Ocarinas are wind instruments and are classified as a vessel flute. Ocarina-type instuments are believed to date back some 12,000 years, and have been of particular importance in Chinese and Mesoamerican cultures, where they are often shaped as animals and birds. TThe ocarina has similar features to the Xun, another important Chinese instrument. Different expeditions to Mesoamerica, including the one conducted by Cortes, resulted in the introduction of the ocarina to the courts of Europe. Both the Mayans and Aztecs had produced versions of the ocarina, but it was the Aztecs who brought the song and dance that accompanied the ocarina to Europe. The ocarina went on to become popular in European communities as a toy instrument. IMPORTANT NOTICE! Health and sanitary regulations prohibit the exchange or return for credit of any mouth blown instrument.
Its common use in Western countries dates back to the 19th century in Budrio, a town near Bologna, Italy, where Giuseppe Donati transformed the ocarina from a toy, which only played a few notes, into a more comprehensive instrument (known as the first "classical" ocarinas). The word ocarina is derived from Italian meaning "little goose." The earlier form was known in Europe as a gemshorn; which was made from animal horns of the Gemsbok.
Ocarinas are traditionally made from clay or ceramics, and are usually oval-shaped, with an enclosed space and four to thirteen finger holes. Unlike a flute or recorder, where pitch is determined by the distance between the finger holes and the mouth piece, the placement of the holes on an ocarina is essentially arbitrary. The pitch is determined by the total surface area of the opened holes and the total volume of the ocarina.
Playing the Ocarina
The pitch of the tones varies with the size and dimensions of the ocarina. Smaller ocarinas have higher pitches, while larger ocarinas have lower pitches. When played, the ocarina is held in both hands. The thumbs cover the bottom holes and the Index and middle fingers of each hand cover the top holes. To play the ocarina, hold it at a 45-degree downward slope from your lips. Angling the ocarina up so that your upper lip impinges on the labium window will create sharps, or flatten the tones. Covering and uncovering the holes with your fingers and thumbs changes the tones. The six holes can be combined to provide more than a full octave.