How easy is it to learn to play Mountain Ocarinas?
Well, to become proficient on any instrument, you just flat have to practice a lot. Thereís no short cut. With that said, I donít know of an easier woodwind to learn to play than the ocarina. I mean, just as some languages are easier to acquire than others, some instruments are easier to learn than others, and the ocarina is much easier in the initial stages than learning to play than the clarinet, or saxophone, or flute, or, uh, fiddle. In fact, it's a bit easier than, say, the recorder to get up and running on it because you don't have to be as careful playing the low notes, the fingerings are a little easier, and you can carry it around more easily for impromptu practicing.
I took piano lessons for many years while growing up. And I remember in grade school for our music class we did some very basic music on the recorder. And I distinctly remember thinking that the recorder was very difficult to play, in spite of the several years of music (piano) lessons I already had. This was because I couldn't play the low notes on the recorder without squeaking it. I kept that recorder in our piano bench and from time to time I would pick it up and try and play it. Even as a teenager (and older) I still had that difficulty with the squeak. That was the extent of my experience with wind instruments. I continued to play the piano over the years.
A few years back, I bought one of Karl's ocarinas and decided to give it a try. I found that I could play simple tunes the first day, and I didn't have the squeaking difficulty that I did when I tried to play recorder. My tone wasn't that great, but I could play several simple songs from his curriculum in the first week, playing off and on.
One reason that ocarinas are easy to learn to play is that you just blow into them. You don't have to form the embouchure or do anything special with your mouth muscles, so you can play simple songs right off the bat. Another thing that makes Mountain Ocarinas easy to play is that they have a linear scale. To play a basic scale, you cover four toneholes with your right hand and three with your left hand. Starting from the lower holes on the right hand, you just uncover them one by one, from bottom to top. Then you do the same thing with the three fingers of your right hand. Just uncover them one at a time, from bottom to top. When you have uncovered all seven holes, you have played a scale. Since the scale is played in a straight line, itís easy to get that basic scale in your mind right away. To me, the ocarina is a fantastic instrument for adults because you can carry it around and fit in little music sessions whenever you get a spare moment, but Itís also great as a first instrument for kids because you donít need big hands to play it, or a lot of breath. Personally, Iíve taught kids as young as six, and Iíve spoken with several people who teach five year olds with our instruments.
| Karl mentioned that he doesn't know of an easier woodwind instrument to play.. I'd go a little further and say that his ocarina is the easiest instrument of any multi-tone instruments that I know of to play (not counting certain rythmic instruments like a tambourine, gourd, etc.).|
Last week, in fact, I spoke on the phone with a music teacher in Ohio who uses our ocarinas as her basic teaching instrument. We do a lot of sales in the home schooling world, so there are several music coops around the country that use our instruments to introduce students to music theory, to playing an instrument. She mentioned three reasons why she prefers our ocarinas over the recorder, which she used to teach. She said that kids canít mess up as easily because they can blow harder on the low notes, so they don't squawk. Also, kids donít get confused about which hand goes below the other because the hands are side by side. And, uh, finally, the kids get a kick out of wearing their ocarinas around their necks, which really facilitates learning too. She says that she hasnít had any kids so far --I guess this her second year teaching with them-- who donít like playing their ocarinas; and some of the kids have really taken off with them. Oh, and, she also mentioned that she likes the little rubber bumpers that we include for covering the bottom toneholes. The little bumpers just provide a little more instant success for little guys or for people without a music background.
For learning, the pocket-sized factor is huge with me. I mentioned a little while ago that I havenít touched my saxophone since high school, but I rarely ever miss a day on the ocarina. Anyway, Iím a big believer in what I call the two minute method. I have the thing (the ocarina) around my neck or in a case on my belt, and play whenever I have a little break... Uh, like if Iím working hard at the computer, or sitting in the car waiting for somebody, or taking a hike, or laying down with my feet up... I also have these fingering dexterity exercises that I do, that, uh, just get your fingers in shape for doing complex ornamentation, and I can do that kind of stuff as Iím driving in the car or watching a movie because I have the ocarina hanging around my neck. As an involved dad with growing kids and a growing business, I have a very challenging schedule, but within my cramped time limitations, I feel like I'm a lot better musician than I would be otherwise simply because I have ready access to my ocarina. And if have it with me, I just tend to play it.
| In our family, my eldest son was the first one to learn the ocarina. He was 8 at the time, and he didn't have any musical experience at the time. Without any help from anyone else, he thought the instrument was cool and wanted to learn. He worked through the curriculum on his own initiatve and became quite proficient. I don't think this is typical, since most 8 year olds probably need some guidance and prodding to keep up with their music. And we have discovered over the years that this son is musically gifted and quite determined in things he's interested in. |
My mother also taught herself the ocarina from the curriculm without any personal aid. I deeply love and respect my mom, and with that being said, I don't think she is very musically gifted. She is quite determined though... She taught herself to read music through working through the curriculm and then enjoyed playing many hymns that she enjoyed singing. She said, "playing ocarina is like eating peanuts, once you start, you can't stop".
Recently I was at a family reunion where I wound up playing a few times for that very reason. This kind of thing happens to me all the time, and I only mention it to point out that no other instruments were played at that party. Nobody else had an instrument to play. You know, this reminds me of a Far Side, a Gary Larson cartoon that I read a couple weeks ago. A circle of cowpokes, with their faithful hosses in the background, are gathered around a campfire out under the stars. Thereís something out of place in the picture though. The seat of the pants of one of the cowboys is bulging with this huge piano in his back pocket. Another cowboy says to the one with the piano something like, "Hey, Slim, why donít you whip that thing out and play us a tune." That cartoon epitomizes one of the charms of the ocarina because, no matter what your instrument, you cain't play it if you ain't got it.
| To add one more frame of reference, this past summer we had a guest from Italy stay with us for a month. She was 17 and quite a good musician. She plays violin primarily and also plays piano. She plays violin in an orchestra and may continue in serious musical studies, however that works in Italy. I don't believe she played any wind instruments. We gave her an ocarina as a going away gift. She sent us an email a week later and told us among other news that it was very easy to play (what instrument wouldn't be if you can play violin), very fun and that she can play 30 songs from the 300 Celtic Folksongs book. Wow! Just 270 more to go.|
(How the Ocarina Business Started)
(History of the Ocarina)