Introduction: How to Play 4-Hole Ocarina

An ocarina is a small wind instrument that functions much like a whistle or recorder. The player blows into a mouthpiece, and air rushing out of a sound hole below the mouthpiece creates the sound of the played note. The player covers or leaves open other holes with their fingers to play different notes.

The 4-hole is the smallest variety of ocarina, as far as I am aware. It is only capable of simple melodies, since it only plays 8 notes (1 octave), but it makes a great beginner instrument or fun addition to any musician's collection.

You will need:

  • An ocarina
  • Patience and determination!

Step 1: Choose an Ocarina

Many variants of 4-hole ocarina exist, made from various materials (plastic, wood, clay/ceramic etc.), in various shapes, sizes, and tunings, and at various price points, from a couple dollars to a couple hundred dollars. Really, the choice is up to you and how much you are willing to spend on an instrument.

Generally, the larger ones have a deeper pitch, and the smaller ones have a higher pitch. These instructions are written for an ocarina in the key of C, since it is a common tuning. However, if yours is pitched differently, you can still follow along. You just can't play the same song at the same time as your friend with an ocarina in C, because it will be higher or lower than the song they are playing.

I own a pretty, blue ceramic ocarina that also functions as a small cup (I’m not kidding, I’ve used it for tea before) that I will use to demonstrate.

Step 2: Play a Note

Hold the ocarina with both hands. Use your index and middle finger of each hand to cover the holes of the ocarina. Your thumbs will support the ocarina from the back.

Hold the mouthpiece to your lips, and with all 4 finger holes covered, blow a steady stream of air. Congratulations! You have played your first note, C.

Step 3: Play a Scale

Now that you’ve played your first note, you can play all the notes. Here is a handy reference guide for note fingerings. Note that the diagrams are shown as if you were looking down at the instrument while playing. Colored holes should be covered with the corresponding finger, and open holes should be left uncovered.

Try to play these notes in order. Congratulations! You just played a C major scale.

Step 4: Play a Song

Now that you’ve learned your C scale, you can play those same notes in different orders with different rhythms to form songs.

Try to play the example melody, the main melody riff from the Star Wars theme. If you are familiar with the piece, try to hear the melody in your head and match your playing to those pitches.

Step 5: Tips and Tricks

  • You may notice that you need to “find” some notes more than others. This means that, when you play a note, it doesn’t sound like you know it should in your head. To make a note more in tune, you can lower your jaw for a lower pitch. Conversely, you can slightly tighten the muscles in your throat for a higher pitch. Musicians refer to this as adjustments to one’s embouchure.
  • Always use a steady, fast stream of air for a good sound.
  • If you plan to play a tune in a key other than C, you may need additional notes, with flats or sharps, a.k.a. accidentals. These note fingerings are a little more complicated, and may require you to half-cover a hole, or "find" the note more than you would have to otherwise. A quick internet search will yield these fingerings, should you need them.
  • Have fun! This is an adorable, portable instrument that is not meant to be taken too seriously.