How to Learn a New Piece of Music on the Ocarina
Learning a new piece of music on ocarina can be quite a hard thing to do. At some point, you'll find that you can play quite easily in some places, and you really enjoy when you play them. But in other places, the speed of your playing is close to one note per several seconds, or your intonation there reminds you of a dying owl.
Things like that happened to me all the time when I tried to learn a new melody. I would play it from the beginning to the end every time, starting over if I got stuck. And when I knew that I was close to a place where I had been making a lot of mistakes, I unwillingly felt something tightening in my chest, like I could taste the mistake even before making it. And of course, having this anticipation in me, I made this mistake again. That’s a horrible feeling.
Being really good in some parts of the melody and terrible in others didn’t feel right to me. So I started my research. I found one good article on the old The Ocarina Network forum that explained some strategies of solving it. However, it was mostly focused on fingering. It didn't pay enough attention to sounds, to using the right breath pressure, and intonation. I don’t like this way of thinking about music because it's really one sided, and fingering isn't the only important part of music.
So I reorganized the original list, combining it with my own ideas about better way to master a new piece of music. You also may find it interesting:
- Choose an ocarina that fits the range of the melody. Have a quick look at the range of notes you’re going to learn and determine which of your ocarinas is most appropriate. Ocarinas in different keys exist to make your life easier. They don't only change the available range, but also allow you to perform some ornamentation that otherwise would be difficult. So don’t stick to only one ocarina and one key.
- Transpose some notes if they aren’t in the range of your ocarina. If you realize that the range of the melody is too wide, even for your multichamber ocarinas, try to transpose some phrases or separate notes an octave up or down to fit them into range. The best description of this process I have found is in the book ‘Serious Ocarina Player’ by Robert Hickman.
You may decide that you want to change the key of the whole melody by transposing it to fit your favorite ocarina, but keep in mind that it’ll be harder to find a backtrack to play alongside with, or other players who would want to play with you. So it’s better to choose ocarina for melody, not melody for ocarina.
- Play a couple of times from the start to the end of the composition to familiarize yourself with its structure. Don’t pay attention to the rhythm, speed and intonation yet. The only purpose of this step is to find places where you can split the music to practice parts by themselves.
- Split the composition into several logical chunks or phrases. You’ll practice them separately. If you feel that some chunks are still too difficult to work with, split them further. It’s perfectly fine even if you need to practice 3-4 notes separately. That’s how process of learning works.
- Work with one chunk at a time. If, every time, you'll play from the beginning of melody, you’ll master only the beginning and not the difficult parts. So, for each chunk:
- Play it several times to get used to the fingering.
- Set a metronome to a slow tempo and play carefully. Pay attention to timing and intonation, starting and ending each note in time. If you feel that you are struggling with some note in the sequence, you could try setting your metronome slower or splitting the chunk further. Don't rush here, because making the same mistake again and again could cause you to learn it and it’ll be hard to get rid of later.
- Gradually increase the speed of the metronome. Keep it challenging as this is the only way to improve. But if you’re pushing yourself to play too fast and start making mistakes, it's better to slow down. There’s no shame to take a step back if you need to in the process of learning.
- Start combining smaller chunks into phrases. Play one ‘musical sentence’ at a time. Phrases are the natural borders between parts of the melody so playing them separately won’t feel so strange. Be aware that phrases don't necessarily start and end on the bar lines, so listen to a human performance of the melody to find them. Indications for them starting can be places where a singer stops to take a breath or instruments make a pause.
- Play the whole melody from the start to the end with a metronome. Pay attention to the rhythm and staying in tune. You may struggle with the places where the melody was split before, practice these connections in isolation.
- If you have a backtrack you can play with it now. If you don’t have one, you could also play with a recording of the melody in the same key, or even a drone. Start and finish every note cleanly, and on the proper pitch. Carefully track your intonation when playing with accompaniment. Only use a tuner if you don’t have other options, and don’t rely on it too much. Learn to play relying on your ears and not on your eyes.
- Then, finally, you can experiment with adding ornamentation, articulation, varied phrasing and so on. You can vary your ornamentation in different playing sessions, experiment with it to figure out where it works better. This stage adds audial complexity to your melody making it more interesting for listeners. Without ornamentation, music could sound dull or boring even if played correctly. However, adding ornamentation to a raw performance with poor phrasing, rhythm or intonation won’t make it sound good.
Congratulations! You mastered your melody!
This article was inspired by: https://theocarinanetwork.com/how-to-practise-playing-the-ocarina-t8418.html
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