Rebecca has been playing ocarina since 2011 and enjoys sharing her passion for the instrument with others.
What Makes the Ocarina a Great Beginner Instrument?
The ocarina is an excellent beginner instrument. It is easy to learn, difficult to master, and relatively inexpensive to purchase. Because of its simple structure and form, the ocarina is a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn to play and read music.
Because of variations on the ocarina (including different shapes, differing numbers of holes, and different key tuning), it is an instrument players can spend a lifetime mastering, but which most can pick up and play immediately, even if they don't read music.
Ocarina tablature is easy to find, and provides easy fingering for your ocarina.
If you are interested in learning to play music but don't have a lot of money to spend on an instrument, or if you'd like your child to learn to read music, the ocarina is an excellent place to start.
What Should You Look for in a First Ocarina?
One of the wonderful things about ocarinas is that the price doesn't always reflect the quality. If you're scratching your head wondering why this would be a good thing, allow me to explain.
Some of the best ocarinas available on the market are among the simplest and least expensive, whereas some of the more expensive varieties lack the same resonant tone as their more cost-effective counterparts.
If you're looking for a great ocarina to start on, you will be satisfied to know you can walk away owning your first instrument for less than $50 and that this instrument will provide excellent tuning and resonance you'd expect from a much more expensive option.
I like the Night by Noble Alto C for beginners. This is one of the two ocarinas I choose to give as a gift when introducing loved ones to ocarina music. It is made of unbreakable plastic, is tuned well, and has beautiful resonance (especially for a plastic ocarina). My own Night by Noble is my go-to practice ocarina.
When choosing your first ocarina, expect to spend between $50 and $125. Look for something which meets the following criteria and follow through to the end for my personal recommendation of the single best option for a budding ocarinaist -- from my own personal experience.
A Well-Tuned Instrument Will Be Easier to Learn On
Ocarina tuning is based on a number of factors, including the size of the holes, the body thickness, and the size of the chamber. The final factor in tuning is the force of the breath used when playing. Softer breath may produce flatter notes, while harder breath may produce sharper notes.
This is one of the reasons the ocarina is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Breath control is key!
However, for beginning ocarinaists, an instrument which is well-tuned to begin with will help the player learn to adjust the breath to play the correct notes (with the help of a tuner).
Bear in mind that many of the options available on Amazon or eBay are mass-produced and therefore often lack the tuning you'd expect from a well-made instrument. For this reason, it is often better when shopping Amazon to choose an ocarina produced by a well-known creator (such as Focalink/Stein or Songbird).
Choose an ocarina which is well-tuned. You will need to pay attention to the reviews of the instrument you're purchasing before spending your money in this case. Pay attention to the reviews, not just the ratings! Some Zelda replica instruments look beautiful but play terribly. Unless this is what you're looking for, it is often best to avoid purchasing one of these on Amazon or eBay (while Songbird is safe).
Choosing the Material of Your First Ocarina
Ocarinas come made in a variety of materials. Most are made from plastic, clay, or wood. Each material resonates differently, and over time you will decide which material is best for you.
In the beginning you should think most about which is the most durable. Here are some things to consider:
Ocarinas made from clay...
- May shatter if dropped. If you are clumsy or purchasing an instrument for a child, you may want to avoid a clay ocarina. Even if it breaks in large pieces, gluing the ocarina back together will change its tuning and therefore isn't recommended.
- Are affected by temperature. A very cold ocarina won't play true to its tuning and will need to be warmed before being played in any concert setting. If you live in colder climates or plan to transport frequently, you may prefer another material.
- Resonate well (in my opinion). The resonance of a clay ocarina is often better than that of a plastic ocarina (provided it has warmed up before playing).
- May be poorly tuned. Whether mass-produced or poorly made, clay ocarinas can be poorly tuned. This is because the tuning is dependent on the size of the holes and the thickness of the clay and mistakes can produce incorrect tuning.
Ocarinas made from wood...
- Are generally expensive. Expect to pay on the higher end for a wooden instrument. This is because these must be carved by hand and can not be poured or mass-produced the way clay or plastic ocarinas can be.
- Are affected by humidity. This is especially important given this is a closed instrument which can be difficult to clean. The moisture matters, both inside and outside of the ocarina.
- Resonate well (in my opinion). Nothing on earth sounds like a wooden ocarina. The sound is spectacular, and if you have the budget, their resonance makes the price of the wooden ocarina worth it.
- May be poorly tuned. As with clay, there's room for human error with a wooden instrument. This is because they are produced by hand. As long as you opt for a well-known and respected maker (such as Hind Ocarina), your instrument should be well tuned!
Ocarinas made from plastic...
- Are generally affordable. You can find a plastic ocarina for as little as $20 for a soprano instrument, even from the top sellers. If you're looking to get started or are shopping for a child, plastic is the way to go!
- Play well in all conditions. Plastic isn't affected by temperature or humidity the way other materials are.
- Can be "pitchy." The sound on a plastic ocarina is not usually as good as the sound offered by other materials.
- May become brittle over time. Plastic can degrade and become brittle over time. When purchasing a plastic ocarina, you must be wary of the quality of the plastic.
I generally recommend a first ocarina made from either plastic or clay (depending on your budget).
Choosing the Type of Ocarina
Ocarinas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. To make things more complicated, the community of players differs in whether a 10 or 12-hole ocarina is better for beginners than a six-hole ocarina.
A six-hole ocarina is fingered and tuned differently than a 10 or 12-hole ocarina (which are fingered the same as one another).
If you learn to play on a six-hole instrument, you'll need to learn different fingering to learn to play the 10 or 12-hole instrument.
But which is better?
The fingering of a 10 or 12-hole ocarina is more intuitive and "easier" than the fingering of a six-hole ocarina. This is because the fingering is progressive on the 10 or 12-hole, while the fingering on the six-hole ocarina requires some fancy finger work.
Whether you choose to begin with a six-hole or a 12-hole (which is more common than the 10-hole), you'll have to learn different fingering for the other (even if they are tuned to the same pitch and key).
My personal recommendation is for a 12-hole ocarina. This instrument will give you the intuitive playing style of the 10-hole ocarina with the addition of two notes.
You can find downloadable fingering charts for different styles of ocarina on the STL Ocarina site.
Keep It Simple!
When you're looking at the shop listings, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. There are so many options, so many different styles, so many different looks to the available ocarinas!
Remember, there will be plenty of time to "upgrade" your ocarina later on. If you're anything like many members of the ocarina community, you'll find they're like potato chips: You can't have just one!
For the time being, it's best to choose something simple. This means a pendant, transverse, or inline ocarina with a single chamber. There will be time later to experiment with multi-chambered instruments.
Likewise, it may be better for you to work with an instrument without artistic styling. Some of the major makers have a variety of cute, shaped ocarinas, but they often don't have the same quality of tone as their plainer counterparts.
I've listed some of my favorites for beginners below.
What Are the Best Ocarinas for Beginners?
These are my personal favorite ocarinas for beginners. Note I've included both twelve and six hole ocarinas.
- Night by Noble is, without question, my favorite ocarina for beginners. This is my go-to practice ocarina when I want to practice with the Taiwanese sub-hole system. It is a high-quality plastic instrument which is durable and ergonomic. It's comfortable on the hands and resistant to breaking. This ocarina is tuned to Alto C.
- Baby Dragon Tooth, from Songbird Ocarina, is a beautiful, six-hole transverse ocarina from Songbird, and the instrument I prefer for its tone. It sounds beautiful and is tuned to Soprano G. I like this instrument because I prefer the transverse style, which is unusual in a six-hole. I enjoy wearing this as a pendant because of its beauty and versatility for a small ocarina.
- Dragon Tooth, also from Songbird Ocarina, was my second ocarina and my first experience with this brand (which has gone on to become my favorite ocarina brand). This instrument plays well on the low notes but not as well on the high notes. The sub-holes are Japanese style (both played with the right hand), and this ocarina is highly ergonomic. However, please note it looks better than it sounds (in my opinion). This ocarina is also tuned to Alto C.
My Personal Choice And Experience
The Aria by STL was my personal beginner instrument. This is a clay ocarina tuned to Alto C (though the site lists it as a Tenor C) and has held up nicely over the years since I purchased it. It costs less than $100, which makes the price point nice for the quality as well. Note that this instrument plays the high notes well, but the low notes may be difficult to play for beginners.
When I first purchased it, I didn't play for a long time because I struggled with the low notes and the instrument didn't make me happy the way I had hoped it would. If I had it to do over again, I'd have purchased a different ocarina -- probably the Night by Noble.
I began to play regularly during a period of deep trauma, and found healing through the music. The ocarina is a financially accessible instrument for most people, and because of this it is an excellent choice for emotional healing.
If you're interested in ocarina for healing but are on a tight budget, you can't go wrong with the Focalink plastic ocarina in Soprano C. It costs less than $25 on most retail sites and is a great choice for young children due to its small size and durability.
I have owned and played every ocarina recommended here and cannot vouch for any instruments produced by these makers which are not listed on this page.
Purchasing Sheet Music for the Ocarina
In most cases, when looking for sheet music to play on your ocarina, you'll want to find music keyed for voice or violin. Chords cannot be played on a simple (single-chamber) instrument, and therefore as a beginner you should opt for music which does not include chords.
Much vocal music translates well to ocarina and is properly keyed for your instrument. Violin music is another excellent option, as it is keyed to a range a 12 hole ocarina can manage.
What Do You Think?
If you're an ocarina player, which ocarinas do you recommend for beginners? If you're interested in learning to play, what brings you to this instrument?
I'd love to hear from you! Please leave your comments below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Rebecca Rizzuti
Rebecca Rizzuti (author) from Euclid, Ohio on July 22, 2020:
The ocarina originates from China, and is the first of the woodwind instruments. It's very like the common flute in many ways!
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 21, 2020:
I am hearing about this instrument for the first time and have a feeling that it resembles the flute which is so common in our country that is in India. It is equally popular in many other Asian countries also. Anyway, you have presented the article very nicely. Thanks.