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The Origin of the Ocarina: Ancient Chinese Wind Instrument

Updated on May 31, 2011

an oca-what?

I first became interested in the ocarina after seeing Spencer Register on The 700 Club . Spencer plays and makes performance grade ocarinas. He described the history of the ocarina, and how his fascination with the ocarina began. Later in the show he played the ocarina for the audience. I thought this was the most beautiful wind instrument I’ve ever heard. The flute like sound floated in the air, like a haunting love song. There was such a freshness and joy in his playing. After hearing the ocarina, I decided to research the origin of the ocarina.

some history please


The ocarina is a wind instrument historically made from clay or wood. The ocarina is one of the oldest wind instruments in the world; dating back to 12,000 yrs.  They have been seen in various cultures around the world including: the Chinese, Native Americans, Aztecs and the Mayans. Ocarinas can be made with ceramic, glass, plastic, or metal. Ceramic ocarinas have superior sound quality. During my research I’ve discovered that ocarinas can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

wooden sweet potato ocarina
wooden sweet potato ocarina

where can i get one?


Most people prefer the 12 hole sweet potato ocarina, but the 4 hole ocarinas are very popular as well. 12 hole ocarinas tend to be more costly than the 4 holes. They can range in price from $40- $500. My advice is to do your homework before buying one. Visit many ocarina vendors and read the customer reviews. They can give you an idea of whether it’s a good product or not.

 12 hole ocarinas can be harder to play, so keep this in mind if you’re a novice. 4 hole ocarinas are very small and produce a higher pitch. They are often worn around the neck on a rope or chain. They are crafted into a variety of shapes. I’ve seen strawberry, turtle, fish and even tea cup shaped ocarinas. These ocarinas are more than just musical instruments; they are hand crafted works of art.

 pendant ocarina
pendant ocarina


So if you decide to purchase an ocarina here are some things you should consider. If you’ve never owned or played an ocarina, I would suggest spending less money. You can buy an ocarina with good sound quality for under $70.  If you find that you hate the ocarina, $60 dollars wasted won’t hurt as much as $300.  Look for hand crafted and tuned ocarinas. Also consider the size and dexterity of your hands. If you have really big hands a pendant 4 hole ocarina might not be the best one for you. I recommend the Zelda ocarina for Zelda fans or the novice. This ocarina is inexpensive and it comes with a songbook.



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      Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I have always loved music but childhood slipped away quickly. Adulthood with all its slower learning settled in and I thought that music was part of a childhood dream that would never happen to me. But as it happened about ten years ago I ran into a child's toy in some discount Dollar Store. It was a recorder and I began to learn slowly how to read the melody line of music in order to play the recorder. About 6 months ago I was looking on YouTube to listen to some recorder music and I heard the ocarina for the very first time. The idea of learning another complicated fingering system made me put the idea aside for a week or two. But then curiosity got the best of me. I learned that the ocarina is probably the easiest instrument to learn. I also learned that the music is sweeter than any other instrument bar none. (my opinion of course). So I ordered a plastic 12 hole and looking at a fingering chart online, I had the fingerings down in my head before the instrument reached my house via the mail. (It's that easy) Now I have a Bloodwood/Jatoba/Canarywood ocarina (that's all the woods in the one ocarina). It is so beautiful to look at and a marvel to play. And I have a plastic Triple ocarina that plays with a range of 3 octaves. I am always learning music and no way can I consider myself a musician but someday maybe I can be. I enjoyed your article. Thank you for helping to spread the word about my favorite musical instrument. Bob Smith.