I am an Ocarina Specialist with over 20 years of professional experience. I've released 3 ocarina albums, have 87 million views across my ocarina videos, and a collection of over 400 ocarinas, which I'm using to create an online ocarina museum. AMA!
Hi reddit, I’m David Erick Ramos, a professional ocarinist, composer, and content creator. I’ve been playing the ocarina for 23 years and sharing my original ocarina music and tutorials online since 2007, where I've built a community of 277K subscribers on Youtube and 136k followers on Tiktok. You may have seen me perform at gaming events like PAX or live in concert as a featured soloist with "Video Games Live" or Nintendo's "Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses" (which was a dream come true btw).
I've been fascinated with ocarinas ever since discovering them through "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" back in 1998, and my obsession with learning more about their history and development has taken me across the world, amassing one of the largest ocarina collections in the United States.
My latest project is creating a virtual ocarina museum with my collection. This will be an online interactive experience that showcases the history, culture, and diversity of 400+ ocarinas from around the world, some hundreds of years old. You’ll be able to explore different exhibits, learn about different types of ocarinas, listen to samples of each piece, watch videos, and learn how the ocarina went from Mesoamerican cultures to being featured in popular games and anime.
So go ahead and ask me anything about ocarinas, my music, content creation, the museum project, or anything else you’re curious about. I’ll be answering questions for the next few hours. Thanks for joining me!
SOCIALS: Youtube | Tiktok | Twitter | Instagram | Spotify
EDIT: This was really fun, thanks for all the great questions everyone!! I have to run, but I'll check back later if anyone has any more questions. Feel free to follow me on my socials, I'm always posting new ocarina music and content!
I tried it once, but the birds started attacking me. I try to stick to horses.
Do you use super glue or velcro when sticking yourself to a horse?
Velcro. Easier to detach.
birds started attacking me
It was the chickens, wasn't it? You need to make sure you don't accidentally hit one of them next time.
You're right. Probably shouldn't have thrown the ocarina at it.
The bird has to be something other than a chicken for it to work.
It might work with chickens. Its the Cuccos you have to look out for.
What is the most famous pop song of the 1960s that features the ocarina?
Wild Thing by The Troggs! And the man behind the ocarina was Reg Presley 😉
Follow up question: Any other popular songs that feature it?
There are actually several famous movie soundtracks you can hear ocarinas being used if you listen closely. Check out the Tea Party Scene from Alice in Wonderland, If I only had a brain from The Wizard of Oz, and of course, The Good the Bad and the Ugly!
Care to settle a 50 year bet?
Do you know the song, “Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night? There’s a little four-note riff in that song, at about 1:24:
Is that an ocarina?
Oof. I'm gonna say inconclusive. I would lean more towards they were trying to whistle, but now I'm going to go down a rabbit hole trying to find out if that's an ocarina!!
I actually found an answer to this one. Looks like vocalist Danny Hutton was whistling into his hands.
“Those records were a true collaborative effort,” says Hutton. “We were all looking for places to introduce different sounds. Mike’s weepy guitar part added a lot, of course. I added a little whistling part with my hands in the middle."
Sweet. Thanks for saving me the time and energy!
Hi David! Thanks for doing this, is there an Ocarina in particular that you would recommend to someone looking to learn? I’ve always been fascinated since OoT on the N64 and never knew where to start without getting ripped off for a piece of junk. Thanks!
GREAT question! One of the things I love most about ocarinas is how affordable they are. You can get a fantastic ceramic ocarina for $70, or if you just want to test it out, there are some great plastic ocarinas for around $30 (which are pretty indestructible).
Can you summon a storm? I am told that the Ocarina can be used to both summon a storm as well as summon your loyal steed!
Please forgive me as this video was filmed about 16 years ago, but stick around till the end for a natural surprise 🌩️
I picked up a hand made Zelda ocarina at a ren faire a few years ago. When I was looking up songs I, of course, came across this video. I guess ocarina YouTubers is a small world.
I've been making ocarina videos since 2007. Since I still post, I rank pretty high with Youtube's algorithm 🤣
What is your favorite N64 game that features an elf that plays an Ocarina that doesn't take place in Termina?
Mmm...I can't remember the name of it. Something to do with time?
Have you considered going to the North American Fleadh Cheoil? (Irish music competition) I saw you had a jig video on YouTube and you'd blow some socks off at a ceili session playing an ocarina. I don't even know if they have a competition that includes non-traditional instruments, but you'd be awesome!
I LOVE Celtic Music and always enjoy the challenge of playing some Jigs and Reels on ocarina. I hadn't heard of that competition, but I'll definitely check it out, thanks for the heads up!
If you were able to design your own ocarina (range, specs, cosmetics, tone, the works) what would you come up with??
Wow. I haven't thought about that in awhile 😅 I really love the versatility of 12 hole ocarinas, and the range of Alto C's. It would have to be one that allows you to do a special technique made popular by the Japanese Ocarinist (and my personal hero) Milt-san that allows you to extend the range of the ocarina. Not all ocarinas can do it, so I'd have to test a few different shapes.
Has Zelda in any way affected your passion? Peaked your interest? Made you sick of ocarinas? Or no effect at all maybe
If I'm being 100% honest, I've had a love/hate relationship with Zelda's relation to ocarinas. On one hand - I adore the Zelda franchise. The music. The lore. The gameplay. The community. But as an ocarinist, it has bothered me in the past how much the ocarina is associated with the games and people always asking me to play Zelda songs 🤣 But I've pretty much come full circle in the last few years. As long as people are playing and talking about ocarinas (and supporting my work), I'm happy!
Have you interacted with professional ocarina players that had the interest in the instrument before the Zelda series became so enmeshed with it?
What are their thoughts on it?
Most of them don’t really understand the appeal, but the older ocarina makers are certainly happy about the extra sales.
How often do you get people to come up and ask you to play a song from Zelda, also what is your favorite Zelda ocarina song?
Literally every time I'm performing live 🤣 The Wind Waker theme is a jam.
Which ocarina is the rarest in your collection?
I literally just posted a video about that yesterday, lol.
You can hear them played in the video, but I'll list them here:
1) An ocarina made by Giuseppe Donati, the inventor of the modern ocarina (1870s)
2) An ocarina by Cesare Vicinelli, who is often praised as the Stradivari of the ocarina world.
3) An ocarina made by Sojiro, the most famous ocarina player and maker in Asia
4) The only official licensed Ocarina of Time from Nintendo
5) A contrabass ocarina from Austria, circa late 1800s
Do you have any tips for composers wishing to write music for the ocarina and do you ever have composers write for you?
Somebody composed a concerto for me years ago, but other than that, I do all of my own composing and would love to eventually score for film and video games one day!
Ocarinas are a little quirky in that they have almost no dynamic capabilities. It's built into the instrument - the low notes or quiet and the high notes are loud. It's possible to manipulate that a bit, but it's for more advanced players. Also, ocarinas can be used as both concert pitch or transposing instruments. I made a handy chart to show the ranges of the 7 most popular ocarina keys/sizes.
What're your thoughts on swanee whistle players? You got like a turf war thing?
We have a mutual understanding. They get all the movie and TV gigs. We get all the games and anime.
Will you and Ocabanda perform together again? My partner loved the MAGFest concert
God, I hope so, I miss my ocarina bandmates so much 😭
What is the best way to start learning how to play the ocarina? YouTube videos? Some book that can be obtained online?
(I hope the answer isn't to find a good ocarina teacher in my city, because that's unlikely)
I gotchu. I made a YouTube video series called “How to Play Ocarina” that not only teaches you the ocarina basics, but also teaches you how to read sheet music with the ocarina. I guarantee you’ll be reading sheet music within an hour. I also wrote an accompanying book for the series!
What is an ocarina? Some sort of marine mammal?
Hi David. Do you have any recommendations or favorite Bass? or eb ocarina?
Songbird Ocarina has a great low Eb ocarina, but they seem to be out of stock at the moment. STL Ocarina also has some affordable Bass ocarinas that are around $150 I believe and a plastic one that’s really cheap!
Do you have a 3D printed Ocarina? If not, I’m happy to print you one and send it to you!
Surprisingly, I do not, but I'd love to have one :D Shoot me a DM!
Other than woodwind and brass musicians, what sort of instrument experience do you think translates best to learning the ocarina? Piano? Guitar? Something else?
Piano was my first instrument, and that music knowledge translates to any instrument really since western music theory is kinda based on the piano. But I was a voice major in college, and the breathing techniques I learned have helped IMMENSELY when it comes to vibrato and breath support that singing requires. And I'm a firm believer that everyone can sing and anyone can pick up the ocarina.
Do you know my Music teacher, Sister Mary Ocarina? Boy, she could play it all: blues, jazz, disco…
Sister Mary Ocarina? Boy, she could play it all: blues, jazz, disco…
I had no idea what this was in reference to, but now I'm adding that song to my "Ocarina Deep cut Trivia" playlist.
As someone who has executive function issues when faced with undertaking the learning of a new skill, do you have any advice or tips when it comes to picking up an ocarina for the first time with a serious intention of doing the instrument justice?
I would definitely recommend using an ocarina with fewer tone holes. Maybe start a 4-hole ocarina, which only uses four fingers. That's what I started with and you'd be surprised how many songs you can play with that. When you feel more comfortable with that, you can upgrade to a 6 hole to extend the range a bit!
If I may follow-up on your advice (greatly appreciated), does transitioning to an ocarina with more holes simply increase the range of notes you can play- as in proficiency from learning a four-hole carries over to a six? Thank you!
Yes! So there are 4 popular types of ocarinas: "English" Pendants, Transverse, Inlines, and Multi-Chamber. English pendants generally have 4 holes on top, but some can one or two thumb holes on the bottom. A 4 hole ocarina just doesn't have the thumbholes, so the transition should be pretty seemless. You can even get a 5 hole ocarina, which just has one thumbhole, which is easier to balance tbh.
Hey David! Big fan since 2007! Is there an ocarina maker you still don’t have in your collection? If so, what is the next one on top of your list? Mine is Ogawa, I really want one.
I don't have any of Takashi Ocarinas, so those are def on the list. There's also SO MANY ocarina makers in Japan, China, and S. Korea that I've yet to attain 😭
Yaaaaaaaaaas! This is fantastic! It's good to see you on here and doing well. I've always had a love for the Legend of Zelda, since I got my first gameboy and A Link to the Past for my 10th birthday. But you're the reason I got my first ocarina probably 9-10 years ago. I learned all the early Zelda songs from your videos. Keep up the great work-know that you're inspiring people.. So, which of the 400+ ocarinas do you reach for the most? And what's your favorite Zelda game..?
Love hearing that! The ones I tend to record with the most are my Korean Maparams. The tone and breath requirements are perfect, and they rarely have condensation clogging up the windway, which is an issue with some ocarinas. Unfortunately, they've been discontinued, so I need to be extra careful and hopefully find another one or two second hand 😅
Have you ever thought about touring in Canada?
I would love to! I have many friends up north, including my dear friend and ocarina maker OcarinaCaro. I'll start thinking about touring when I finish my next album later this year :D
A couple questions here. What’s your favourite song to play on the ocarina? Hardest? Most fun? And what’s your favourite song in general? Thank so much if you answer this! Sincerely, a fellow ocarina player and someone who was taught by you
Happy to answer!
My favorite song to play: Maybe my original Golden Fields. It has a really special memory that inspired it and it really resonates with people.
Hardest: This one kicked my butt 🍀
Most fun: This one 🍄
My favorite song in general?? I don't know if I can choose just one 🤣
What did you think about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time?
Loved it. When I first got it back in 1998, I didn't sleep for 3 days as I made my way through the game...until I got stuck at the water temple 😑
What's your favorite song you made? And do you ever plan on touring in Florida or more south by chance?
I really need to get back to Florida soon, I've visited for a few conventions and Disney World back in the day.
My FAVORITE song is probably between Golden Fields and Together since those two seem to resonate with people the most. But El Corazon del Sol is one of my more recent favorites.
I've been following you since your Ballad of the Windfish video, you inspired me to start learning an instrument 13 years ago! Please keep being amazing!
Can I ask if you have any plans to add your covers to Spotify? There's almost no ocarina music there and I'd love to have your songs on hand without the youtube outros.
That's awesome, thanks for following for so long!! Yes, I have a HUGE back catalog of ocarina covers that I'm trying to organize into EPs for streaming services. Hoping to have those up in the next couple months, and if you follow me on Spotify, you should be notified when they're up :D
Do you know the great song "Play Play Tina (Play Your Ocarina)" by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra? Tis lovely and should be preserved in the museum.
I don’t, but will def look up, thanks!
As an Ocarina Specialist, do you ever wish Zelda:OoT wasn't released? It must get annoying that it's the only thing most people know about the instrument
At one point I did, because the instrument has a rich and interesting history prior to its inclusion in the Zelda series. But if it wasn't for Zelda, I wouldn't have discovered the ocarina to begin with, and neither would've an entire generation.
Now I look it as an entry point into the world of ocarinas and I see my job as a full-time ocarinist not only to educate on the instrument's history, but to show off its capabilities as a musical instrument and to help others discover the beauty of playing the ocarina :)
Can you play any other instrument other than the ocarina, is there a crossover in terms of playing style with any other wind instruments?
This is a pretty good synopsis of the other instruments I play. I'd say Tin Whistle and Native American Flute are pretty similar, in that all three don't require any sort of embouchure or breathing techniques. The main difference between those is unlike the tin whistle and NAF, ocarinas don't over blow into the next octave due to their globular shape. It's a physics issue.
Isn't an online museum just a website?
Initially, yes. The idea is to host photographs, audio, and video samples of each piece in the collection, followed by 3D scans, and then eventually add VR friendly exhibits.
What's your favorite Zelda game?
So hard to pick just one!
Link's Awakening - My first Zelda game
Ocarina of Time - introduced me to the instrument
Majora's Mask - The story lines and replay value are amazing
Breath of the Wild - Visually and musically, it's like Studio Ghibli and Zelda had a baby. And the open world was so much fun to explore!
Do you ever wish you picked a different instrument? I feel like the ocarina doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of sustain, chords, richness, rhythm, etc.
It's interesting you bring that up because the inventor of the ocarina, Giuseppe Donati, saw similar flaws with the ocarina, and so his original intention was for ocarinas to be played in an ensemble, where you can do crazy stuff like this and this.
Why did you pick the three ocarinas in your proof picture? I’m assuming the middle one because it looks to be a Zelda ocarina recreation? How about the other two? Just curious thanks !
I wanted to hold more than one ocarina, but I was holding the sign in one hand, so I picked 3 random thin ocarinas to fit between my fingers 🤣 But you're correct, the blue one is supposed to be a Zelda replica. The red one is by the same maker from Austria, OcarinaMusic, and the white one is a 12 hole ocarina by the famous Japanese ocarina brand, Aketa. All excellent ocarinas!
I often see the instrument Melody uses in Pokemon 2000 referred to as an ocarina, but it doesn't look like any I've ever seen (it has a dial on it, for one). I see STL Ocarina sells a replica of it and calls it that, so is that really the case? Can they really have dials? Can they be even more complex than that?
(sorry for the image quality in the video--it's the only clip I could find that had footage of her playing it)
The short answer is no. Ocarina makers have been trying to figure out how it could possible work since the movie came out, but the best they could come up with the is one STL made, which you can see me demo here. But there’s some wild theories and experiments out there, I’ll have to try to dig some up.
Do you think there were any missed opportunities to use Ocarina some more in the title?
I should've ended it with "Heeeeeey Ocarina, AY". 🤦🏻♂️
What's the quickest way to defeat Ganon?
Hi! A bit late and I don't really have a question, just wanted to say thank you for being one of the main reasons I branched out to other instruments once upon a time.
Your cover of FMA - Brothers from back in the day is the reason I fell in love with the instrument, and it's still my most played song on ocarina and other flutes to this day.
That's so cool to hear! I really need to do more anime tunes, FMA has some other really good ones.
Where did the ocarina originate from?
What is ocarina?and describe your plans for museum
Not to be confused with vessel flutes from Mesoamerica and other ancient cultures, an ocarina is typically a clay vessel flute, tuned to a Western music scale, usually in the shape similar to a potato. There are several types of ocarinas though, but the main difference is that ocarinas being an Italian invention (the word "Ocarina" is Italian for "Little Goose") must be tuned to a Western scale.
As for the museum, we're creating a website that will allow you to explore my 400+ ocarina collection through pictures, videos, and audio recordings of each piece as a way of digitally preserving not only the collection, but information about the people who made them and their cultures. There are very few reliable resources about ocarina history, as most of the information has been transferred by word of mouth. But I am collaborating with several ocarina historians who also have a good knowledge on the history and evolution of the ocarina, and we hope that this online museum will be a central resource for anyone interested in learning more about ocarinas and their history.
We're actually running a Kickstarter project to fund the whole thing, and you can find more info about that on my various social channels linked above!
What are some of your favorite wacky/unexpected facts about ocarina history?
There's a lot, but here are a couple faves:
- The popular shape of the 10 and 12 hole ocarina today was completely made by accident. Donati, the inventor of the "Classical" 10 hole ocarina was initially trying to make a trumpet like instrument from clay, but the bell broke off. He liked the new shape and stuck with it.
- Ocarinas were VERY popular at the end of the 1800s/early 1900s. First produced in Europe, they eventually started exporting them to the United States, where they earned the nickname "Sweet Potato" because of the shape, and US Army issued plastic ocarinas to servicemen during WW2!
- Because its a niche instrument, there has always been competition between larger ocarina manufacturers, and these two were bitter rivals at the turn of the 20th century.
- Walt Disney loved ocarinas and included them in several of the first animated films, including Robin Hood (Whistle Stop - solo at 1:46), The Jungle Book (listen to the faint flute song as King Louie sings), and Alice in Wonderland (one of singing teapots is an ocarina).
- According to Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics the untold story" book, Stan Lee used to walk around the office playing the ocarina when he was thinking, which inspired this.
have you played the ocarina of time?
I have! Most recently, I used it to record the Ocarina of Time Title Theme with the UCLA Game Music Ensemble.
Fascinating stuff, I'm playing through OoT on my N64 right now. Just finished the water Temple last night.
What is your rarest ocarina?
Perfect timing, I just posted a video about this, lol.
I'm pretty good at the flute, how well does that translate to the ocarina? I've always wanted to give them a try since they're more transportable
You'd pick it up easily. Ocarinas don't require an embouchure, you simply put your lips to the mouth piece and blow. The major difference between ocarinas and transverse flutes is it's a pitch bending instrument, meaning increasing your breath does not change the octave, and instead, alters the pitch. Increasing pitch makes it sharper, and decreasing pitch makes it flat, about a semitone either way.
How do you feel about the Irving Berlin song "Dance to the Music of the Ocarina"?
I like it! I actually own a copy of the original sheet music for the version used in "Call Me Madam". This is my favorite rendition of it.
Nice beanie. Where’d you get it from?
Amazon! I can't remember looking up anything other than the color, it's my favorite shade of blue, lol.
Do you get a lot of requests for songs from the Ocarina of Time soundtrack? I imagine it's tee ocarina equivalent of "Play Freebird!"
Definitely up there in the top requests, along with Tapion's Theme and Lugia's Theme.
Side note: The Freebird joke is alive and well, and it's always a bummer when I actually play it and the person who asked for it doesn't recognize the melody 😑
Why not other woodwinds or recorders?
There’s something really special about the ocarina. The tone is hauntingly pure. The structure so simple, you could make one from clay. I love portable instruments (I also play ukulele). The idea that as someone of Mexican heritage, my ancestors may have used them for ceremonial purposes. And of course, their ties to the Zelda series, of which I’m a die hard fan.
I was expecting one ocarina in the proof pic...only to be completely fucking blown away by at least 100
I had the really emphasize the "specialist" part.
Can you control time yet? Or at least rain?
Only in the sense that you can lose track of time when you're playing. For the rain, I submit Exhibit A (watch or skip to the end)
Can you summon a bird to come down and pick you up and drop you off at any of 9 or so pre-selected destinations of your choice?
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