10 Tips for Playing the Piccolo

Playing the piccolo

The piccolo may be the instrument that a young musician starts playing, but it’s more likely an additional instrument for a flutist. Playing the piccolo isn’t easy – but it is fun! In high school and college orchestras and marching bands, it offers musicians an opportunity to play and be heard. For professional musicians, the piccolo offers flexibility and depth – many professional flutists pack their professional-level piccolos for auditions or recording sessions on the chance of being able to showcase their skills on both instruments.

Here are ten tips for playing the piccolo:

  1. Invest in a good instrument – Manufacturers today are producing high quality piccolos at all price levels. Invest in a quality instrument with a good scale, meaning a piccolo that plays well in tune with itself. A good piccolo will hold its resale value better and serve you well in your performances. Take your tuner with you to try instruments, checking the pitch of each D on the piccolo.
  2. Do not try to hide or muffle the sound – Because the pitch range of the piccolo is higher, it is perceived by our ears as louder than the flute. It is a mistake to ‘hold back’ because this causes fundamental problems with support and air speed. It takes a bit more courage to play realizing every note is quite audible to all, but you can use this to your advantage in developing your musicianship.
  3. Get to know your tuner – Intonation is critical for all musicians, and even more so for piccolo players. It is essential to regularly work with a tuner so that you are aware of your own tendencies and can adjust continuously to produce the best results. Make sure your instrument is at the temperature it will be when played, as temperature changes can affect tuning. If the piccolo is cold, the pitch will go flat; if warm, it will go sharp.
  4. Use the correct size embouchure – A piccolo embouchure should be about half the size of one used for a flute. Place the piccolo higher on your bottom lip and keep in mind that it may help to have a slight descending angle to parallel your bottom lip.
  5. Alignment – It helps to align the embouchure hole slightly forward, rather than directly in line with, the center of the keys on the instrument. This helps keep the player from covering too much of the embouchure hole, again, due to the smaller size of the instrument.
  6. Loosen Up – Many new piccolo players tighten up their lips. The embouchure directs the air to the instrument, but it does not produce the sound – air does that. You can use a lighter grip than you would on a flute because of the smaller size of the piccolo. Relax, breathe and make sure your shoulders and neck remain relaxed to produce the best tone.
  7. Wear earplugs – Yes, really! The piccolo has some very high pitches and wearing one or two earplugs will protect your ears and enable you to hear the tones better.  One professional musician wears an earplug in his right ear the entire time he is playing.
  8. Low Equals Flow, High Equals Compression – Try playing with the smallest possible quantity of air. Many professionals find that pitch problems stem from blowing too much air through the piccolo. Tone production on the piccolo is based on using stronger support but less quantity of air than flutists use.
  9. Get to Know Alternate Fingerings – Alternate fingerings provide a wealth of opportunity to adjust pitch and change the tone colors of notes. Try to incorporate a new fingering every week until you become able to easily remember your choices for a given note. It also helps to remember several choices per pitch, so that you have options from which to choose.
  10. Keep it light – Keep the spring tension lighter on the piccolo than on the flute. Use lighter finger pressure as well because the hands are positioned closer together than on the flute. Keep the fingers close to the keys and stay relaxed and supple in your motion.

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