How to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra
Playing in tune is a fundamental quality of any musician. Even more so of a piccolo player because the sound of the octave-flute will be heard over the entire orchestra.
Producing sounds one octave higher than the flute, it also produces a louder sound. This can affect the entire outcome of a symphonic production. Bad perception of tuning by a piccoloist can be so disturbing for the audience that it becomes impossible to enjoy the music.
On the other hand, a harmonic and melodic sound at the right pitch certainly adds brilliance and joy to the whole performance. Therefore, good intonation it is a technical skill of upmost importance to achieve as a professional piccolo player.
What is the actual difference between the two and how should we cope?
The reasons for the difference in intonation lie in its construction, physics and laws of acoustics.
This issue can be dealt with by conscious daily practice. Once the difficulties are properly addressed and its reasons consciously understood.
Thanks to great players and teachers, the piccolo flute is bound to become a potent instrument of musical expression for everyone. More than just an enriching experience for tired or jobless flute players.
Adding to the complexity of playing the piccolo in tune
Intonation in general varies depending on the situation. If we look at our electronic tuner, it will tell us that we ought to have exactly 100 cents in between semi-tones, thus 1200 cents in an octave. But when producing music (except for contemporary music), this doesn’t quite work.
Our Western music is based on harmonic areas made up of major and minor scales and arpeggios. The distance to the fundamental sound depends on the grade of the scale and is never exactly 100 cents for semi-tones. The piano however, has to be able to play in all keys. So it needs to be tempered and tuned with compromises.
There are differences in playing with a piano and you can look it up in my two previous articles
Becoming a professional piccolo player – protect your hearing
Practicing the piccolo day in and day out can result in damage to your ears and your neighbors’ ears, too (just kidding!).
Pay attention to the overall health of your hearing and study passages from the third octave one register lower, if you don’t have good professional earplugs.
I’m discussing pro earplugs for orchestral musicians to prevent hearing damage as tinnitus and hearing loss due to sitting in front of percussion or trumpets, but also next to the piccolo in another article in flute accessories here. You might want to have a look.
This is even more relevant if you are the piccoloist or studying to become one. Do yourself a favor and use earplugs. It also helps concentration and getting new insights on your sound.
This is because you will have more resonance from within your body than from the outside.
Which ear plugs do I use?
I have finally found ear plugs that work for me. They are the only ones with three different filter sets: Gold (22 dB), Silver (19 dB) and White (16 dB) . So I can choose my own level of sound attenuation and how much I still need or wish to let through. But no worries, they have excellent sound quality.
These are the professional ones we use in orchestra or to practice high frequency instruments. My clarinet colleague recently bought them too as they make him play the piccolo clarinet a lot lately.
They come with a trendy little box to attach anywhere. —> more info.
My advice on how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra
This short article on how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra shows that there are some physics-based difficulties. But also many playful and creative ways to overcome them.
Have a look at the exercises I advise to make it on a professional level ——> here.
We should bear in mind that these obstacles do exist, but can be fundamental to a broader comprehension and deeper enjoyment of piccolo playing.
Technical problems are always just the passage to another level.
And to being more aware of what is actually happening while playing adds value to our musical expression.
Moreover, we often build more valuable musical ideas upon when we overcome technical difficulties.
Our general musical development will benefit enormously as we overcome these obstacles and that might even result in a job with an orchestra or as a soloist. If you know how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra.
So go have fun with the little bastard friend of the flute.
Wwhile taking care of the health of your hearing!
founder of topflute.com