Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get started playing the double ocarina?
There are many different ideas about this. I'll give my helpful hints, then a longer description from John Thompson, a musician friend of ours, and then another way to look at it from Alan Albright our mentor. I am hoping other ocarina players will send me their ideas on the subject and we can keep adding to this section.
Answer from Cynthia:
Hints for Playing Your Ocarina
1. Place your lips gently around the mouth piece. You can move the mouthpiece left or right slightly to be able to play the sides individually or center it to play both sides together. To begin, practice one side and then the other, before playing both sides together.
2. Place your fingers completely over each hole with a little bit of pressure.
3. Use your diaphragm for a better sound. Place your hand flat against your stomach just below your ribs. Breath out and tighten the diaphragm as you exhale. Feel the pressure of your diaphragm against your hand.
4. Vary the amounts of air you blow and the pressure.
5. Vary the angle which you hold the instrument.
6. Blow air into the instrument as if breathing the sounds “doo”, “too” or “oo”.
7. An interesting technique for slightly changing the pitch is to roll a finger partially off a hole. This technique is used when playing Do#. In that case you need to roll the ring finger until the desired pitch is obtained.
8. It is recommended that you let your ocarina air dry before placing it into an enclosed area. You can also blow compressed air into the vessel through one of the finger holes to hasten the process.
Answer from John Thompson:
One of the most useful things from my experience is to very very slowly play the right hand major scale and find a suitable left hand harmonic for each note. Once you have the pattern, continue to practice it constantly until it becomes second nature. After that is achieved, it becomes far easier to learn tunes and the harmonic will often fall into place automatically.
John's Practice Exercise
Answer from Alan Albright:
Cynthia Smith forwarded your messsage to me in the hopes that I may
be able to dredge up something useful for you. You'll have to bear
with me, then!
"Everything sounds like a train whistle" made my day! It reminds me
also of our early days out there on the streets of Greenwich Village,
surrounded by potential customers trying out our bamboo flutes. It
sounded like a chorus of birds! (And while our "birds" were
twittering, we were keeping a sharp eye out for the cops, who were
often summoned by jealous shopkeepers who wanted them to give us
tickets and roust us out of there....)
In short, this brings up the important difference between sound and
music, between the physical vibrations of air which impinge upon the
ear and the "energy" which passes through them. I'm at a loss of a
better word than "energy" to describe music which, in my book, is not
physical at all.
My late stepmother used to say, "Bach sounds all the same to
me---monotonous!" Wow! That one used to set me on my heels----but
she was only hearing the sound of Mr. B, not his music. It was a
foreign language to her.
You have to "tune in" to music----everywhere-----and that is the
purpose of the double ocarina. With the exception of wonderkinds
like Nancy Rumbel, this is not an instrument for "performance", for
playing set tunes, for knocking the socks off folks-----although I'll
readily admit that, when it came to selling my work in the crafts
shows of yore, I did try to do that....since I had bills to pay!
Nonetheless, I secretly hoped that the victims of my inspired
noise-making would one day themselves find the joys of "tuning in"
and "intonation"----neither of which have much to do with physical
performance, but have everything to do with listening.
How does one listen to the sounds emanating from that double ocarina?
You can tell from my introduction that we could spend a long time
discussing this subject, so let me keep this "first chapter" short.
The key word is "voice"----and before straying into the mysterious,
if familiar, realm of music, one considers all the things one hears
in the "voice" of a friend, stranger or foe. More than just the
sound. And the sound of a singing voice----represented by just one
of the voices of a double ocarina----is the beginning.
The adventure begins when that second voice is added----not
mechanically, as with train whistles----but intentionally, as a
My premise is that the higher of the two voices will be the lead,
wandering about and transmitting its energy through its
song----whatever that may be. The form is not as important as the
"intonation" you put into it.
Let me give an example. The LEAST important in the phrase "I love
you" are the words. It's how they are said----their
"intonation"----which carries all the meaning.
Somehow, music is letting "meaningful energy" flow through the sounds
you make. And that can't be written down or represented. It comes
from inside you, as hokey as that sounds.
Now the SECOND voice is the strange one----and it changes the entire
equation, just as any twosome does (referring to the "love" example
I'd recommend keeping it a constant to begin with, while closely
observing the various effects it has while interacting with your
"lead voice". And then, slowly, add variations.
I'm going to stop here now, because I'm sure you already have more
questions than I can answer----and I would rather have you perplexed
and interested than bored and blasé about this matter of making your