For most, it seems that the ocarina’s familiarity begins and ends with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; a popular video game released in the mid-90’s. My own journey with the ocarina began at a multi-media and pop culture convention where I watched someone improvise on the ocarina for several minutes, while onlookers stood mesmerized by the sound. And like any musician, I bought one immediately and started teaching myself to play it.
I love the sound of the ocarina, and while it is present in some elementary music classrooms, it’s popularity is greatly surpassed by both the recorder and ukulele. I don’t foresee that changing any time soon, but I do have three solid reasons why you should consider introducing it to your elementary music students in the near future.
You may be surprised to learn that ocarinas come with a range of tone holes. Pendant ocarinas have only six tone holes, while the one I play has twelve. Multi-chambered ocarinas have the ability to play two octaves, and they sport a whopping 18 tone holes. This wide range allows for greater accessibility and for the option to level up as your students age and gain experience playing the ocarina.
When it comes to recorders, ear-splitting squeaks are part of the experience, and one that often prevents students from being allowed to practice at home. Conversely, ocarinas can’t really squeak in the way that recorders do. Can they still make obnoxious sounds with the right amount of effort and air? Sure, but the margin for error is much lower. If a student only covers half of a tone hole on an ocarina, it’ll most likely play sharp rather than produce a painful squeak that’s so common with recorders.
A Gorgeous Sound With Less Effort
This one is entirely subjective, but I find the ocarina to produce a purer sound with less effort than the recorder. Could this be a player and/or instrument quality issue? Absolutely. However, I’m not alone in my feelings. Nicolas Ramirez (known as Ocarina Owl on Instagram) noted that his students preferred the sound of the ocarina and were much more engaged and enthusiastic than they’d been with the recorder. You can read more about his classroom experiences using the ocarina HERE.
There are pros and cons to every instrument, even the ocarina. However, I hope the ocarina makes it onto your list of potential instruments this year. If you do make the switch, be sure to grab the necessary reference charts your students will need for their practice. You can find six and twelve tone hole fingering charts in my TPT shop HERE.