

The popularity of the ocarina resulted in the creation of double and triple ocarinas, known as multi-chambered. Multi-chambered ocarinas came with a wider range in the middle of the twentieth century.

The ocarina has made its way to the concert hall, where it is performed alongside orchestras.

What is used to make the ocarina?

This question has to do with the material used to make the ocarina. Basically, an ocarina can be made with any hard material that can be formed into shape.

But traditionally, the ocarina is made from plastic, wood, and clay or ceramic materials. Besides, other materials like bone, glass, and metal are also used to make the ancient instrument.

All these materials are good for making ocarinas in their different capacities. Of course, no material is completely terrible when it comes to making the ocarina, we only have a bad ocarina maker.

Clay or ceramic materials

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Clay or ceramic materials are the most used materials for making ocarinas.

This material creates a clear tone provided it is well constructed. Of course, the clay material empowers the ocarina to create a smooth, beautiful, and mellow sound.

In addition, the clay material permits artistic decoration, which in turn gives the ocarinas a beautiful look. The application of different types of glazes on the clay gives it different textures, colours, and looks.

Porcelain is the finest and best material for making ocarinas. This special ceramic material is usually used for professional instruments. Porcelain ocarinas have a professional look and a very clear and pure sound.

Typically, ocarinas made with clay are more expensive than their plastic counterparts.

The reason given has been that ocarinas made with this material cannot be churned out of a factory. In fact, most clay ocarinas are handmade, and technical expertise is required to make a good one.

Also, remarkable quality control is required to ensure that each of the clay ocarinas is in tune before selling them.

Nevertheless, clay ocarinas are heavier than plastic ocarinas. Also, clay instruments are somewhat tough, but they can easily shatter if dropped from a height or on hard material.

Plastic Material

Plastic is actually a decent and beautiful material for ocarinas.

They are used to make much cheaper and lighter ocarinas compared to clay ocarinas. But their sound lacks the smoothness of clay materials.

Also, they appear more like toys than actual instruments for serious music.

Nevertheless, plastic materials are nearly indestructible and are great for making instruments that can be easily carried around.

Wood Material

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Ocarinas made with wood are rare and, to some extent, the most expensive ocarinas in the world.

Most wood ocarinas are handmade, and only a person with a specialised skill in woodwork can make a good ocarina with this material.

Wood ocarinas are also beautiful and have a very soft, mellow, and organic sound.

However, the instrument made with this material needs painstaking care. The reason has been that moisture and temperature can easily damage them more than plastic and clay.

The wooden ocarina needs a decent finish to prevent it from quick damage.

The wooden ocarina with a good finish is as good as the ceramic ocarina, but the ocarina made with porcelain is considered the best.

Types of Ocarinas

An ocarina is a general term used for any wind instrument that creates sound using a hollow body as a sound chamber.

As a result, we have different types of ocarinas made from different materials in different shapes and with varied numbers of finger holes.

Consequently, ocarinas can be classified according to the material used for them and the style of constructing them.

Another special way to classify ocarinas is by the number of chambers they have. Basically, we have single-chambered ocarinas as well as multi-chambered ocarinas.

Ocarina Types Based On Construction Style

If we put the style of construction into consideration, we have three main types of ocarinas. These are pendant ocarinas, transverse ocarinas, and inline ocarinas.

Transverse Ocarina

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This is also called a sweet potato because of its rounded shape. Transverse ocarinas remain the most popular type and style of the ocarina.

They are referred to as transverse because they are held horizontally to the side of the mouth.

Transverse ocarinas are held across the body the same way flautists hold transverse flutes across the body. However, transverse ocarinas are much shorter and wider compared to the transverse flute.

These types of ocarinas are held and played with two hands and fingers to cover and open the finger/tone holes.

The number of holes open determines the level of the pitch it produces. Specifically, the instrument ascends in pitch as the player opens more holes.

The transverse ocarina with 10 holes is the most common. Mostly, they are constructed with 2 thumb holes at the base and 8 finger holes at the top of the instrument.

However, we still have a transverse ocarina with 12 holes.

Pendant ocarinas

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These types of ocarinas are called pendants because they have designated holes where a strip can be tied and hung on the neck.

They are also called by different names, like “English pendant ocarina”, “Peruvian pendant ocarina”, and “4/5/6-hole ocarina”.

Basically, pendant ocarinas are somehow small, light, portable, and have fewer holes.

The type that uses the English fingering system has four (4) to six (6) holes. You can identify them comfortably with the four finger holes on the top and two or zero thumb holes at the base.

They can create different notes up to an octave and a major second with the system of binary-like fingering.

Another type of pendant ocarina is the Peruvian ocarina. They are easily identified by their oval shape and are usually seen with eight (8) to ten (10) holes.

This type of ocarina also has a long history and is common with animal design, and they are not instruments for serious music.

Generally, the pendant ocarina can be mastered in short order because of its small range.

Therefore, if you need an instrument that you can play without any delay, consider the pendant ocarina as a great option.

Inline Ocarina

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These types of ocarinas come with sound chambers and windways that are in line with each other. Inline ocarinas are constructed in such a way that they stay in line with the player.

They are very similar to the transverse ocarinas, but they are held straight in front of the mouth, unlike the transverse types that are held sideways.

They are usually shaped like rectangles or ovals and require the hands to be held side by side for playing.

Multi-chambered Ocarinas

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Multi-chambered ocarinas have two or more ocarinas forged into one body with their respective mouthpieces and finger holes.

These types of ocarinas are a further development of the single-chambered model.

Virtually, both single-chambered and multi-chambered ocarinas have identical fingering systems. However, additional chambers come into play to extend the range of the instrument.

The number of chambers used in multi-chambered ocarinas varies, and we have two, three, and four chambers, respectively.

Specifically, we have two chambers for double ocarina, three chambers for triple ocarina, and four chambers for quad ocarina.

Each chamber of the multi-chambered ocarina has its own dedicated windway. Specifically, only one windway is blown at a time and not all of them at once.

Ocarina Types Based On Materials Used

The materials used to make the ocarinas can also be used to categorise the instrument. Using these criteria, we have clay or ceramic ocarina, wood ocarina, and plastic ocarina.

Those three are the most common types of ocarinas based on the materials used to make the instrument. Besides, we have other types like glass or metal ocarinas, but they are not common.

Moreover, different materials can be moulded into different shapes and, as a result, have different shapes of ocarina made from different materials.

For instance, we can have a clay transverse ocarina, a clay multi-chambered ocarina, and a clay pendant ocarina. Also, we can have a wood transverse ocarina, a wood multi-chambered ocarina, a plastic pendant ocarina, and so on.

How To Make The Ocarina

There are different materials that can be used to make ocarinas. But wood, plastic, clay, and ceramic are commonly used.

Moreover, we can use wood or clay to make our handmade ocarinas. Typically, plastic ocarinas are machine-made ocarinas.

In this post, we will be looking into how we can make an ocarina at home from clay.

Moreover, it is possible to make this globular flute with wood, but we will limit our discussion to making an English pendant ocarina with clay.

Making The English Pendant Clay Ocarina

We are going to explain how to make a simple ocarina with clay.

The type of ocarina we are trying to make is a clay or ceramic English pendant ocarina. This is very simple and easy to make compared to the transverse ocarina.

To learn more about making the ocarina with clay, check out how to make ocarinas.

That post is more detailed than what we have here, and you can learn more there.

To start the making of our handmade clay ocarina, we will need clay and other specialised hand tools for this purpose. For instance, we will need a drill bit, popsicle sticks, water, a flat table surface, and more.

Make A Hollow Body

Cut a piece of clay, knead it very well, and mould it into a spherical shape like a tennis ball. Then gently hit one side of the clay ball on a flat surface to slightly flatten it.

Cut the hard shape into two halves and scoop some clay out of the bodies. This will leave you with a bowl-like body.

Ensure you scoop out enough clay so that the remaining part will not be too thick. Also, ensure they are not too thin or slim so that they can maintain their original shape.

Then use your moist thumb to evenly smooth the new bowl shape you have.

Bring the two halves together by scoring their edges and using a slip to bind them together. Now you have a hollow body that will be your instrument’s sound chamber.

Note: Slip is clay mixed with water into a sort of mud-like goop that will fill the scoring marks and allow the two clay bodies to become one when they dry. Slip enables the two clay bodies to stick better together.

Create A Duct Mouthpiece

Again, cut a very small portion of clay. Then mould it into a cubic shape. This will form a duct mouthpiece on the hollow body of the instrument.

Therefore, cut one side of the cubic shape into an angle that will allow it to sit well on the edge of the hollow body you just created.

Carefully use a popsicle stick to pierce through. This will create a windway on that small cubic body.

Then attach the mouthpiece you mould closer to the flat side of the body of the instrument.

Ensure you score their joining point, then press and join the two bodies together with the slip, then smooth the outer join point properly.

Cut Out The Voicing Hole

Use the popsicle stick again to pierce through the hollow body via the windway.

With the popsicle stick still inside the windway and the hollow body, use another bevel-end popsicle stick to cut out some clay on the flattened side. Specifically, we are going to create a square air-splitting window known as a “voicing hole.

Ensure you position the window very well and start between the edge of the mouthpiece and the inner tips of the hollow body. Also, we should cut the square window until we reach the popsicle stick inside the windway level.

Thereafter, we need to use the bevel end of the popsicle stick to push the edge of the squared window towards the body of the instrument. We need to make sure the bevel forms an approximately 45-degree slope.

After the squared window with a 45-degree slope has been created, carefully remove the popsicle stick from the windway. At this point, if we do the air-splitting window very well, our ocarina should sound nice when we blow it.

Finger Holes

If the ocarina we made sounds nice, just like a whistle when we blow into it, that means we are good. The next thing is to create finger holes around its globular body.

Be aware that the hole can be anywhere along the instrument body, but it must be positioned for convenient finger placement.

Moreover, before we start making the finger holes, we should find out the natural key of our ocarina.

Basically, C, D, F, and G in that order are the most common keys. The ocarina we made, on the other hand, can end up in any key. Therefore, we need to test it and know the key. The test can be done with the aid of a tuner.

After that, start drilling the finger hole. Be aware that the bigger the hole, the higher the pitch of the note it creates.

Therefore, start with the smaller hole that you can adjust and make bigger later. As we are drilling the hole, we need to use the tuner to test the pitch on the note it produces before moving to the next hole.

The picture of the fingering chart for the English pendant ocarina we have in the following section can be used as a guide for drilling and testing the finger hole.

The video linked to How to Make an Ocarina shows how we can make our own clay ocarina at home.

Wooden Ocarina Construction:

For the making of wood ocarinas, which we will not discuss here, watch the video on How to make the ocarina.

Fingering Chart Of The English Pendant Ocarina

The fingering charts are a pictorial representation of a note in relation to the key of the instrument.

The fingering charts allow new learners to quickly and easily find any note on their instruments.

Ocarinas are available in different sizes and ranges, and so are their fingering charts.

The fingering chart diagram we have above is the pictorial representation of notes that we have on the simple English pendant ocarina.

How Do Ocarinas Make A Sound?

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The ocarina is also a wind instrument, and because of its globular shape, it acts like a Helmholtz resonance.

All ocarinas produce sounds through a fipple in the same basic manner.

The player blows air into the mouthpiece and the air passes through the windway. The small opening in the mouthpiece that players blow through is called the windway.

The air coming from the windway then hit the labium. The labium is the sharp front bottom edge of the window gap.The labium splits the air stream coming from the mouthpiece.

The splitting causes part of the airstream to enter the instrument chamber, and the other half of the airstream travels and departs.

Specifically, the split air results in air vibrations. These produce the audible sound we hear when we blow our ocarinas.

The mechanism used to create splitting is known as fipple. Specifically, some wind instruments, like tin whistles and recorders, have a fipple as well.

Basically, the air vibrations and oscillations for these wind instruments are created at the fipple.

The Effect Of The Finger Holes

The finger holes are used to change the internal pressure inside the hollow body of the instrument.

By covering or/and opening finger holes in different combinations, we can alter the internal pressure of the ocarina. This in turn alters the vibrations created at the fipple when labium splits the passing air stream.

At the same time, the pitch of the tones produced by the instrument changes.

That is why it is possible for us to produce different notes by opening and covering the finger hole in different ways.

How To Play The Ocarina?

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The ocarina is a fun and easy wind instrument to play; it is also easy to learn but requires technical understanding and technique.

Of course, anybody that is ready to play this instrument can pick it up and start playing it immediately.

However, this globular wind instrument is vastly more complex than you can imagine and difficult to master. In fact, ocarina players can spend a lifetime mastering the instrument.

This comes down to the fact that the instrument comes in a variety of varieties. For instance, the ocarina has different shapes, the number of holes, and key tuning.

You Should Know How To Hold The Instrument

To start playing the ocarina, the player should know how to hold the instrument properly. Also, the players should know how to place their fingers in the finger holes accordingly.

Blow The Instrument Properly

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Having become familiar with holding the instrument, the next thing is to produce a very clear sound by blowing on the instrument. This requires good posture and appropriate breathing. Of course, breath control is very important to playing the instrument properly.

Also, the ocarina needs correct embouchure to produce a clear and smooth sound despite having a windway. This is important because the instrument is very sensitive to excess airflow.

Precisely, correct embouchure or tonguing helps to make each note crisp, sharp, and unique, especially during rapid play.

Therefore, proper placement of the lips and tongue is needed to create a smooth air passage. Doing otherwise will create a noisy tone.

Play Around With The Musical Notes

At this point, using a correct fingering system is needed to play the correct note or tone on the ocarina.

Use the ocarina fingering chart and start mastering the basic scale progression. Starting with the key of C major is recommended for every beginner.

Try as much as possible to move up and down the scale smoothly. You can achieve this easily by paying more attention to the finger patterns of every note you produce and memorising them as well.

Moreover, start practising slowly and gradually increase your speed as you spend more time blowing the instrument.

Ocarina Tonal/Vocal Range

The ocarina is an awesome wind instrument. It is small and simple, with a touch of versatility.

These ancient instruments are usually available in three major tonal ranges. These ranges are soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. These terms describe the ocarina’s pitch, and they are the most common range.

However, some ocarina makers use other vocal ranges to define their instruments. For instance, some use tenor in place of alto.

Among these vocal or tonal ranges, soprano ocarinas have clear and crisp sounds. The ocarinas in this vocal range are very small in size.

Soprano models seem to be the cheapest among them all, maybe because of their sizes, since they are smaller.

In addition, alto and tenor ocarinas have the most popular tones among them. The tone of the alto ocarina is mid-range and more mellow.

Ocarinas with a bass vocal range are bigger and very expensive as well. The tone of the bass ocarina is low and haunting. However, their tones can also be indistinct.

Watch And Listen to Ocarina Music

Final Thoughts

Ocarinas are ancient wind instruments with hollow bodies and several finger holes on their body.

These finger holes are closed or open with the fingers of the instrument players to produce different notes when they blow air into them.

Traditionally, ocarinas are made from clay or ceramic, but other materials like bone, wood, plastic, glass, and metal are also used.

Ocarinas vary in design and shape, but typical ocarinas are globular and hollow-shaped objects with four to twelve finger holes and duct or fipple mouthpieces.

Above all, ocarinas are comparatively inexpensive musical instruments to purchase.

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