Ocarina: Turn your iPhone into a “real” instrument

I’ve been playing with Smule’s Ocarina iPhone app for a couple of days, and it’s quite fun. It emulates a real ocarina, an ancient wind instrument with four or more holes for controlling pitch. Instead of holes, you touch four circles on the iPhone’s screen in various combinations, and you blow into the iPhone’s mic to play notes. You can also tilt the phone while playing to add vibrato.

It’s supposed to be easy to learn, though I found it quite tricky to start with (then again I’m rubbish with real wind instruments). After a couple of hours, though, I could play a few scales and Amazing Grace, which was immensely satisfying! There’s a “how to play” section within the app, and a video tutorial online, which helps.

I’ve heard a few concerns about the fact that you have to blow into the iPhone’s mic to play the Ocarina – apparently blowing into a mic might damage it. Not sure if there’s any truth behind this theory – after all, the iPhone’s mic is presumably designed to handle the odd bit of spittle! We’ll see I guess.

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In keeping with Smule’s other apps, such as Sonic Lighter, you can also view a globe of other Ocarina players around the world, and hear what they’re playing. (It’s not clear whether you’re hearing them in “real time” – I suspect not.) You can also send some “love” to the player if you like their tune by clicking the little heart icon. However I couldn’t find any way to view a list of the most “loved” tunes.

And in conclusion…

Definitely a fun app, but will it end up being used seriously as a real instrument? Time will tell. Meanwhile you can get it on the App Store for a special introductory price of $0.99.

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