In my neck of the woods most elementary schools teach the recorder starting in or around the 4th grade. As a band director I understand the reasoning for teaching recorder to kids as it helps build many of the skills needed to get them into the band once they get to fifth or sixth but I’ll be honest, I hate the sound of the recorder. The ocarina on the other hand seems to be the unwanted step child in the music classroom even though (in my opinion) the more earthy resonant tone of an ocarina is almost always superior to the sound of a cheap $3 soprano recorder. So why don’t more people use it in their classrooms?
The education people over at STL Ocarina are attempting to change that pattern and encouraging music teachers to take a more serious look at the ocarina as a music education tool. Their site provides ordering information for a wide variety of cool looking ocarinas plus it also offers a very handy set of interactive tools that let you figure out ocarina fingerings and print out fingering patterns to help students learn whatever notes you need to teach. If they are out of your price range though you can find similar ocarina styles online through Amazon and other retailers.
Getting back to the initial question though, why are recorders so prevalent in the schools? On the plus side for the ocarina I can see how the smaller form factor of the ocarina works better with smaller fingers and thus could be played by younger students. The video below shows some ocarina lessons being given to kids that look to be as young as second or third grade. That’s a plus in my book if the teacher can make the instruction work within their curriculum. On the negative side though in my opinion are the fingering issues. Wherein the recorder is a fairly logical instrument in terms of lift up one finger and get the next note, the ocarina has a less intuitive fingering system.
I know this is kind of a non-issue for most people (even for general music teachers) but I’m curious to know what other people think about the ocarina and its place in the music education program of a school. Which works better? And from the perspective of a band director am I correct in feeling like the recorder is a better fit for programs where the students are eventually funnelled into a wind band program?
Leave a comment and let us know what you think.