Dr. Verbeck’s Piccolo Tips:
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.
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.
Below are a few of my favorite piccolo specific resources that I encourage my students to purchase.
Fingering Books: All Piccolo players should have a good alternate fingering book.
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.