PLAYING THE PICCOLO (AND LOVING IT!)


The life of a flute player requires us to play the piccolo. Though many flutists approach the piccolo with trepidation, becoming comfortable with the instrument makes us stronger performers and teachers. 


When I teach the piccolo, my goal as a teacher is to help my students strip away any discomfort they may have about the piccolo. To become comfortable with the instrument, I offer the following pieces of advice:


1.  Focus your piccolo practice time on aspects of playing the instrument that feel the most different from playing the flute. Flute and piccolo playing are related: most of what you do on flute is going to translate very well to piccolo, just on a smaller level.   Many parts of your regular flute practice such as scales, arpeggios, finger exercise, etudes, etc., will benefit your piccolo playing.  However, there are several other piccolo specific aspects which I find need special attention such as learning how to control your air speed, using a smaller embouchure without creating a tension, speed of vibrato, making smaller adjustments to angle of air, learning how to articulate in a way which will blend with other woodwinds, and learning the intonation tendencies of you piccolo. 

2.  Consistency in practice is the best way to become comfortable on piccolo.  Even if you only have a few minutes to spend on piccolo during a practice session, it will benefit your piccolo chops when you need to change gears and spend a bigger portion of your practice time on piccolo.  I do long tones and a few other exercises on piccolo even when I don’t have any upcoming piccolo performances. Then, when I required to play piccolo, I am ready to go!  Five minutes of long tones on piccolo everyday for a month (5X30=150 minutes) will do more for your piccolo playing then suddenly playing two and a half hours in a panic.

 3.  Approach EVERYTHING like it is a tone study. A beautiful sound should be the most important aspect of your piccolo playing. Though we should all have excellent finger dexterity on our instrument, it is the piccolo players who gave us goose bumps during slow movement Shostakovich symphony solos that we remember.  


Be strategic when working to improve your piccolo playing. 

  • Use your tuner and listen to your timbre. You should be able to play with a consistently beautiful tone.  
  • Play with a drone to hone your intonation skills.
  • Switch back and forth between flute and piccolo frequently to emulate what you need to do in real life.
  • Be fastidious in your approach by planning your practice sessions. If you have limited time, focus first on tone development exercises: long tones, flexibility, singing and playing, articulation (yes, this is a tone study), vibrato, etc..
  • Take breaks every 20 to 25 minutes. 

Dr. Verbeck’s Piccolo Tips:


  • Always strive for a beautiful sound!  Everything you do on the piccolo should be a tone study.


  • SPACE! Make sure you have plenty of space in your mouth, focusing on the space between you back teeth.


  • Make sure your tongue isn’t creating a roadblock.


  • Air pressure and air speed need to be stronger and faster on piccolo than on flute.


  • While practicing, always keep in mind that you are practicing to perform, not practicing to practice. Challenge yourself to make your playing interesting and musical even if it is “just scales,” or “just long tones.” You want to be engaged when you perform, so practice being engaged. 


  • Know your pitch!  Practice with a tuner and know the tendencies of your instrument. 


  • Alternate fingerings are a must on piccolo.  Get a good fingering book!


  • Have alternate fingerings at the ready for your excerpts!


  • The d# key can make a big difference to the timbre and ease of a note.  Experiment!


  • Try to play everyday even if it is only for 5 minutes. 


  • The left hand notes in the lower register tend to “pop.”  Know this and adjust accordingly.


  • Much of what you do on the flute will work on the piccolo, but on a smaller scale.  If you are struggling, DO LESS!


  • We tend to “try really hard” when playing piccolo because we need stronger air pressure for the piccolo.  This often translates into tension in the neck, throat, face, etc.  Redirect that effort into good air support and leave everything else behind. 


  • Pull out your headjoint!  By keeping the headjoint pushed in too much, your upper register will be difficult to play and your piccolo’s scale will be compromised.


  • Use your flute to practice the piccolo!  If you have a difficult passage to practice, especially if it is in the upper register, woodshed using your flute.


EQUIPMENT and TOOLS

EAR PLUGS: Always practice with hearing protection!  Foam earplugs will do the trick in a pinch but it is nice to have nicer quality earplugs if you are going to be using them frequently. I use ETY•Plugs® High Fidelity Earplugs and MP•9-15 Music•PRO® Electronic Earplugs.  http://www.etymotic.com

BOOKS:
Several great resources for piccolo players exist but you don't feel obligated to buy or only use piccolo specific books.  I use a lot of flute books in my practicing and teaching.

  • Sept Exercices journaliers pour la flûte, Op.5 by M. A. Reichert (available on IMSLP)
  • Tone Development Through Interpretation and De La Sonorite by Marcel Moyse
  • Twenty Five Studies for the Flute by Louis Drouet 


Below are a few of my favorite piccolo specific resources that I encourage my students to purchase.

Excerpts:

  • Orchestral Excerpts for Piccolo by Jack Wellbaum and Martha Rearick
  • Practice Book for the Piccolo by Trevor Wye and Patricia Morris
  • In the Limelight: Piccolo Solos and Technical Passages from the Symphonic Band Repertoire compiled by Nan Raphael


Methods:

  • The Mazzanti Method by Nicola Mazzanti (piccolo method book)
  • The Piccolo Study Book by Patricia Morris (etude book)


Fingering Books: All Piccolo players should have a good alternate fingering book. 

  • The Complete Piccolo by Jan Gippo (includes brief history re: the piccolo, graded repertoire list and alternate fingering chart)
  • A Basic Guide to Fingering for the Piccolo by Stephan Tanzer (comprehensive charts of alternate fingerings, trills and tremolos)


TUNER: All piccolo players should have a good tuner or tuner app that can also produce a drone.  You should also make sure that your tuner will pick up the upper register of the piccolo well.


I use two tuners systems: an app called Total Energy Tuner and a Korg tuner with a Korg contact mic. I like Total Energy Tuner's drone function, metronome and the recording functionality. The Korg set-up picks up the upper register of the piccolo without issue and allows me to see my pitch in noisy situations.