by Laura Yeh
Summer is almost here and parents are looking for ways to keep their kids entertained, engaged and learning. Many families will enroll children in music lessons over the summer, but there are other economical ways to introduce kids to the joy of playing an instrument.
As a violin teacher at the St. Louis School of music, I know that not all families have the time, resources and or interest to devote to private instruction and buying or renting a violin, cello or piano. For these families, I have found the ocarina is a great instrument to introduce kids to music. It is small enough to fit in a pocket, inexpensive and easy to play. Even young kids can pick out simple tunes quickly through online lessons or method books.
The ocarina is also small enough for kids to take it with them wherever they go, to the park, pool or on vacation. And it has a pleasant sound, even in the hands of a beginner.
Ocarinas belong to a class of instruments called vessel flutes that developed in various ancient cultures around the world. They are usually made of clay or plastic and played by blowing with various degrees of pressure into the ocarina and changing the pitch by fingering holes in the instrument. These range from four holes for the simplest models to 12 or more for more advanced versions.
The fact that the ocarina is so easy to play is a great confidence booster and can inspire kids to try other instruments. And, students who are more into sports or other pursuits can still get the benefits of music education without the time commitment required by more demanding instruments.
Learning to play music well builds creativity, confidence, persistence problem-solving, and other skills that can help children in schoolwork and in life. Regardless of the instrument, every kid should get the opportunity to experience the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from learning to play.
I develop ocarinas and write lesson books that children can use to teach themselves to play. Here are a couple of summer enrichment packages offered by our company, STL Ocarina:
The Art of Ocarina for Young Children: This method book is specially designed for children and those of who are young at heart. Through ten step-by-step lessons, you can learn how to read music and how to play songs on your six-hole ocarina. No prior musical knowledge is required. A demonstration CD is included so you can play along with us! This book also includes: 10 Step-by-step lessons; colorful fingering chart; over 30 well-known songs; tips on how to practice each song; and a free 6-hole plastic ocarina. SRP: $30 Available at http://stlocarina.com/method3.html
The Art of Ocarina for Older Kids (ages 10+): This method book is designed to help older children and adults learn to play the ocarina. No prior musical knowledge is required. In addition to presenting various rhythms and the fingerings for the notes, our lessons provide instruction on how to read standard musical notation on the ocarina. The repertoire chapter includes 12 famous songs with detailed information on how to practice each song. A demonstration CD of all the songs in the book is provided to help you learn to play beautifully. This method book includes: 12 Step-by-Step lessons; how to play each note; tips on how to practice; breathing techniques; how to play various rhythms; how to play in different keys; scales and exercises for daily practice; over 50 well-known songs; and a demonstration CD. Also included in this custom package is a 12-hole Plastic Tenor Ocarina in C Major. SRP: $39. Available at http://www.stlocarina.com
Laura Yeh is a performer and music educator trained in the Suzuki method of instruction who teaches violin and ocarina at the St. Louis School of Music to children as young as 3 and adults. Laura and her husband Dennis have collaborated with ocarina makers around the world to produce new models of the ocarina, an easy-to-learn wind instrument with ancient roots. They have designed and produced many unique and innovative ocarinas sold by STL Ocarina (http://www.stlocarina.com).