This is the year your band is ready to push the boundaries, and the music you’ve chosen for your program includes piccolo. Whether this is the first time the instrument is integrated into your flute section or your former piccolo player graduated, choosing a student to perform on the instrument may seem like a daunting task. To take some of the uncertainty from assigning the performer, here are three factors to consider when choosing the next piccolo player for your ensemble.
There will be a learning curve for the player transitioning to piccolo.
Many students are shocked to find they are not able to make a sound the first time they try the instrument. I remember the frustration I felt when my high school band director handed me a beautiful wooden piccolo, and the only note I could sound was B-flat. I tried blowing my air out faster, harder, slower, and nothing seemed to work. I talked to the principal flute player about my frustration, and she suggested I ask for one of the plastic piccolos that had a lip plate. I felt saved! For many students, the initial transition from a lip plate on the flute to no lip plate on the wooden piccolo causes sound issues. If your program owns a piccolo with a lip plate on the head joint, start your beginning piccolo player on this instrument. The lip plate aids in positioning the instrument for optimum tone. Also, instruct the student to practice in front of a mirror allowing them to see how the air is entering the instrument via the vapor trail. This feedback directs the player to adjust their aperture accordingly.
Once sound and full tone are established, the next factor for a new piccolo player to overcome is the different intonation tendencies as compared to the flute. Performing scale and arpeggio exercises on the piccolo develop the student’s ear for the instrument, in addition to improving their technical facility and breath control. I begin my students with slurred, five-note scale patterns as they are accessible for even my youngest piccolo players. Practicing articulated scales is also vital for great tone and intonation on the instrument. Allow your new piccolo player the time needed to develop these skills for the music to flourish!
The player transitioning to piccolo must demonstrate solid fundamentals on the flute.
Because of the similarities between the flute and piccolo, a player that struggles with the flute will find those issues amplified on piccolo. For example, lip flexibility is essential for success on both instruments. Often, players form their embouchure in a fixed position on flute which causes major issues when beginning piccolo. Because the piccolo requires a smaller aperture, players with a fixed embouchure tend to squeeze their lips together to play instead of developing the flexibility and control needed to switch between flute and piccolo successfully. Squeezing the lips also leads to the “blow-harder-to-make-the-note-sound” approach when playing in the upper register. Practicing harmonics exercises on piccolo (and flute!), as shown below, develops the embouchure for the instrument.
Articulation is another factor that effects piccolo tone. To avoid clipped and shrill sounds when articulating, increase the air speed while using the tip of the tongue to articulate. Remind your piccolo player to place the tongue forward in the mouth and concentrate on loosening the back of the tongue. This position keeps disruption of the air (and tone) by the tongue to a minimum.
The piccolo is a solo instrument
Composers often write for the piccolo to soar over the top of any performing group. In the beginning stages, encourage the student to practice with full tone to establish proper breath support, embouchure, and build their confidence in performing on this instrument. I also recommend assigning a movement from a Baroque flute sonata to your new piccolo player. Selected works by Handel or Telemann are accessible for young players as they are written within a limited range. These pieces are also wonderful for solo contest performances! This training prepares the student to perform the exposed parts written for the piccolo in band repertoire.
Adding the piccolo opens programming possibilities for your band to demonstrate its maturity. The chosen player should demonstrate an understanding of the fundamentals of flute playing, confidence, and diligence when learning this new instrument!
Jennifer Rodriguez is the Piccoloist for the Richardson Symphony Orchestra and maintains a private studio in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Dr. Rodriguez has also performed as the piccolo player with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, El Paso Opera Orchestra, Las Cruces Symphony, and the Symphony of Cuidad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico. For additional flute and piccolo tips, follow Dr. Rodriguez on Facebook @JenniferRodriguezflute, Instagram @jenniferrodriguezflute, or Twitter @jrodriguezflute. For a complete biography, visit jenniferrodriguez.mymusicstaff.com.
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