History of Ocarina 3
The basic form of the Italian (‘submarine’) ocarina has remained largely
unchanged, although its length can vary from as little as 6 cm to 48 cm. In
Eastern Europe, a simplified seven-hole version has been made. Further
adaptations in other parts of Europe include the addition of tuning-slides
keys to cover the larger holes, and the splitting of the smaller holes for
In 1928, Japanese sculptor Takashi Aketagawa (明田川 孝) invented 12-
holed ocarina which has grown and flourished attaining every bit as much
popular appeal as Europe.
|Aketa 12-hole Ocarina, invented Mr Takashi Aketagawa
Photo by: Chu Po Ming, 朱普明
In the USA, Bing Crosby was one of many who played the ocarina(‘sweet
potato pipe’) as a novelty instrument in the era of jazz and swing. Its
portability made it a favourite instrument with generations of children.
American servicemen brought bakelite ocarinas to Europe during World
War II; plastic versions eventually took their place alongside those made
of clay, porcelain and metal.
The ‘English’ ocarina, along with the ‘four-hole system’ of tuning, was
first developed in the early 1960s by the ethnomusicologist and musical
inventor John Taylor (b Wolverhampton, 12 Sept 1940). In 1963 he
discovered that a diatonic octave could be played by cross-fingering four
holes of different sizes; the resultant four-hole system became a
standard method of tuning and by the 1970s had spread to many parts of
the English-speaking world through Taylor’s students and friends. The
system comprises one small, one medium and two large finger-holes. A
pentatonic scale is sounded by opening one hole at a time; cross-
fingering and half-covering holes produce a full chromatic octave. Like
its Italian predecessor, the English ocarina has been developed in a
number of ways. Its range has been extended by the addition of extra
holes, and different sizes of body have been made to produce consorts
ranging over five octaves. The four-hole system has been adapted for one
hand by placing three holes on top and one underneath, resulting in
the development of sophisticated double-chambered instruments.
Although other tuning methods are known, the Italian and English
systems are the most widely used, as is reflected in the range of
published music, teaching methods and recordings available. During
the 1980s the ‘Poly-oc’ plastic four-hole ocarina (fig.4) was developed by
John North Langley (b Adelaide, 26 Nov 1944) specifically for use in
schools along with ocarina tablature.
|English Ocarina (left) and its replica made in Taiwan (right)
Photo by: Chu Po Ming, 朱普明
Ocarinas have been used to play most types of music. The most
distinguished exponent, Mosé Tapiero, made more than 30 recordings
before World War I. Japanese Virtuso Sojiro started to make his
ocarina in 1975 and used them to play his compositions with many
concert and over four dozen of recordings. End.