( /ɒkəˈriːnə/)
Late 19th century Italian meaning, "little goose;" a reference to shape.

Modern musicians may be prejudiced against these instruments due to previous experience with the brightly colored toy ocarinas that are better suited for decorating than playing. BC Clayworks utilizes the English pendant style ocarina featuring the fingering system of John Taylor, Cir. 1964. Unlike other styles and systems, this combination allows for ease of fingering and optimal portability, without compromising in range or tone.

The Ocarina Family

Classification - Wind, Woodwind, Aerophone
Related instruments - Flute, Xun, Penny Whistle, Recorder, Pan Pipes


The ocarina is part of the vessel flute family. The Chinese Xun and African Globe-flute have similar features to their Mesoamerican cousin. Instead of using a fipple, both are side-blown. A similar instrument also exists in Korea called the Hon. In the region of Germany there is a traditional instrument, the Gemshorn, which is fipple based as well. Instead of clay, the horn of a chamois, goat, or similar animal is used. In Japan, the traditional ocarina is called tsuchibue, literally "earthen flute" (hiragana: つちぶえ; kanji: 土笛). Another closely related group is the closed-pipe family, such as panpipes. Like the ocarina, these instruments produce their tone by vibrating a column of air within a stopped cylinder. The old fashioned blow-jug also has similar properties.

How the Ocarina Works

The ocarina has the unique quality of not relying on pipe length to produce specific sounds. Instead, tone is dependent on the ratio of opened hole surface area to total enclosed volume. This is represented by:

Where f = frequency, v = the speed of sound, A = total uncovered area, and V = enclosed volume

Since sound is created by the entire cavity, the placement of the holes is largely irrelevant, unlike those on a flute or recorder. Instead, different notes are produced by the opening and closing varied amounts of total hole area. The tone can also be varied by changing blowing strength to bend the pitch. The enclosed volume factor prevents other octaves from being reached through this technique.

History of the Ocarina

12,000 BCE
An ancient instrument, the first known ocarina-like instrument appeared about 12,000 years ago. The origins of the ocarina can be traced back to several cultures. In South and Central America the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas all developed and performed on clay ocarinas. These were often in the shape of birds or other animals. Ocarinas shaped like animals could also be found in India starting around 5,000 BCE. China had its own form of ocarina called a Xun which was more egg-like in shape. In all cases they were fashioned out of the same low-fired clay the ancient people used for their pots, jars, and other vessels.

16th - 19th Centuries
The ocarina made its way to Europe in 1527. The Spanish explorer Cortez sent a group of Aztec dancers and musicians back to Emperor Charles V to perform for him at the royal court. The performance was so well received that the Aztecs were sent to perform all throughout Europe. According to legend, a young baker in Rome saw an Aztec performance and was impressed with the ocarina enough to make his own. The ocarina soon became a novelty item, but due to the limited number of notes, was thought of as a toy. This changed in the late 19th century when Guiseppe Donati, another young baker, invented a pitched diatonic scale ocarina. This "transverse" style allowed for accurate pitch with an extended range of notes. The ocarina could now be used for Western classical music. The unique shape of the transverse lead to the coining of the term ’ocarina."

20th Century
Aketa of Japan developed the first 12 hole ocarina in 1928. This style adds an extra three half notes (one-and-a-half steps) to the 10 hole range. During WWI, English servicemen were provided with ocarinas as moral boosters. In the trenches the ocarina gained popularity with American as well as European soldiers who brought them back home. American servicemen brought their own Bakelite (early molded plastic) versions to Europe during the WWII, these were issued with a special military ocarina tutoring book. These same ocarinas began selling by mail mail-order from Sears, Roebuck and Company in the years after WWII. In 1964, an Englishman named John Taylor took the Peruvian pendant and found it's mathematical formula. With this knowledge Taylor created the four hole "English" fingering system giving the range of one octave to an ocarina with minimal holes. Now, with eight holes, a pendant can perform all the notes a twelve hole transverse style ocarina can play. Due to rising interest in the recorder, the ocarina became unknown to the general public. But in 1998, Nintendo released, "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," featuring a transverse style ocarina. Today both Italian transverse and English pendant style ocarinas have reached new levels of popularity across the globe.


The ocarina has gained much recognition across Asia, especially in Japan, thanks to the efforts of ocarina master Sojiro. Today, the transverse ocarina is primarily developed in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Italy. While English and American artists have kept their focus on the pendant style. There is a yearly ocarina festival held in Italy honoring the creation of the transverse style ocarina. Ocarina crafters and musicians from around the world attend to celebrate this unique instrument.

Musical Notation

Traditional Sheet Music - Sheet music can be found specifically written for the ocarina, or adapted from existing sheet music. Most modern ocarinas are fully chromatic and can be played in professional musical situations, including classical and folk. Because of this, sheet music is the ideal notation for the ocarina.

Pictorial Tablature - The notes to be played are shown using an image of the ocarina's finger holes. Blackened circles represent which holes to cover, while white circles show the holes to open. This style allowing for great ease of playing, particularly for beginners. This form requires familiarity with the tune due to the lack of rhythmical notation.

Types of Ocarinas

Peruvian Pendant - Used as instruments for festivals, rituals and ceremonies. They can be complex art pieces or smooth and round. (8–9 holes)

English Pendant - These are very small and very portable. The use of the English-style hole system gives these small instruments the range of a full chromatic scale with a minimum of holes. (4–6 holes)

Transverse (Sweet-Potato) - This is the best known style of ocarina. It has a protruding mouthpiece and
is held horizontally with two hands. (10-12 holes)

Inline - Described as a fusion of the Pendant and the Transverse; they are generally compact, with more holes than the average pendant. This style allows one to ascend in pitch with a linear finger pattern rather than combinations.

Multi-chambered (Double or Triple Ocarinas) - This variation exists in all types of ocarina. A Double Transverse ocarina typically plays 2 octaves + 2 notes. They can be played harmonically or separately. Some Double Inline ocarinas are able to play chords.

Keyed Ocarina - These have been produced by different makers since the late 19th century. They are mostly experimental in nature.

*Traditionally made of ceramic, ocarinas are also made from plastic, wood, glass, clay, and metal.*

The Ocarina in Media

-1966 The Troggs "Wild Thing" hurled the ocarina of Reg Presley to fame, and is still well known today.

-Ennio Morricone prominently featured the ocarina in the theme of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." The infamous tune is forever paired with images of the wild west.

-In Monty Python's “The Meaning of Life“, the teacher confiscates a student's ocarina.

-In 1998, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The hero plays a magical ocarina, and with it, saves the land from evil. The player must remember songs and play them using 5 note-related control buttons.


Fathers of the Ocarina


"The best Ocarinas are those made by artisans; the original inventors
and the first craftsmen have always made them exclusively by hand."
-Guiseppe Donati


Signore Donati in his workshop. Photographer: Unknown

John Taylor, Photographer: Unknown


http://www.clayz.com/baz/hist.html - A big thank you goes to the folks at clazy.com for hosting the old Ocarina Originators site. Barry "Baz" Jennings worked with John Taylor on the creation of the English fingering system and made many beautiful ocarinas himself. The site is a little hard to navigate, but has a great history section along with other photos of Taylor and some of Taylor's writings.

Donati Photo:

John Taylor Photo: