Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Make this your summer of piccolo!

Looking for a summer project to keep you motivated over the next few months? Might I suggest piccolo?  This oft-unloved tiny flute has a sweet sound and some awesome repertoire (more all the time!), and I truly believe that it's only due to lack of instruction and practice time that it strikes fear in the hearts of so many. If you learn it in a hurry because your band director shoves it at you, you're starting out behind and will constantly be in a position of jury trying to survive each rehearsal. So, get a great book, snuggle up with some inspiring recordings, visit my friend Dr. Christine Beard's amazing piccolo website, and get to work!

Here are some tips I share every year with my Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive participants in our optional :Learning to Love Piccolo" workshop!:

1. Play a little bit higher on the lip (especially if you have no lip plate).

The blow hole is smaller, so it stands to reason that your normal flute-playing position will have you covering too much of it with your bottom lip. Experiment by placing the headjoint on your bottom lip, rather than under it, in different positions until you feel that you have control over all registers without making big adjustments.

2. Learn your pitch tendencies.

Get out the tuner and play every single note individually. What does the tuner tell you—how many cents flat or sharp are you? Write it down, as well as taking notes on what you have ot do to eventually get each note in tune (change vowel shape, air directions, etc.)

3. Practice all the same tone you do on flute, from D1-B3.

Long tones, harmonics, “diamonds”, and everything else you do on flute are equally valuable on piccolo.

4. Get used to practicing with ear plugs.

Piccolo really does cause nerve damage when played in the upper register. If you hate the muffled sound of cheap foam ear plugs, you can invest in more expensive, equally attenuating plugs like Earasers, Ear Peace, or MusicSafe by Alpine. Or you can learn to translate the sound you’re hearing with the foam plugs from the drugstore. All will protect your ears and should be worn every time you play.

5. Learn alternate fingerings.

The piccolo tends to get flatter, not sharper, in the third register, so for some instruments, alternate fingerings are the best way to control pitch and volume. This fingering chart from John Krell's notes is a great start.

6. Buy a good instrument.

Not all piccolos are created equally, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive one in the store. Like flute, stick with trusted brands from trustworthy merchants: Burkhart, Emerson, Pearl, Powell, Yamaha are good to try. A wood or plastic piccolo without a lip plate will be easier to blend in a concert band situation, while hybrids like Yamaha’s YPC-32, which has a plastic body and metal head joint with a lip plate, will work equally well in marching band and concert band. Always try before you buy!

7. Know your place.

The piccolo is not a shrinking violet, and you can’t be, either! Play in tune, with a beautiful sound, and know that you are serving as a special color in the ensemble. If you try to hide by playing ppp, you’ll only be flat, airy, and paranoid. Love your piccolo and know it well, and you will be rewarded.

8. Reward yourself with a great solo! (These are appropriate for junior high through high school)

I (easiest)
Barone Learning the Piccolo (Little Piper)
Trott Bird Fanciers Delight (Alry)

II
Laufer Scars and Scrapes (Laufer Jazzical)
Michal Four Dances (Alry)
Tchiakovsky/Kennedy March Miniature (Alry)

III (hardest)
Jacob March to the River Weser from The Pied Piper (Oxford)
Liebermann Concerto (Theodor Presser)
Persichetti Parable (Elkan Vogel)
Vivaldi Concerto in C Major, P. 79 and Concerto in A minor, P. 83 (International)

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