|Classification||Wind, woodwind, aerophone|
(Vessel flute with duct and fingerholes)
|Xun, slide whistle, tin whistle, molinukai|
The ocarina is a wind musical instrument; it is a type of vessel flute. Variations exist, but a typical ocarina is an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. It is traditionally made from clay or ceramic, but other materials are also used, such as plastic, wood, glass, metal, or bone.
The ocarina belongs to a very old family of instruments, believed to date back over 12,000 years. Ocarina-type instruments have been of particular importance in Chinese and Mesoamerican cultures. For the Chinese, the instrument played an important role in their long history of song and dance. The ocarina has similar features to the Xun (塤), another important Chinese instrument (but is different in that the ocarina uses an internal duct, whereas the Xun is blown across the outer edge). In Korea, the traditional ocarina is known as the hun (hanja: 壎). In Japan, the traditional ocarina is known as the tsuchibue (kanji: 土笛; literally "earthen flute"). Different expeditions to Mesoamerica, including the one conducted by Cortés, resulted in the introduction of the ocarina to the courts of Europe. Both the Maya and Aztecs produced versions of the ocarina, but it was the Aztecs who brought to Europe the song and dance that accompanied the ocarina. The ocarina went on to become popular in European communities as a toy instrument.
One of the oldest ocarinas found in Europe is from Runik, Kosovo. The Runik ocarina is a Neolithic flute-like wind instrument, and is the earliest prehistoric musical instrument ever recorded in Kosovo. The modern European ocarina dates back to the 19th century, when Giuseppe Donati from Budrio, a town near Bologna, Italy, transformed the ocarina from a toy, which played only a few notes, into a more comprehensive instrument (known as the first "classical" ocarina). The word ocarina derives from ucaréṅna, which in the Bolognese dialect means "little goose". The earlier form was known in Europe as a gemshorn, which was made from animal horns of the chamois (Dutch: gems).
In 1964, John Taylor, an English mathematician, developed a fingering system that allowed an ocarina to play a full chromatic octave using only four holes. This is now known as the English fingering system, and is used extensively for pendant ocarinas. It is also used in several multi-chamber ocarinas, especially in ones that are designed to play more than one note at a time.
The ocarina features in the NES game EarthBound Beginnings and prominently throughout the Nintendo 64 games The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The games have been credited for increasing the popularity and sales of ocarinas. In the 1953 Finnish children's book Tirlittan, the title character also plays an ocarina.
Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti (1923–2006) called for four ocarinas (to be performed by woodwind players doubling their own instruments) in his Violin Concerto, completed in 1993. In 1974, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933–2020) incorporated 12 ocarinas in his composition The Dream of Jacob. Later, he incorporated 50 in the final section of his Symphony No. 8, completed in 2008, where they are meant to be played by members of the choir.
There are many different styles of ocarinas varying in shape and the number of holes:
A transverse ocarina
Meissen "Blue Onion" pattern porcelain transverse ocarina, early 20th century
Front and back view of transverse ocarinas. The double holes on front indicate a fingering system developed in 20th-century Japan.
Metal transverse ocarina of 1875
The English pendant ocarina, invented in the 1960s by John Taylor, produces an entire octave using just four finger holes
English pendant ocarina (unstrung, with two suspension holes) held in the hand
An inline ocarina
A double-chambered inline ocarina
A double-chambered English pendant
A double-chambered transverse ocarina (mouthpiece on the side)
An Asian double chambered ocarina. The two blow holes in the mouthpiece are clearly visible, which makes it possible for the player to play an extended range of notes (17 in total, in this case from A4 to C6)
A triple-chambered ocarina in the bass register
A collection of ocarinas
Selection of novelty "teacarinas" that are also functional teacups
Owl-shaped ocarinas on sale in a shop in Taiwan
Ocarina made from a bottle
A ceramic pre-Columbian ocarina, c. 1300–1500, Tairona people, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
An ocarina design based on the titular instrument in the video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
See also: Vessel flute § Acoustics
How an ocarina works:
The airstream is directed on the labium by a fipple or internal duct, which is a narrowing rectangular slot in the mouthpiece, rather than relying on the player's lips as in a transverse flute. Like other flutes, the airstream alternates quickly between the inner and outer face of the labium as the pressure in the ocarina chamber oscillates.
At first, the sound is a broad-spectrum "noise" (i.e. "chiff"), but those frequencies that are identical with the fundamental frequency of the resonating chamber (which depends on the fingering), are selectively amplified. A Helmholtz resonating chamber is unusually selective in amplifying a single frequency. Most resonators also amplify more overtones. As a result, ocarinas and other vessel flutes have a distinctive overtoneless sound.
Unlike many flutes, ocarinas do not rely on pipe length to produce a particular tone. Instead, the tone is dependent on the ratio of the total surface area of opened holes to the total cubic volume enclosed by the instrument. This means that, unlike a transverse flute or recorder, sound is created by resonance of the entire cavity and the placement of the holes on an ocarina is largely irrelevant – their size is the most important factor. Instruments that have toneholes close to the voicing/embouchure should be avoided, however; as an ocarina is a Helmholtz resonator, this weakens tonal production.
The resonator in the ocarina can create overtones, but because of the common "egg" shape, these overtones are many octaves above the keynote scale. In similar Helmholtz resonator instruments with a narrow cone shape, like the Gemshorn or Tonette, some partial overtones are available. The technique of overblowing to get a range of higher-pitched notes is possible with the ocarina but not widely used because the resulting note is not "clean" enough, so the range of pitches available is limited by the total area of the holes.
Some ocarina makers bypass these physical limitations by creating ocarinas that have two or three resonating chambers, each with their own windway and labium. There are two main systems that dictate how these additional chambers are tuned: the Asian system and the Pacchioni system. The Asian system maximizes range by beginning each chamber one semitone higher than the highest note of the previous chamber. The Pacchioni system instead focuses on smoothing the transition between chambers by overlapping their ranges slightly, thereby making it easier to play melodies that fall in that range.
Ocarina music is written in three main ways. The most apparent is the use of sheet music. There are archives of sheet music either specifically written for ocarinas, or adapted from piano sheet music. Since some ocarinas are fully chromatic and can be played in professional musical situations, including classical and folk, sheet music is an ideal notation for ocarinas.
Second is the use of numerical tablature, which expresses the musical notes as numbers. Some makers have developed their own system of numerical tablature for their ocarinas, while others follow a more universal system where numbers correspond to different notes on the scale. This method is typically used by beginners who have not learned to read sheet music.
A third method uses a pictorial tablature similar to the ocarina's finger hole pattern, with blackened holes that represent holes to cover. The tablature represents the holes on the top of the ocarina, and, where necessary, the holes on the underside. This enables easy playing, particularly for beginners. The two most popular tablature systems are:
Depending on the artist, some may write a number or figure over the picture to depict how many beats to hold the note.
See also: Tin Whistle § Ornamentation
Due to its lack of keys, the ocarina shares many articulations with the tin whistle, such as cuts, strikes, rolls, and slides. However, tonguing is used more often on ocarina than on tin whistle, and vibrato is always achieved through adjusting breath pressure instead of with the fingers.
Other vessel flutes include the Chinese xun and African globe flutes. The xun (simplified Chinese: 埙; traditional: 塤; pinyin: xūn) is a Chinese vessel flute made of clay or ceramic. It is one of the oldest Chinese instruments. Shaped like an egg, it differs from the ocarina in being side-blown, like the Western concert flute, rather than having a recorder-like mouthpiece (a fipple or beak). Similar instruments exist in Korea (the hun) and Japan (the tsuchibue).
A related family of instruments is the closed-pipe family, which includes the panpipes and other instruments that produce their tone by vibrating a column of air within a stopped cylinder.
The old fashioned jug band jug also has similar properties.
The traditional German gemshorn works nearly the same way as an ocarina. The only difference is the material it is made from: the horn of a chamois, goat, or other suitable animal.
The borrindo is a simple hollow clay ball with three to four fingering holes, one hole slightly larger than the other three, which are smaller and of equal size to one another.[vague] The holes are arranged in an isosceles triangular form. The borrindo is made out of soft alluvial clay available in plenty everywhere in the central Indus Valley. Being of the simplest design, it is made even by children. Some adults make fine borrindos of larger size, put pottery designs on them, and bake them. These baked borrindos, with pottery designs, are the later evolved forms of this musical instrument, which appears to have previously been used in its simple unbaked form for a long time. The sound notes are produced by blowing somewhat horizontally into the larger hole. Finger tips are placed on smaller holes to regulate the notes. Its ease of play makes it popular among children and the youth.