The piccolo is an instrument made of wood or plastic and silver, or a combination of these three materials. It is half the size of a flute and plays the highest note range. Although it is used mostly in orchestral pieces, there are some pieces written especially for this instrument.
As you learn to play the piccolo, you will discover that although the fingers are in the same position as on the flute, a separate effort is required to learn about the embouchure and other differences. This guide will describe the basic principles to get you started playing this lively-sounding instrument.
Step 1. Learn to play the flute
The piccolo is very similar and you should first learn to play the flute. If you play in a band or orchestra, you may not play piccolo all the time, depending on the types of pieces the ensemble plays; so it is important to have the versatility to be able to play the flute as well.
Step 2. Choose a piccolo according to where you will use it and your level of mastery
Plastic or silver-plated metal piccolos are cheaper than wooden or silver ones. Those made of complex plastic are strong enough to perform well and also produce clear, quality sound. Wooden piccolos produce a softer tone than metal piccolos. A popular mix is to combine the metal head with the wooden body. However, combining materials can cause inconsistencies in tuning, as they will react differently to varying temperatures.
Keep in mind that the piccolo is tuned in different keys. C is the most common, but many older piccolos are tuned in Db. It is recommended that you choose a piccolo in C, as you can play the flute part. Parts in Db are not common, but you can find them in older parts
Step 3. Gather the necessary accessories from the “Things You'll Need” section at the bottom
Step 4. Consider paying a flute teacher who also plays the piccolo to tutor you
This resource will be very important as you learn to play.
Step 5. Learn the piccolo extension
The flute fingerings will produce the same notes on the piccolo, but one octave higher. The music is written one octave less than the concert pitch. It may take a while for you to get used to the notes you play and the ones on the sheet.
Step 6. Get familiar with playing the major scale, the minor scale, and the chromatic scale
Step 7. Try practicing with an electronic tuner in front of you
Test how long you can steady a note and try to stay in tune consistently. Also observe what are the trends of certain notes on your piccolo: Grave? Sharp? Tuned?
Step 8. Tune up before playing
Tune to A. If the tuner says it's too sharp (moving to the right), pull the piccolo head. If it says it's too low (the tuner will move to the left), push it. The piccolo is a small and fickle instrument, so be prepared to constantly make minor adjustments! Try to tune in A high and low. Piccolo cannot be tuned as effectively in F or B flat, which are notes often used for tuning in large ensembles.
Step 9. Practice frequently
Some people may find the piercing sound a piccolo learner makes is annoying, so try practicing in a closed room. Just make sure your practice space is large and has adequate acoustics.
Step 10. Clean your piccolo completely after playing
Use a cotton swab or run a piece of cloth through the tuning rod and then slide it into your piccolo to remove the saliva. Every once in a while, clean with a piece of cloth.
Method 1 of 1: Fingering Chart
- Just make a few minor adjustments when you tune a piccolo. Make sure it is at the temperature where you are going to play it as the change in temperature can affect the tuning. If the piccolo is cold, the pitch will become low; if it's warm, sharp.
- You can also try tuning in D. Although this is unorthodox, it does help because it is on the same major chord as A, (you can also tune in F #).
- If your piccolo is constantly going out of tune, the tuning cork may need repair or adjustment. At one end of your tuning rod, there should be a line running around it. Insert the rod into the head so that you can see this line through the hole in the mouthpiece. The line should be exactly in the center. If it isn't, ask a teacher to fix the cork.
- If you play the piccolo (especially on the higher scale) in a confined space, you might want to wear earplugs. However, after a while, you will most likely get used to it.
- If you're playing in an ensemble and you produce a sound that's out of tune, you should normally blow harder to raise the pitch, especially on the higher notes. Try to raise your eyebrows when you are playing so that this will raise your tone. It may seem strange, but it really helps.
- Keep your lips taut and your cheeks somewhat relaxed. This helps with tone and reduces airy sound.
- A wooden piccolo is a bit more difficult to play than a metal one.
- Make sure your tuner is set to 440 Hz (US standard) or 442 Hz (European standard).
- Although the flute fingering applies to most notes on the piccolo, some notes (especially the high ones) have a special fingering. Find a piccolo fingering chart and then try playing them.
- The intonation of the notes on the piccolo is not necessarily the same as on the flute. For example, the middle D # is noticeably low on the flute but high on the piccolo. Instead of testing your instincts on the flute, sit down with a tuner and discover the intonation on your piccolo.
- The piccolo is somehow famous for being difficult to play in tune. Its small size makes it difficult to put it together fully in tune and causes what would be small variations in pitch on larger instruments to become quite significant. The fact that the piccolo is so sharp does not help as it is quite noticeable when it is not in tune.
- If you have a wooden piccolo, don't “blow it inside” to heat it up. This can cause the wood to break! Instead, use your hands to warm it up if it's cold.
- For pipers with long fingers, it can be difficult to precisely press the smaller keys on the piccolo.
- Be careful when cleaning or assembling your piccolo. Be gentle and don't turn the keys or rub the pads. If your piccolo isn't working well, take it to a music store to have it fixed.