ootocarinaRight out of the box, Songbird Ocarina’s newest Ocarina of Time replica ocarina is a sight to behold. We’ll see if it sounds as good as it looks.

Everything inside the box.

Everything inside the box.

The OoT Ocarina comes with two components: the ocarina itself, and a thin song booklet filled with information and special ocarina notation for a plethora of Zelda songs. No case is provided, though some sort of free, simple holster would have been nice. It’s difficult to find a spot to keep a glazed ceramic instrument.

The first thing to notice about Songbird Ocarina’s new replica is that it’s finally game-accurate. For the first time ever, the ocarina maker is putting out an instrument that actually replicates the Ocarina of Time, down to the golden ring on the mouthpiece, and to an extent the placement of the holes. Songbird Ocarina’s previous replicas were simply blue transverse (or “sweet potato”) ocarinas with a Triforce painted onto the mouthpiece; those also only had four holes.

So, it’s safe to say that this is their most complete replica ever produced – and it looks the part. The entire instrument is hand-crafted, but is done so with excellent precision and skill. I expected the ocarina to be lightweight, hence more fragile, and possibly slightly misshapen from the photos on their website. However, what I got was a rock-solid ceramic instrument that looked almost too beautiful to touch. The glaze makes this ocarina shinier than an Apple product; I was constantly polishing it to get rid of fingerprints in order to keep the instrument looking nice and new.

That said, I do that for most shiny objects. Call it OCD, or whatever you will. However, I’m glad that arguably the most popular OoT-replica producing company has added the shiny golden rim to the mouthpiece, even if it gives me something to polish.

More Holes, Less Difficulty

The entire layout of this ocarina differs from its brethren, who only have four holes as opposed to twelve. I’m partial to the twelve-hole design over the four-hole design – I find using four holes to produce an entire scale of music is rather convoluted. With ten holes on its front, the new OoT Ocarina allows the player to own one hole per note and manipulate sharps and flats with ease using two smaller holes.

I should point out why this layout is so easy to use – how can more holes be simpler? It took me a while to notice this – and in face it had to be pointed out to me – that the twelve-hole layout is very close to that of a standard recorder. The ocarina, however, is held horizontally like a flute. The end result of this combination? If you learned how to play a recorder when you were a little kid, and have the ability to rotate your thinking to playing a recorder sideways as a flute, then you’ll have absolutely no trouble picking up this instrument and playing any song you know.

I find that the above comparison is important – once that clicked, I no longer needed any instruction on how to play this ocarina. The songbook, while full of information and music, became utterly useless to me; everything was so straightforward that I could pick up how to play most songs by ear on my first try.

That said, I’m a very musical person, and I usually learn how to play instruments by ear. When I reviewed Smule’s iPhone Ocarina application, I also didn’t use any of their online tutorials. The less musical among us will find solace in the provided song booklet, which shows the player which holes to cover to play certain notes. As derogatory as this sounds, the song book is essentially dumbed-down sheet music, which makes it a great resource for beginners or the less musically-inclined.

Using the Song Booklet and Playing Music

If you’re just beginning to learn musical instruments, you’ll certainly be enticed by the song booklet that comes with the OoT Ocarina. The songbook itself is full of music from the Zelda series, spanning generations from the intro theme to Ocarina of Time to music straight from Twilight Princess. Each note in the booklet is presented as an illustration of an ocarina with certain holes darkened, signifying finger placements. However, that’s about all the notation provided – it’s up to the player to determine the tempo he or she likes best.

I found this frustrating while trying to read the music. Because no tempo is set, the spacing between notes is not clear in the booklet. I tried to learn to play Saria’s Song using the booklet’s notation, but the odd gaps in between the notes didn’t signify to me how long to hold a note. While I realize that this kind of sheet music is intended for an audience that already knows the songs by memory, I can only imagine how confusing it must be to beginners.

That said, once you’ve figured out how the notation works, you’ll find you’re playing notes correctly (and hopefully in the right order). As I said before, the booklet is only great for real beginners; if you’ve ever played any musical instrument at all, you can pick up how to play this ocarina within a day and ignore the song booklet – you’ll probably learn music faster that way.

You’ll notice after playing a while that your fingers might hurt a bit. I’m not sure if it’s my fault for holding the ocarina wrong, or if the ocarina just isn’t as ergonomic as it could have been. I’m under the impression right now that, while playing, the pinky hole for the right hand is meant to always be covered unless one needs to play higher notes. After playing for a few minutes, my pinky always cramped up. I did play around with finger placements quite a bit and found this to be the best placement for me – I’m sure others hold their ocarina differently.

As with a recorder, the holes must be completely covered when playing. This is what takes the most practice – I still slip up and move my thumbs. The instrument itself is naturally about a quarter-step sharp (says my tuner), so accidentally opening up holes really messes up the situation and skews the tone of whatever you might be playing. As I practiced, I became much more adept at covering up the holes – but I did have to practice, and so will you.

There are other quirks to playing an ocarina that make it similar to the recorder, such as the dynamic range of pitches. Depending on how hard or soft you blow into the mouthpiece, you can raise or lower the pitch by a half-step. These sorts of quirks make the instrument much more interesting to play, and I’m sure I haven’t discovered half of all the techniques that go into playing an ocarina, which will make this instrument entertaining for a long time.

Worth the cash?

The OoT Ocarina sells for $99.95, a pretty penny if you’re not working or are saving up for other purchases. I’ve always envied Songbird Ocarina’s instruments, in a way, because I could never afford them – or could never justify the purchase of such an expensive instrument. Their newest instrument only takes this price point higher, but at the same time raises the bar for replica ocarinas.

If I had a spare hundred smackers, I might have decided to spend it on this instrument. I can imagine that somebody unfamiliar with purchasing musical instruments might not understand why the cost is so high, but $100 for a precision-crafted musical instrument is actually a reasonable asking price. Of course, I found that I mostly played this instrument for fun. Although the OoT Ocarina is incredibly well-crafted and sounds beautiful, you might not be inclined to spend that much money just to play “for fun.” However, that’s speaking as a musician, and not as a Zelda fan – my inner Zelda nerd can’t get over how great this ocarina looks, and if you’ve been after an ocarina that actually looks like the Ocarina of Time for the last decade, you’ve finally found it.

Pros:

  • Excellent construction
  • Hand-painted, and in the right colors!
  • Incredibly easy to play
  • Sound is pitch-perfect
  • Most accurate replica to date
  • Increases your nerd cred

Cons:

  • Doesn’t come with any holster or case
  • Not very ergonomic; fingers might hurt after a while
  • $99 price tag is steep, but reasonable

If you want to buy the ocarina, all you need to do is head to Songbird Ocarinas’ website.

I’ll leave you all with two songs I tried playing on the OoT Ocarina – whether or not they’re played well is your judgment, though don’t be too harsh! I’ve only had this ocarina for a few days, and it’s mostly been played for fun. I can imagine this would sound great if I took the time to record several tracks on top of one another, but until that day…

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