How To Play Otamatone

An Otamatone is a Japanese instrument that's shaped like a music note and sounds like a theremin or synthesizer. It’s important to know how to set up the instrument and adjust the sound settings to produce different notes. You use your fingers on one hand to play notes on the stem (or stem switch) while your other hand grips the base. Once you get a feel for it, you can incorporate techniques like vibrato, glissando, and squeezing the “mouth” to produce a wacky “wah” sound. The Otamatone was created to be a toy, so have fun creating all kinds of funky tunes!

1
Adjust the power control switch to the right to turn it on. Look at the back panel of the base where all the knobs are to find a power switch. If you have a standard model, slide it to the right until you hear a click. If you have the deluxe model, turn the power/volume knob to the right until the power light turns on.
  • For the deluxe version, if the light doesn’t come on, you may need to change the batteries.

 2

Turn the knob or slide the switch to the high or low volume setting. Locate the knob on the base (or "tadpole") of the instrument and look for a knob that denotes sound. On the standard version, it will be marked by a speakerphone symbol with 2 or 3 lines next to it. For the deluxe model, simply turn the power/volume knob to the right to increase the volume.
  • If you plan to record a song on your Otamatone, it's best to use the loudest setting.
3
Hold the base in your left hand with your fingers on the dots. Grip the base (or "tadpole") of the Otamatone with your left hand. Make sure the mouth is facing away from your body. Place your index finger and thumb on the raised dots located on either side of the mouth.
  • The dots on the base are pinched to open the mouth of the instrument, which changes the sound from "woo" to "wah."
  • If you are left-handed, it may be more comfortable to grip the base with your right hand and the stem with your left.
4
Hold the stem between your thumb and index finger. Place your right hand anywhere on the stem and lightly grip it between your thumb and index finger. Practice moving your hand up and down the stem using this light grip. Use your left hand to steady the instrument in an upright position to make it easier.
  • A light grip is important because you'll be moving your fingers up and down the neck to produce different notes.
5
Push down anywhere on the stem to play a note. Start with your index finger placed at the very top of the stem switch to play the lowest note, which in most cases, is a C. Then, move your finger down to the next note to pay a C-sharp. Keep moving down in increments to hear each note in the octave. Lower notes are located at the top of the stem and the notes get higher as you move down the stem.
  • If you have a digital version, the stem will have keys on it like a piano. The standard and deluxe models simply have a smooth bar that responds to the pressure from your fingers.
  • Deluxe Otamatones start at C and go all the way up to a G-sharp (covering a single octave and half of the next octave), but some deluxe versions start at different notes (like from F to A). Refer to your Otamatone instruction manual to see how your Otamatone is set up.
  • The standard model only covers a single octave covering C to C. Due to its small size, you don’t need to slide your finger very far down the stem to reach the next note. You can access a higher or lower octave by sliding the octave switch to the right or the left on the back of the base.
  • Practice playing scales up and down, covering each note. Some people find the notes to be fairly close together, so the more you get used to small jumps from note to note, the better Otamatonist you’ll be!

 

 In the following video, a Cellist (and proud Otamatone owner!) shares some tips for mastering hand placement on a fretless (a characteristic the Cello and the Otamatone have in common) instrument and “adding some love” to your notes using vibrato. While these pointers are based on the experience of a relative expert, they’re applicable - and quite helpful - no matter your skill level.

Enjoy!

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