If you are new to the ocarina, I want you to know that you have discovered one of the most alluring and beautiful musical instruments of the world.
When I say the ocarina is special, I mean it. It is an instrument unlike any other, not only for its design and sound, but its place in human history. No matter where you go, people are just enamored of these flutes of clay.
Why is this? Where does this strange fascination come from? To find the answer to these questions, we need to take a look at the ocarina from different perspectives.
1. Playing The Ocarina
Learning to play the ocarina is a very straightforward and easy process that quickly shows results and is a lot of fun to go through. It is great as the first instrument for children and anyone else interested in learning to play music.
Despite its simplicity, truly mastering the ocarina takes many years. Thus it satisfies both ends of the spectrum, being suitable for beginners as well as professional musicians who play on stage.
ocarinas have an enchanting, ancient sound that I find difficult to compare to any other wind instrument. I have never heard anything that comes close to it. Some even sound a lot like the cooing of a dove, but then enhanced and clearer, and fully controlled by the musician.
The sound of the ocarina is unique and can’t be substituted by any other instrument. To put it into perspective, ocarinas are perfect for soundtracks of movies that play in medieval or ancient times, because few other instrument could ever have a more fitting sound.
2. The Design And Beauty Of The Ocarina
Most instruments have a standard design style, like ordinary flutes, violins or trumpets. You can’t change their designs without changing the notes these instruments play. Physics demands them to have a particular shape. Also, changing the look of, let’s say, a violin would be strange and probably unappealing. With the ocarina, all of these limitations go out the window.
The ocarina is the paradise bird in the zoo of musical instruments. The physics of the ocarina is such that its shape and the locations of its finger holes make almost no difference to the notes the instrument can play.
This wonderful property allows ocarina makers to be very artistic in their designs.Ocarinas come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Some are fully sculptured, or have a stunning design like the Dragon Tooth Ocarinas shown in the picture above. By the way, these are some of the finest ocarinas I have ever owned.
All of this makes the ocarina gorgeous to look at and even more fun to play. Each ocarina is different and allows you to start a whole collection of them. Passionate ocarinists like me own dozens of instruments and we are never done finding new designs to play on!
3. The Age Of The Ocarina
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ocarina is its age. I sometimes refer to it as the original instrument, if we don’t count banging sticks against walls or other such primitive ways of producing sounds.
Vessel flutes have existed for over 12,000 years and accompanied us throughout our history. They not only sound as if they were from far away times, they actually are. So when you are listening to them, it is easy to picture yourself in a market place any number of centuries ago.
I can imagine a number of bards playing it, and people listening all around. The ocarina is literally a connection to our past and older than all of the instruments in a classical orchestra. It may only be a little flute of clay, but it is the father of all music, something we have played and expressed ourselves with throughout the millenia.
And so we are connected to it in more ways than meets the eye.
If you’d like to learn about how vessel flutes went from traditional instruments to world wide fame, have a look at my page about ocarina history – from the Aztecs all the way to Zelda.
4. How People Find The Ocarina
I’ve heard many stories of how people discovered the ocarina and their love for it. Nowadays, most people in western countries are introduced to it by the Legend of Zelda games, which feature the ocarina as a magical instrument capable of altering the environment and time itself. I myself enjoy these games to this day, and it’s the connection to the adventures that makes the Ocarina special to many people.
My own story is a little different, as I basically reinvented the ocarina for myself at the age of 5, when I discovered that blowing over the top of a bottle produces a sound. I’m sure you had that experience as well when you were a child.
I’ve always been scientifically minded, so the very next day I took different kinds of bottles, strapped them together in the form of a pan flute and tried to play simple melodies on them. During the following days, I tested many bottles made from glass and plastic, and I tested them with different amounts of water. This way, I learned much about how the sound changes depending on the size of the bottle and its hole. Weeks later, I made my very first ocarina from wood, though I obviously didn’t yet know what it was called. It was not tuned or made the clearest sounds, but it was my invention and only the first step.
In my late teens, I studied dolphins in the wild. At that point, I knew all about the instrument and owned a professional wood ocarina, which I played as I was traveling the ocean. Dolphins love these sounds and are easily enchanted by them. If you ever meet these animals in the wild, make sure you have an ocarina ready to play for them!
5. Ocarinas In Popular Media
Ocarinas are not only used in video games such as the Zelda series, but also in music and film. Examples for this are “Call Me Madam” and “My Neighbor Totoro”. Examples from music are the main theme of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and in the song “Wild Thing” by the Troggs. Over the years, you have listened to ocarina music on many occasions without ever noticing it.
In The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, an ocarina is played in the beginning for those legendary high notes after the drums. It was probably a soprano ocarina.
In Wild Thing, there is an ocarina solo from 1:10 to 1:29.
The Bottom Line
I’m sure you are convinced by now of what I said in the beginning. The ocarina is indeed very special. There is only one oldest instrument of mankind that can have any shape you want and enchant people with its ancient sounds.
Music be with you,