Chen has been an online writer for over nine years, focusing on writing articles about music and culture.
The ocarina is an ancient instrument. There is evidence that human beings have been using instruments like these for over 12,000 years! They are a type of wind instrument, related to the flute. Like a flute, you blow air into a hole to create sound and cover or expose other holes to alter the sound. But the ocarina doesn't look like a flute at all—in fact, with its oval shape and protrusive mouthpiece, it more resembles a sweet potato! This is how the instrument got its name—it's not actually made out of sweet potatoes.
Most ocarinas are made out of ceramic. However, on the market, you can find wooden, plastic, or glass ones as well. Here you will find step-by-step instruction of how to make a sweet potato ocarina with your hands. We will make a clay ocarina without a mold.
How to Make an Ocarina
You Will Need:
- Low-fire ceramic clay
- Knife (a butter knife will do)
You will also need to have access to a kiln to fire your ocarina. If you don’t have a kiln, you can call ceramic studios and ask how much they’ll charge to fire it for you. If you prefer, you can make your ocarina with air-dry clay. Just make sure it’s non-toxic because you’ll be putting your mouth on it. You won’t need to glaze or fire it.
Step-By-Step Instructions for Making a Sweet Potato Ocarina
- Take a piece of clay and make it into a ball about the size of a large orange. Shape it so it’s somewhat oval and pinch out one end to shape it somewhat like a sweet potato, and flatten the bottom by pressing it down on the table. Smooth out the clay so it’s nice and slick. Wet your fingers if necessary.
- Cut the shape in half and scoop out the clay inside, just as if you were trying to make a bowl or cup out of it. Keep the edges a good 1/3 of an inch thick so it will retain its shape. Try not to manipulate the two halves too much—you’ll want to fit them together again later.
- On the pinched, pointed end, stick a knife or the end of a spoon through it to make the mouthpiece. It should run parallel to the flat bottom. This will be the mouthpiece that you’ll blow into.
- On the bottom, carve a shaft going up to meet the mouthpiece hole. It should be shaped like a v-notch, with the wall closer to the mouthpiece being vertical and the wall furthest from the mouthpiece being a 45-degree angle.
- Cover the back opening of the clay and blow into the mouthpiece. If it plays a music note, you made it right.
- Put the two halves of the instrument back together. Score the edges and add watered-down clay around them to help seal the seam. Then use your fingers to smooth over the seam to make it invisible.
- Drill tiny holes in the sides or bottom of your ocarina, where your fingers would be comfortable. The bigger the hole, the higher the note when you blow into it. Adjust the hole sizes so that your ocarina will play different notes. Make sure you get the sounds tuned exactly how you want them (use a tuner to help with sound if necessary). Whatever they sound like right now is what they will sound like forever—once your ocarina is fired, you can’t change the holes.
- Take the time to do the finishing touches—smooth your instrument, your seams, your holes. Add any light carvings or additional clay pieces if you wish to decorate it. Make it look just like you want it to look.
- When you’re satisfied, brush glaze over your ocarina and fire it in a kiln. Clean it—now you’re all set!
Chen (author) on April 13, 2014:
Hi no body! I agree, it is such a beautiful instrument, and I love to hear someone skilled play a tune, there's something so simple and primal about it. That's great that you're doing so well learning to play. I wouldn't say I really play, I just like to have fun with these kinds of things that interest me. Thanks for your comment!
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Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on April 12, 2014:
I took up the ocarina a few months ago. I had tried to play the recorder before now and was playing easy tunes. As soon as I heard the music an ocarina makes, I dumped the recorder in a flash. It, in my opinion is the best instrument to make sweet, haunting melodies. Now the new ocarinas come in Double range, Triple range, and even Quad range. I love my triple, my alto c, my soprano c. Is the ocarina something you play or are you just a collector?
Chen (author) on January 07, 2013:
Sounds great muddsister1! There seems to have been a renewed interest in ocarinas in recent years. I guess another thing to thank the internet about for spreading the word and making the information easier to find. It's really great. Appreciate your comments!
Deborah McGroder from CLEVELAND, Oh on January 03, 2013:
It is always great to find other artists making ocarinas. I primarily make character style ocarinas.
Chen (author) on June 02, 2011:
Thank you Sherry Lou and rewer :-)
rewer on June 02, 2011:
intresting, gona try it out:)
sherrylou57 from Riverside on July 07, 2010:
I thought I was going to learn about a new recipe about sweet pototoes and learnd about the ocarina. Thank you.