An Otamatone is a Japanese instrument that is shaped like a musical note and sounds like a theremin or synthesizer. It is important to know how to set up the instrument and adjust the sound settings to produce different notes. The notes on the neck (or neck switch) are played with the fingers of one hand while grasping the base with the other hand. When you've got experience, you can incorporate techniques like vibrato, glissando, and "mouth" squeezing to produce a funny "wah" sound. The Otamatone was created as a toy, so have fun creating all kinds of great tunes!
Part 1 of 3: Get Familiar with the Otamatone
Step 1. Identify the neck switch, muzzle, and controls
The bulbous base of the instrument is called the mouth, and it has a small indentation that you can open and close to produce sound variations. The instrument's power, volume and octave controls are on the back of the mouth. The neck that comes out of the base is called the neck switch - you'll move your fingers up and down to play different notes.
The control panel at the rear of the base differs from model to model. A regular Otamatone has a power or volume switch and an octave switch, while the Otamatone deluxe has a power or volume knob, an octave switch, a headphone jack, and an amplifier jack
Step 2. Examine the rear panel to determine if you have a normal or deluxe model
You must know what model you have to better understand its parts and capabilities. Deluxe Otamatons tend to be larger than normal models, but there are also several differences in their characteristics and how they are played.
- The deluxe model has 1 button that controls both the power and the volume. A normal model only has a power switch and a simple "high" or "low" volume setting.
- The Otamatone deluxe has a red power light that illuminates when the instrument is on.
- The Otamatone deluxe has 2 ports on each side of the octave switch: 1 for headphones and 1 output connector (DC).
Step 3. Tuck the batteries into the back of the base
Open the battery door at the rear of the base, just below the controls, with a coin or similarly sized item. Take the battery box out of the base and insert 3 AA batteries (preferably alkaline) into the appropriate positions.
- In the normal model, it is not necessary to remove anything, you just have to put the batteries directly into the base in the correct position.
- The positive side of the battery with the bulge should touch the flat end of the battery cartridge and the negative flat end of the battery should touch the spring.
Part 2 of 3: Playing the Otamatone
Step 1. Set the power control switch to the right to turn it on
Look at the rear panel of the base where all the knobs are to find a power switch. If you have a normal model, slide it to the right until you hear a click. If you have the deluxe model, turn the power or volume knob to the right until you see the power light.
With the deluxe version, if the light does not turn on, you may need to change the batteries
Step 2. Turn the knob or slide the switch to the high or low volume setting
Locate the knob at the base (or "head") of the instrument and look for a knob that indicates the sound. In the normal version, it will be marked with a speaker symbol with 2 or 3 lines next to it. On the deluxe model, simply turn the power or volume knob clockwise to increase the volume.
If you plan to record a song on the Otamatone, it is best to use the highest setting
Step 3. Hold the base in your left hand with your fingers over the stitches
Grab the base (or "head") of the Otamatone with your left hand. Make sure the mouth is facing away from the body. Place your index finger and thumb on the raised dots on either side of your mouth.
- Pinch the dots at the base to open the instrument's mouth, 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 neck with your left.
Step 4. Hold the neck between your thumb and forefinger
Place your right hand anywhere on the neck, and hold it lightly between thumb and forefinger. Practice moving your hand up and down the neck using this light grip. Use your left hand to stabilize the instrument in an upright position to make it easier.
A light grip is important because you will move your fingers up and down the neck to produce different notes
Step 5. Press anywhere on the neck to play a note
Start by placing your index finger on top of the neck switch to play the lowest note, which in most cases is a C. Then move your finger to the next note to play C sharp. Scroll down in increments to hear each note in the octave. The lowest notes are located at the top of the neck, and the notes get higher as you go down.
- If you have a digital version, the base will have keys like a piano. The regular and deluxe models simply have a smooth bar that responds to finger pressure.
- Deluxe Otamatons start at C and go up to G sharp (covering a single octave and half of the next octave), but some deluxe versions start at different notes (like F to A). Consult the Otamatone instruction manual to see how it is configured.
- The normal model only covers an octave that goes from C to C. Due to its small size, it is not necessary to slide your finger down far to reach the next note. You can play an octave higher or lower by sliding the octave switch to the right or left on the back of the base.
- Practice playing scales up and down, covering each note. Some people feel that the notes are quite close together, so the more you get used to the little jumps from one note to another, the better otamatonist you will be!
Part 3 of 3: Using Different Techniques
Step 1. Play harmonies by placing 2 fingers on the neck switch
Use your index and middle fingers to press down on the neck in 2 different places. This will create a fuller sound than playing a single note at a time. Playing harmonies is essential if you want to play more than just simple songs on the Otamatone.
- In the normal and deluxe models, it may be difficult to calculate where two notes are located in relation to each other. Start by placing your fingers at a distance of 2 inches (5.1 cm) and adjust the distance according to what you hear. Once you listen to it, you will have a better idea of where the harmonic notes are along the neck.
- If you have a digital version, press 2 keys that have 1 key between them for an easy harmonic sound.
- Practice playing harmonies up and down the neck by playing first C with E, then Re with F, E with G, and so on. This will help the muscles to memorize the space between the notes. Use a small tuner to find where it is or, if the model came with a manual, refer to it to find the notes. You can also find grade tables by searching online for "Otamatone Grade Table."
Step 2. Vibrate your index finger on the neck switch to play vibrato
Lift, press, lift and quickly press the neck with the index finger. Try to make the movement as fast and small as you can. It will take some practice!
- Vibrato is a pulsing effect in which the pitch vibrates slightly up and down. (Opera singers are usually known for using vibrato.)
- Practice playing vibrato scales going up and down the neck (that is, playing each note vibrating). Once you get the hang of it, try out the 2-finger vibrato harmonies.
Step 3. Slide your fingers up and down the neck to whistle
Instead of moving your fingers from one note to the next up and down the neck, slide them up and down from one note to the next. It may be helpful to squeeze the base with your left hand to stabilize the instrument.
- This technique is similar to glissando on the piano, where the pianist slides 1 or 2 fingers up or down on the keyboard.
- Practice glissando between a few notes at a time to help you memorize the spacing of the notes along the neck. For example, slide from C sharp to F sharp, then C sharp to G, D to G sharp, and so on. Search online for a note chart if you are not sure where they are on the neck.
- If you have a digital model, the notes are presented like the keys on a piano, so you can find out which key is which note by looking at a standard piano chart. You won't be able to slide your finger up and down the neck, but you can use 4 fingers to play ascending or descending notes in succession to produce a similar sound effect.
Step 4. Select a low, medium or high tone
Look at the base of the instrument to find a knob that indicates 3 different tone settings. Use medium for casual play, low for a buzzing sound effect, and high for sustained high-pitched notes.
- A high-pitched setting sounds great with vibrato, but you can play vibrato in any setting.
- The notes on the Otamatone cover an octave at a time, so you may need to adjust the pitch mid-song to switch from higher notes to much lower notes.
Step 5. Use your left index finger and thumb to open and close your mouth
Pinch the "cheeks" of the head at each end of the mouth to open the slit. This will change the sound from a "woo" to a "wah".
- You can open your mouth while playing the vibrato to produce a human-like sound.
- Practice pinching your cheeks while playing scales to learn how to use both hands at the same time.
- It might be helpful to watch online videos of people playing the Otamatone.
- If you have an ear for music, try playing some recognizable tunes like "Happy Birthday to you" or "Christmas, Christmas."
- If you don't want to disturb others while playing the Otamatone deluxe, plug headphones into the jack so that only you can hear it.
- To amplify the sound of the Otamatone deluxe for a live performance (or for fun), connect it to an amplifier using the DC connector.