Intonation on Piccolo
Over the last few weeks, students have been asking me for help with piccolo. For such a diminutive instrument, pitch awareness and placement is a huge issue. It might even be the biggest issue because so much of what we know about playing the flute translates directly to piccolo. Here are a few tips to help your students play better in tune on piccolo:
- Make sure the piccolo the student is playing is in good repair. In my experience, school piccolos are notorious for being in the worst condition of any instruments in the storage locker. They have shredded pads, bent keys, plating flaking off the keys…you name it. They rarely see the inside of a repair shop and often are unplayable.
- Check the headjoint cork placement. This is probably the #1 problem with student flute players playing piccolo out of tune. Make sure to use a piccolo cleaning rod for the correct measurement. The line should be in the middle of the blow hole.
- Have the cork replaced if it moves easily. A leaking cork will cause a lot of pitch problems.
- Be sure that your piccolo players have the most stable and developed embouchure in your ensemble. They need to know how to correct pitch and use their air properly on flute to know how to begin to explore piccolo without causing more problems than they solve.
- You need to put the piccolo a little higher on your lip than the flute. Because of the small size, issues of placement are magnified. In other words, smaller adjustments will mean larger changes in pitch and tone quality
- Playing octaves will teach the student what in tune means on the piccolo. The pitch tendencies are a bit different than flute. This is especially noticeable in the notes just above the staff like Bb, B, C, C# and D. This can also be the case with long notes on the staff like D, Eb and E. Another way to practice pitch is by using a tone generator and playing intervals like perfect 4ths and 5ths against the drone.
- Make sure to make adjustments by moving your lips independently. Rolling your bottom lip out will raise the pitch, using your top lip to angle the air down will lower the pitch just as on flute. The movements are more subtle and require you listen carefully.
- If rolling the instrument to adjust pitch is a bad idea on flute, it is an even worse idea on piccolo. Remember, everything, both good and bad, is magnified on the piccolo. You could even say, “less is more”. A smaller change makes a bigger difference.
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