Ocarina is an oldest known wind instrument. The first ocarina-like instrument was found about 12000 years ago on the territory of modern South and Central America, on the lands of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas. Often they were shaped like birds or animals. Such instruments could also be found in India. The Chinese ocarina-like instrument is called Xun and usually has an egg-like form.
In the sixteenth century the ocarina appeared in Europe. It was the Aztecs, sent by the conquistador Hernan Cortes, who brought in Europe the song and dance that accompanied the ocarina. Since that time the ocarina went on to become popular in Europe. It was mostly used as a toy until in the nineteenth century the instrument maker Giuseppe Donati modified it and made a more comprehensive instrument which was called “a classical ocarina”. It is a kind of vessel flute with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece. The closed shape is the distinctive feature of the ocarina. Traditionally the first ocarinas were made of clay. There were found the specimens made of gourds and fruit. The modern ocarinas are mostly made of ceramic, but other materials are also used: plastic, wood, glass, metal, or bone.
During its long history the ocarina had different forms such as human figures, birds, animals, reptiles and geometrics.
The ocarina differs in many shapes, sizes and number of holes.
- Transverse is a round shaped ocarina. Usually it has ten or twelve holes. The transverse ocarina is held with two hands.
- Pendants: English pendant ocarina is very small and has four or six holes, Peruvian pendant ocarina is mostly used for festivals and ceremonies. Usually it has an animal’s shape and eight or nine holes.
- Double or triple ocarina: usually it plays two octaves plus a major second, or a fifth. It is used for harmonic playing.
Some manufacturers in the nineteenth century produced the ocarinas with keys. The keys expanded the instrument's range, help fingers reach holes that are widely placed, or play notes not in the native key of the instrument