The Ocarina: A Fun and Beautiful Instrument

I have a bit of a fascination with small wind instruments. They're just so fun to play! The fingerings for the notes are usually extremely simple, and the timbre of each instrument is perfect for simple and happy little tunes. I used to try to buy one in every new place I traveled to. I have a bamboo flute from the Bahamas, a clay Inca-god-ish flute from Mexico, a tin whistle from Williamsburg, another tin whistle from the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and hmm.. thats about it! So I guess my collection isn't very big, but for one I don't travel that often, and most places I've been to don't have much in the way of fun little instruments...

Lately I have become fascinated with learning how to play the ocarina. I was shopping for a friend's birthday present, and I saw a few at a local store. I thought, "Hey look, its an ocarina!" but I didn't really consider getting one at the time. During a study break a week later, I found myself doing a search for ocarina songs on the web. I found lots of them -- and I was hooked! Wisely I waited until after my final exams were over before running back over to the store and buying one. (There it is in the middle picture up there! Isn't it cute?) Since then, I have graciously been given two more for my collection, and I bought a very small and cute plastic one recently.

Jump to:
About the ocarina...
What does an ocarina look like?
How many holes to they have?
How much do they cost?
Should I get an ocarina?

About the ocarina...

There are many different types of ocarinas. They are usually made of clay or wood, and they come in lots of different shapes and sizes depending on who makes them and what they want them to sound like. There are plenty of websites that have soundclips for their particular ocarina (a few are listed below) if you'd like to listen before you buy. If you've never heard an ocarina played before, they sound like a piccolo or a flute but with a slight "earthy" feel. Each ocarina sounds a little bit different depending on the shape, size, and material.

The OcarinaWhat does an ocarina look like?

An ocarina is a musical instrument as well as an art form, so they come in a wide variety of shapes and designs. It can vary from a simple teardrop-like shape like you see above, to animal shapes and mermaids and such. There are roundish ones, oblong ones, ones shaped kind of like a spade, and lots of other funky shapes. Some are elaborately decorated with cool designs, some are rather simple, and some ocarina-makers will leave them undecorated on request so you can paint them yourself. Most average about 2 to 2.5 inches across. One type of ocarina is referred to as a "sweet potato" because of its potato-like shape. This is the type of ocarina that Link played in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo64. (Almost all of the ocarina websites at least mention Zelda, and a few of them have "special edition" Zelda ocarinas for sale. They are blue or yellow with a small triforce symbol on the mouthpiece.) Most ocarinas have a place to put a cord through so you can tie it around your neck, keeping it handy for musical inspirations and making a fashion statement as well.

How many holes do they have?

Most have 4 or 5 holes -- that is, 4 holes on the top with sometimes one underneath for your thumb. They also have one hole to blow through, and a bigger hole underneath called the " " hole that most of the air comes out of but you don't cover. The holes are usually different sizes. The range of notes that an ocarina can play varies depending on the number of holes it has. A 4-hole can play all of the 12 notes in a full octave. A 5-hole can play an octave plus one note higher. A couple of ocarina websites offer different keys to choose from for each ocarina, and others sell ocarinas that are only in tune with themselves. If you'd like to be able to play along with other instruments, be sure to check what key it's in before buying one.

One of my ocarinas has 8 holes: 6 on top and 2 underneath for both thumbs (middle picture above). Its somewhat difficult to play, and I haven't yet been able to get more than 4 different notes out of it. I also haven't been able to find anything on the web about an 8-holed ocarina, except one website for a company in Peru that sells them wholesale for one dollar - and theirs look almost exactly like mine. The company on my ocarina's package was an importing company, and my ocarina has a big green sticker on it that says, "Made in Peru." So, I have a one-dollar ocarina, and it sounds and plays like a one-dollar ocarina. I knew before I bought it that it wasn't like other decent ones I had seen before, but I was just so eager to start playing that I got it anyways -- much to my disappointment that it didn't work correctly. So don't buy one unless it is from a real ocarina company or you have a chance to play it before you buy it.

The two ocarinas I got from are both 4-holed ocarinas. Both come with a cord for wearing around your neck, and a little song book was included as well. The plastic one (pictured at top left) is about 3 nickels across. It sounds great and is a durable practice tool. I took it with me one day for a relaxing 4.5 hour float down the Ichetucknee river in an inner tube. It was a perfect addition to the day, and handy to have around for those nature-inspired bursts of song. It can get wet with no problem -- a few shakes and its good as new. The clay one (top right) is a cute 4-holed ocarina that also tends to double as a decoration in my apartment due to its lovely earthiness. Its about 2 nickels across with a beautiful glazed fish on the front. It sounds beautiful except that one of the notes at the high end of the range is a little flat, but it is a great addition to any ocarina collection, and its so fun to play!

How much do they cost?

Ocarinas are relatively cheap, considering you're getting a beautiful musical instrument and a work of art all in one. Most of them are made by hand and painstakingly tuned to exactly the right key. The best deal I have found on the web is 10 dollars for a 4-hole ocarina at The folks there at Clayz are extremely friendly and helpful. An ocarina that looks, sounds and plays beautifully is usually from 20-40 dollars, depending on size and decoration. Some online companies have a guarantee so if you don't like your new ocarina, you can return it and get a refund. They realize you are ordering a musical instrument by mail, and you don't get to "try before you buy."

Should I get an ocarina?

Yes!! Ocarinas are fun, cheap, beautiful, and just plain cool. Even if you've never played an instrument before, they are extremely easy to learn. They also would make really thoughtful gifts for friends and family...or for yourself! How else are you going to you learn to play Epona's Song? :)


Well, here they are, at last, the links to the ocarina sites I've found so far. (Updated 4/24/2010) Thanks for stopping by, and if you have any questions, comments, additions, or suggestions, please sign my guestbook! I'd love to hear from you!!

The Ocarina Room

Mountain Ocarinas

Melody's Traditional Music and Harp Shoppe

Wooden Double Ocarinas

YouTube video of Double Wooden Ocarina

Love this YouTube Video," I Have a Bonnet Trimmed with Blue" with accompaniment

Smule's Ocarina app for the iPhone - Very cool!!



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