Review: The Art of Ocarina Volume 1 Method Book and DVD

Monday, September 07, 2015

I was weirdly excited to write this review, just because I haven’t found many in-depth reviews on ocarina stuff in general, but this curriculum in particular. I may have gone a bit overboard. Be warned that this will probably be one of the longest, most nit-picky reviews you will ever read, and some of the things I nit-pick, I don't even care about.

I do not work for, nor am I in any way associated with STL or any other ocarina-related company. I paid my own money for the products being reviewed. All of the opinions in this review are my own and I was not bribed to say anything positive or negative about the products.

Back Story:

I bought The Art of Ocarina Volume 1 method book and DVD combo pack a few years ago for my husband’s birthday. He ended up not using it.

I knew some basic music theory and was fed up playing the recorder only by ear and from tutorials online. The Art of Ocarina looked like it would hold my interest better than The New Nine-Note Recorder Method by Penny Gardener which I had tried to use to learn to read sheet music previously. It worked; I can now read sheet music—and play the ocarina.

As I was working through the book, I added sticky notes here and there where I had a comment or correction or to make, so this review contains a lot of what I thought of the book as I went through it, rather than vague remembrances. As a result, it’s really detailed and long, possibly longer than the book in terms of text-words since most of the book is sheet music and exercises.


About the Book:

The Art of Ocarina Volume 1 method book costs $32 USD on its own at the time of this review. It is for 12 hole “sweet potato” shaped ocarinas tuned to the key of C major. Bass, tenor, soprano—it matters not.

I think 12-hole in-line ocarinas have the same fingerings, but translating from the sweet potato ocarina pictures in the book to an in-line ocarina might be a bit confusing. If you haven’t already purchased an ocarina and are planning to work through this book, I recommend sticking with the sweet potato shape if at all possible.

I think the book could work for 11 and 10 hole ocarinas as well, but you wouldn’t be able to play any of the tunes and exercises that use the respective subhole(s). The subholes are introduced in lessons 9 and 10. In lessons 9 and 10, five tunes make use of the low B, one makes use of the low Bb, and two make use of the low A--six tunes total. In lessons 11 and 12, two tunes make use of the low B, none use the low Bb, and one uses the low A--two tunes total. In the repertoire section, five tunes make use of the low B, no tunes make use of the low Bb, and one tune makes use of the low A--five tunes total. In lesson 12, the exercise to introduce the low C# uses the low B and A. Aside from two exercises in the "Scales and Exercise" section, which are devoted entirely to the subholes, the rest of the exercises and scales do not use the subholes. So not counting the six tunes from lessons 9 and 10, 38 of the 45 tunes in the book do not use the subholes at all, and I think 43 would be playable on an 11 hole ocarina.

The fingering charts in the method book are for ocarinas with the Taiwanese subhole arrangement (subholes covered by the middle fingers of each hand), rather than the Japanese subhole arrangement (subholes covered by the middle and index fingers of the right hand), but you could easily reference the fingering chart of your Japanese-style subhole ocarina and sort out the differences—all the other fingerings on the ocarina should be the same.

As a side-note, I recommend that beginners use a digital chromatic tuner when learning to play the subholes, just because the breath cut between the low C and the subholes is so drastic that it can be really challenging not to blow the notes too sharp and/or the low C too flat. There are subhole exercises (2 and 3) on pg 76 of the book that would work well with a tuner. Conversely, a beginner might not blow hard enough on the high notes, making them sound too flat, which a tuner would also help with. Exercises 4 and 5 on pg 77 would work well with a tuner in perfecting the high notes.

The book is 97 numbered pages long, plus 3 pages of introduction (denoted in lowercase Roman numerals), 2 pages of table of contents, and a copyright page (103 total). Every lesson opens up with a “Lesson ___” page, which is formatted to always be on the right. To make that always show up on the right, 4 lessons have “Write down your own practice notes here:” pages. That means that the actual lesson-content and introduction pages (which aren’t always jam-packed) add up to about 82 pages, which is still quite a bit longer than a lot of instrument method books that I’ve seen.

The book is formatted and arranged in a way that’s easy on the eyes. The font size of the text and music varies a little bit, just so that things aren’t awkwardly split up over two pages, but it’s never written in teeny-tiny print like a pew Bible, nor is it ever printed huge to create an illusion of more content than there actually is.

There are 12 lessons; a section of exercises, scales, and arpeggios; and a repertoire section in the back of the book with 12 pieces to solidify what the student learned in lessons 1-12.

The 12 lessons slowly incorporate more and more pitches until the student knows all of the notes on the ocarina, including all the sharps and flats (EDIT: The book neither teaches nor has tunes or exercises to practice the high D#/Eb), though they aren’t denoted by both enharmonic names in the lessons, just for the sake of not confusing the beginner.

The tunes and exercises in this book use standard musical notation, not the “easy to learn notation system” that STL has sometimes been criticized for. Along with introducing more pitches as the book progresses, it also introduces more complicated rhythms.

I’ve read on The Ocarina Network before that this book teaches mostly music theory. I didn’t find this to be the case. Most of the book is exercises, tunes, and advice on how/what to practice. The information on basic music theory I found a bit spotty actually. For instance, most note values are explained in the book, but rest values are not. Ties are explained in the book, but slurs (which look very similar) are not, and both are used in the music quite frequently. I’m inclined to say that if a person doesn’t know what a quarter note is, they don’t know what a quarter rest is either, and both should have been explained if the absolute beginner in music was the target audience, especially since the pairing of a book and DVD seems to imply that a teacher isn’t necessary.

The note explanations also assume that the quarter note is holding the beat, as with 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, etc. time signatures. This is fine, at least in the beginning, since the first non 4-time time signature is on tune 44 in the repertoire section, at which point the student should be well-grounded enough to know when to look something up outside of the book. However, time signatures in general are never explained in the book or in the DVD, not even for 4/4 or 3/4 time. 6/8 time is briefly explained in the DVD when the student gets to tune 44—but that’s tune 44! Key signatures are briefly touched on in the DVD in a couple of spots, but not with enough depth for a student to really understand them.

For the absolute beginner, I would recommend an additional resource for learning basic music theory. There are plenty of free websites, Youtube channels, etc., or you could buy another book like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory by Michael Miller to reference when you have questions or need something explained just a bit better than it is in the book or DVD. Or, if you know someone who is a more musically literate than you are, a musician friend or family member perhaps, you could also ask them.

The book itself is held together with comb binding, so it lies flat on a music stand or tabletop instead of trying to close all the time. To me, the pages seem like regular, high-quality printer paper. Pages with content are numbered, skipping numbers on pages that have no content, like the “Lesson ___” pages. The book is printed clearly with all black ink, rather than in color. The pictures on pg 22 that show how to use support fingers for the high notes are also printed in black and white. The front and back covers are printed in color on a medium card stock and are glossy on the outside. This is what the front cover looks like:



The back cover continues according to the same style and makes a few claims about the book:
“The Art of Ocarina…
“is the first comprehensive method for playing the ocarina. Each lesson is structured around carefully selected songs and exercises. In addition, this book includes:
“Easy to use finger charts
“Over 50 well-known songs
“Demonstration CD
“Useful tips on how to practice”

I would say that the book well-delivers on most of these claims. The actual first ocarina method book was probably The Mezzetti Ocarina Tutor (available for free in a bilingual English and French text), which was published over 100 years ago. You can find other links to ocarina learning materials here. I have heard rumors of Milt potentially publishing a version of his method book in English, but as far as I know, it’s still only available in Japanese.

The back cover also includes contact information for STL, including their mailing address, website, email, and a toll-free phone number. The demo CD is in an envelope attached to the inside of the back cover of the book.

The lessons usually begin by reviewing a few selected exercises and tunes from the previous lesson. Then new material is introduced, typically new note rhythms and pitches with diagrams of the note fingerings. There are usually several exercises to practice the new material, then a few tunes that use the new material in a more practical way. The tunes are accompanied by practice notes that point out the more difficult measures in the pieces.

My favorite things about the book are the tunes and exercises, though I did also find the practice notes helpful.

The tunes are pretty typical for an instrument method book. They come from a variety of traditions: Christian hymns, Christmas songs, Jewish songs, nursery songs, lullabies, campfire songs, classical, American folk, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Chinese... I think they’re probably all in the public domain, because then method book writers don’t have to pay for the rights to use the music. There are a few little kid tunes like Mary Had a Little Lamb, but it’s not all boring nursery rhymes and silly stuff. I found the tune selection much more engaging for me as an adult than the tunes in The New Nine-Note Recorder Method, which is aimed more at children.

I’ve seen people write off public domain tunes, saying something like, “Oh, I can just find that for free online, why would I buy a book with it?” but they forget that the tunes had to be sorted out for issues like instrument range, transposed into a playable key, and organized in the book in a way that naturally builds with the addition of new pitches and note rhythms. That in itself is no small feat and takes a lot of time to do.

Some people also don’t like playing tunes that are picked for them, believing that they should be playing what interests them, rather than what’s presented in a method book. That might work for some people, but I found that when I tried that approach, I progressed really slowly because I could easily play really simple tunes, and when I wanted to play a song that happened to be more complicated, it was waaaaay more complicated than what I had been playing and it was just too hard for me to make that jump. The way a book like this gradually builds keeps that from happening. My practice also tended to be kind of aimless when I just played whatever I wanted, since I didn’t have a clear long-term goal that I was striving toward, like “Finish the method book and write a ridiculously long review.”

The tunes include only the music, not any lyrics. I think that’s probably best for learning to read musical notation, since the words can be a distraction, and sometimes beautiful melodies can have lyrics that are pretty juvenile. The one thing I would say about the tunes is that I would have liked to have more opportunities to practice rhythms with dotted eighth notes in tunes with a quarter note time signature (notes are counted a bit differently in 6/8 time) since that rhythm-time signature combo is only used in 4 tunes. However, now that I’ve made it through the method book and have a decent level of competency with the ocarina, I can seek out those tunes for myself (EDIT: There are several tunes with dotted eighth notes in the John Dowland Songs on Ocarina book that came with my Aria, so that's probably what I'll do next).

I found the exercises in the book really helpful as well. A lot of them were similar to each other, but written on the staff for specific note changes and so on. I appreciated this because personally, if they’d just written “Practice changing from this note to this note” I would have done it for maybe a few seconds and moved on. With the exercises written out like they are in the book, I took them more seriously. I also liked that the exercises didn’t have tracks on the demo CD, because that forced me to not rely on my ear and actually learn how to count the music. I also appreciated that they didn’t try to disguise the exercises as “songs” like The New Nine-Note Recorder Method does. That might make children more interested in learning the exercises but is a bit insulting to my intelligence as an adult.

I think it would have been useful for the lessons in the book to reference the "Scales and Exercises" section (pgs 75-80) in the back of the book as the student learns to play each scale in the lessons. For instance, as of lesson 4, the student can play a one octave C scale (exercise 1 on pg 76 or the first line of “C Major scale and arpeggios” on pg 78) a quick “Turn to pg 76 and play exercise 1” could have been helpful. That way, the student would be well-familiar with the scales by the time they reached that section, and the student could benefit from the scales while progressing through the rest of the book. The same could have been done with the F, G, and D scale exercises.

I think I will pencil these directions into my own book if I ever use it to teach anyone else. However, I do like that the scales were all in one section so that the student doesn’t have to hunt them down to practice them all when they’ve finished the book and just want to practice scales and arpeggios as a warm-up.

The practice notes that accompany each tune in the book are also pretty handy. They highlight the bars in new tunes that the writers thought would be most challenging and that might require extra practice.

Some practice notes also provide helpful little tips and reminders like “remember to play C-sharps,” though the student should be warned that once you’ve known how to play C-sharps, etc. for awhile, such reminders will cease in the practice notes. For instance, on tune 38 (pg 72 of lesson 12), practice note 3 reminds the student to “Be careful to play the C-Sharp correctly,” referring to the high C# in bar 7. It doesn’t remind the student to play the low C# in bar 26 because that note was learned a while ago, though both the high and low Cs are affected by the D major key signature.

I also found that some of the practice notes recommended breaking up the music in kind of awkward spots, like in the middle of tied notes/bars in practice note 1 of tune 20 (pg 39 in lesson 6), practice note 2 of tune 37 (pg 71 of lesson 12), practice notes 4 and 5 of tune 38 (pg 72 of lesson 12), and practice note 1 of tune 42 (pg 85 in repertoire section).


Important Errors in the Book:


Both of the tunes in lesson 1 are inconsistent with their sound recordings on the CD. For an absolute beginner in music, this could be a big deal.

1. Mary Had a Little Lamb (tune 1 on pg 5 in lesson 1) is missing a note in bar 6. To match with the sound recording it should have been two E quarter notes instead of a half note. You can either pencil in a correction or ignore the CD sound recording and play along with the DVD, which is consistent with what is written.

Error in Mary Had a Little Lamb

2. Hot Cross Buns (tune 2 on pg 6 in lesson 1) uses quarter notes for the “One a penny, two a penny” part, which in proportion to the rest of the song is too long. To match the sound recording, bars 3 and 4 should have been one bar and written as eighth notes.


Error in Hot Cross Buns

I think maybe the writers were trying to tweak the tune to fit within the parameters of quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes since they didn’t want to introduce eighth notes until lesson 2, but they only tweaked these bars and not the rest of the song. This tune is not covered in the DVD, so I can’t direct the student to a recording that matches the text. If you want to play Hot Cross Buns, use a pencil to change bars 3 and 4 to eighth notes by drawing a line over the top of each grouping of four quarter notes in bars 3 and 4. When you’re playing these notes, just pretend that the vertical bar line that separates them isn’t there and count them as one bar of eighth notes. "One and two and three and four and."

3. In lesson 10, Von fremden Landern und Menschen by R. Schumann (tune 31 on pg 61) is missing ties, which makes the sheet music not match the CD track. It also doesn’t sound particularly lovely when played that way. There should be ties on the low Es between bars 15-16, bars 31-32, and bars 59-60. These are easy enough to pencil in—it’s not a big deal.

Errors in Von fremden Landern und Menschen

This was probably the most frustrating for me just because of the way I was approaching the music, using the book to force myself to learn to count the notes instead of relying on my ear/memory of the tune for the timings of the rhythms. This was the one tune I listened to out of sheer frustration before I really had it down, because even when I played it correctly according to the sheet music, it just sounded wrong. I tried looking the music up online first to see if there were any errors, but everywhere else I found it, it was written in 2/4 time instead of 3/4, so that didn’t help me much. Once I listened to the track and fixed the sheet music, it became one of my favorite tunes in the book.


Errors and Inconsistencies In the Book That Kind of Matter:


Daisy (pg 68 in lesson 11) should be tune 36, not tune 23. I think the tunes are numbered to correlate with the track number on the CD, which is why this matters, but it’s not too hard to figure out yourself.

Tune 41 (pg 84 in repertoire section) has an odd sort of slur/tie combo on the last two measures that I don’t think is technically correct, but I'm not 100% sure. Everywhere I looked online had the slur between the high A and high C in bar 49 separate from the tie between the two high Cs in bars 49-50, and when I tried looking up slur-tie combos in notation, I couldn’t find anything. I think this might have just been a glitch in the writers’/publisher’s software. If I'm wrong and this is a valid way to write this, please let me know.


There is an error in the numbering of the practice notes for tune 44 (pg 87 in the repertoire section). Practice note 2 is missing its number and practice note 3 has the number 2 before it (probably due to auto-numbering in their software). The little circled numbers above the parts of the music that should be practiced extra/first are correct, but because of the numbering error, the note for practice spot 3 directs the student to practice spot 2 and nothing points to practice spot 3. This is easy enough to sort out on your own.

Hunters’ Chorus (pg 88 in repertoire section) should be tune 45, not 44.

Practice notes for tune 50 (pg 95 of repertoire section): The bars referred to in practice note 3 (bar 4 from the 16th notes through bar five) are exactly the same as the pickup notes of the song and the first bar, which are already covered in a previous practice note. Not a big deal, and most people would either not notice and practice it some more or notice and skip it, but it is inconsistent with the rest of the book.

Practice notes for tune 51 (pg 97 of repertoire section): There is an error in practice note 3. The range of measures 9-6 is impossible and clearly wrong. I think it was probably meant to indicate measures 9-12.


Little Punctuation Inconsistencies and Errors In the Book:


(Seriously—this section doesn’t matter. Skip down to “About the CD” unless you like reading about punctuation errors)

Practice notes for tune 17 (pg 36 in lesson 6): The colon (:) is missing from the end of “Practice the following passage first”

Practice notes for tune 18 (pg 37 in lesson 6): There’s a period on the end of note 4, which is inconsistent with other practice notes of that type that don’t give specific directions besides practice from bar ___ to bar ___

Practice notes for tune 20 (pg 39 in lesson 6): The comma on the end of note 2 should have been a period

Tune 23 (pg 45 in lesson 7): This is the only tune in the book where common or 4/4 time denoted as 4/4 instead of with a C—either mixing it up a bit more or staying completely consistent might have been beneficial

Practice notes for tune 30 (pg 58 in lesson 9): End punctuation missing from practice notes 1, 2, and 4

Practice notes for tune 33 (pg 63 in lesson 10): End punctuation missing from practice notes 1 and 2

Practice notes for tune 44 (pg 89 in repertoire section): End punctuation missing from practice note 6

Practice notes for tune 46 (pg 91 in repertoire section): There is an unnecessary comma before the parenthetical notes list “(E D C B)” in practice note 6. It should have had either the comma or the parentheses, but not both.

Practice notes for tune 47 (pg 92 in repertoire section): There is a period instead of a colon after “Practice the following passages first”

Tune 51 (pg 96 in repertoire section): There is a random vertical line running down through the C for the time signature. Not sure what’s up with that, whether it was a printing blip and everyone else’s copies don’t look like that or if their software randomly put in a vertical line. It is not a bar line.  (EDIT: This is the sign for "cut time" or 2/2 time. This isn't an error--just something else the book could have explained and didn't.)


About the CD:


The CD comes standard with the book, whether buying the book alone or the book-DVD combo pack.

The CD has 51 tracks—one for every tune in the book. There are no tracks for the exercises in the book, but that’s a good thing because it helps to force the students to learn to actually count the notes, rather than using the sheet music like a tab and using their ears for the timing of the rhythms, which would shoot their musical learning in the foot in the long run.

The CD is located in an envelope with a clear window in it, attached to the inside back cover of the book. I would not advise trying to remove the envelope, as it might damage the back cover. You can remove the CD from the envelope by lifting the top flap (tucked behind the top of the envelope) and sliding the CD out. If you want to keep the CD separate from the book, put it in a CD case.

The CD itself looks quite plain. The background is just silver and shiny. It reads:

“The Art of Ocarina
“Demonstration CD
“www.stlocarina.com
“2007 STL Ocarina.”

I used Windows Media player to rip the CD to my computer library and to put the tracks on my MP3 player. That way, I could reference the music if I needed to when I was practicing away from home without a CD player (I don’t have one anymore anyway). The tracks are not titled. Most of them are called “Unknown Track” followed by the track number. The only two exceptions are track 26, which is titled “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor” and Track 51, which is simply called “Track 51.” It might have been nice to have all the tracks listed by tune name, but since the tune numbers in the book correlate to the track numbers on the CD, it doesn’t really matter, and if you care that much, you can always go in and put in the titles manually yourself--it's not a big deal.

The title of the CD is listed as “The Art of the Ocarina”(italics mine) rather than “The Art of Ocarina.” The publisher/artist is “STL Ocarina.” The genre is “Instructional” and the year is unknown (it was published in 2007 along with the book). Again, you can tweak all of this title/info stuff if it really bothers you.

The tracks don’t last long, just because the tunes themselves aren’t long. The longest is 1 minute and 40 seconds, and the shortest is 11 seconds. Even though there are 51 tracks, the album doesn’t take up much memory on my devices at all.

The audio tracks are of good quality. The recording is clear. The demo is always done with a real ocarina, rather than with a synthesizer, as a midi, or something like that. Most of the tracks have piano accompaniment, but a few of them are just the ocarina.

Because there’s an actual person playing the instrument, there is sometimes a bit of variation in the tempo, accidentally as well as for artistic reasons. The accidental tempo variations aren’t enough for a beginner to notice most of the time (very small), and the artistic tempo variations are usually obvious enough and have clear reasons, like a tune slowing down a bit toward the end, speeding up on a repeat, or something like that.  I also think there was a place or two where there was either an error in the CD or there should have been a fermata (explained on pg 61 of lesson 10 in the book) over a note in the sheet music.

The one thing I would caution here is that sometimes tempo variations can make it a bit difficult to play along with the CD, and in those cases, it might be best to play and listen separately.

Because I came to the method book wanting to not rely on my ear all the time and to learn to read sheet music by counting the rhythms, I used the CD a bit differently than the authors probably intended. I didn’t listen to the recording until after I’d learned to count the rhythms and could play the tunes smoothly, which allowed me to find a couple of places where there were errors in the sheet music compared to the recording (see the “Important Errors in the Book” section above for more info on that). I probably progressed through the book slower than someone listening to the tunes before they learn to play them, but I think the benefit to my music-reading ability was worth it.


About the DVD:


The DVD is sold separately for $15 or in the combo pack for a discount—$42.20 for the book and DVD together rather than $47 for the book and DVD sold separately.

It comes in a standard DVD case with a professional enough looking cover image:

I would like to point out that the V and second D
of DVD are not capitalized on the cover.

The back provides basic information about the DVD:

“A Companion DVD for The Art of Ocarina Volume 1”
“For C Major 12-hole ocarina”
“12 easy-to-follow lessons”
“Tips on how to practice”
“Instruction on how to read standard musical notation”

There is a small insert inside that provides information about the authors (Dennis Yeh and Laura Yeh) and about the performer/teacher featured on the DVD (Heather Scott). The DVD itself reads:

“The Art of Ocarina
“Volume 1 DVD
“With Heather Scott
“www.stlocarina.com
“2010 STL Ocarina.”

Instead of a silver shiny background like the CD, the DVD has some nice blue and white art on it with a treble clef, a bass clef, and a sixteenth note. It’s not super fancy, but enough to make it look a little more professional.

The DVD opens with a typical DVD menu. The background is more music-art. It looks nice and consistent with the outside of the DVD and case. The background track for the DVD menu is tune 48 from the method book, Sing a Song of Sixpence. The DVD menu is divided into two pages, with “How to Use This DVD” and “Introduction” sections on page one, along with the Chapter 1-6 sections.

To get to the second page, select the arrow pointing right and it will take you to the second menu page, which has sections for Chapters 7-12, “Scales and Exercises”(correlates to pgs 75-80 in the book), “Repertoire” (correlates to pgs 81-97 in the book), and “Fingering Chart.”

The fingering chart section just gives instructions on how to access the free fingering chart on the DVD: “You can print out a complete fingering chart from your computer. It is located in a folder name “extra” on the DVD.”

Personally, I found that the fingering chart file wasn’t in a folder at all. The file (A Complete Fingering Chart.jpg) was immediately visible when I opened the DVD in Windows Explorer.

The fingering chart provides picture tabs (which are necessary for it to be a fingering chart), standard musical notation, ABC note names, and STL’s aforementioned “Easy to learn notation system” (which is not used in this method book/DVD), so it’s pretty comprehensive. The natural notes are displayed on one line and the sharps/flats on another.

It explains that on tenor ocarinas, the pitch is an octave above what’s written on the staff and that in soprano ocarinas, the pitch is two octaves above what’s written on the staff. I would assume that this means that bass C ocarinas are actually what’s written on the staff, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

It even explains that A# = Bb and so on. I’d recommend printing this off and keeping it in your method book or posted on a wall near where you usually practice. That way if you forget a fingering, you can just reference the chart rather than having to flip back and forth through the book all the time.

To get back to page one of the menu, just select the left-arrow.

Obviously, you'll want to watch the “How to Use this DVD” section first, then the “Introduction” before moving on to the chapter lessons. Within the DVD chapters/sections, there are smaller sections, divided by little transition pictures/titles featuring ocarinas that STL sells with some lovely music-art. You can’t select these subsections and jump to them or anything, but they are nice for transitions, giving the student an idea of what’s to come next, etc.

The DVD gives excellent information on the basic aspects of ocarina playing, like how to hold the ocarina, good posture, tonguing, using support fingers for high notes, how to breathe, and things like that.

It also gives great practice advice and some more general info on musical notation, which is sometimes missing from the method book or would require more information for a student to really get it. For instance, sixteenth notes aren’t really explained in the book but are explained in the DVD.

I did find that sometimes things were explained well enough in the DVD, but not always when/where they would most benefit the beginner. For instance, slurs are never explained in the method book, and they are only explained in the DVD at the end of the “Scales and Exercises” section. Slurs first appear in tune 16 (pg 31 in lesson 5) and I think it would have been helpful to explain it in the Chapter 5 section of the DVD. That's why I recommend watching the whole DVD before working through it lesson by lesson.

Heather Scott does a great job teaching on the DVD. Her lines are obviously scripted and she speaks clearly. If English is your first language, you might even find it a bit annoying, because it doesn’t always sound completely natural. For instance, most people use contractions like “don’t” for “do not” and so on, but the script usually doesn’t. However, if English is not your first language, you might find it just a little bit easier to understand because she doesn’t mumble, rush her words, or anything like that.

The video is also valuable for showing things that might not be so easily understood from looking at pictures in a book or trying to read explanations from a book, like the acute bend.

Like the book, the DVD doesn’t explain some things that I think are necessary for a complete beginner in music, like rest values. However, it is a great resource and well worth the extra $10.30 to buy the combo pack, rather than the method book alone, especially for the absolute beginner.

A lot of the important information supplied is stuff that you could find for free online, but you would have to know what to look for in the first place. It would be particularly well-suited as a gift for someone who would like to learn to play the ocarina, but isn’t really computer savvy, like some members of the older generation, or for children whose parents don’t want them accessing the Internet yet. I do think that extra supplemental resources will be necessary for filling in a few holes in basic information on standard musical notation, however (recommended resources listed at the end of this review).


Errors/Inconsistencies in the DVD That Kind of Matter:


There are a few quirks with the DVD, much like with the book. I blame whoever edited the thing and put it together. These inconsistencies aren’t critically important, but they matter enough that it would have been nice to have them fixed before the DVD was sold.

In the Chapter 4 section, exercise 3 (pg 21 in lesson 4) is mentioned and there’s a transition picture like it’s going to be explained and played through, but the clip for playing through it is missing.

In the Chapter 5 section, exercise 1 (pg 28 in lesson 5) is explained and there’s a clip where Ms. Scott claps through it. The clip is quite pixelated(unlike the rest of the DVD), and is repeated twice. I think the second one was supposed to be playing through the exercise on the ocarina, rather than clapping through it again, because there is no clip of her playing through it.

In the Chapter 11 section, tune 34 is only played with piano accompaniment. Usually in the DVD lessons, Ms. Scott plays through once with just the ocarina, then with piano accompaniment. The student is invited to “play along” both times.

Conclusion

There are a few quirks with The Art of Ocarina Volume 1, but overall I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn to play the ocarina. I also recommend it to anyone who can already play the ocarina from tabs or by ear, but who wants to learn to read standard musical notation. The DVD is an excellent resource and well worth the additional $10.30 for the combo pack or even $15 if bought separately, especially for those trying to learn without being able to consult the Internet.

The book and DVD don’t explain how to read standard musical notation quite well enough for me to recommend them as comprehensive, standalone resources to someone who has no prior experience reading music, but there are plenty of cheap and free resources out there for learning what a quarter rest is, etc.

The book and the DVD both have a lot of excellent practice advice. It’s nothing weird or outrageous. In fact, you can find pretty much all of the advice online for free. For instance, here and here. However, I’m glad it was included.

For the absolute beginner, I give the book and CD pair 3 stars out of 5. If the errors I had listed were fixed, I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars. The major downfall of this book is just poor editing and I hope that STL fixes that in future editions. If the book had the errors fixed and also explained every bit of standard musical notation as it came up, I would have given it a 5 out of 5 stars.

I give the DVD 4 stars out of 5, mostly marked down for editing glitches and a few areas where I feel it could have been organized better.


To recap, here is a list of additional resources I that recommend:


Some sort of chromatic digital tuner for checking your intonation when learning to play the highest and lowest notes.

Something you can reference when the text doesn’t explain music theory in a way you understand, like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory by Michael Miller or a website (there are lots). When first learning to count rhythms in 4/4 time, I also found this tool helpful.

Obviously, you’ll also need a 12-hole ocarina tuned in the key of C major. STL Ocarina and Songbird Ocarina both sell ocarinas of a reasonable quality for beginners at a variety of price points. My/my husband’s first ocarina was one of these plastic ocarinas from STL, which I do not recommend—I couldn’t get the highest notes to sound right, no matter how hard or light I blew. My current ocarina is an Aria, which I do recommend, but might be a bit pricey for someone just starting out. I have not personally played them, but have read a lot of people on The Ocarina Network recommend Focalink plastic ocarinas and the Night by Noble ocarina to beginners as some of the best plastic ocs around. (EDIT: I have acquired a Night by Noble. The tuning on it is great, but I don't use it much, because it has a way lower breath requirement than the Aria that I'm used to playing. It is also much quieter than the Aria). The Focalink plastic ocarinas are available in alto/tenor and soprano. Both ocarinas are available in other colors. There are, of course, a lot of great ocarina makers out there. Whatever you do, don't buy a cheap Ocarina of Time replica from eBay. They're poorly tuned and will just hold you back as an ocarina player.

I also recommend joining The Ocarina Network. The search function on the forums is crap, but they're a great resource and we’d love for you to come contribute to the discussion. The search function’s crapiness can also be gotten around by just using a search filter on Google, like I’ve done here for “Acute bend.” Please take some time to search and see if your question has already been answered 1,000 times (like, “What ocarina should I buy?”) before creating a new thread to ask it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. I hope it helped you make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase The Art of Ocarina Volume 1 method book and/or DVD. If I missed anything, please let me know and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

You can find further discussion on this book and review here.

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