The following 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo – learn play piccolo the professional way
address fundamental problems mentioned in my previous article and have to be played without vibrato,
or at least with only a small one.
3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
1. Musical Cromatic Scale throughout the range of the piccolo
First and foremost we should renew our confidence with the instrument and ourselves daily. We ought to imprint the right support, air pressure and velocity into our muscles.
Our body and ear must be reminded of the muscular tension required to produce a sound of full resonance while keeping the embouchure flexible every day.
The piccolo needs a faster airflow than the flute, which will only be achieved by adequate support and pressure. We should thus train to play every sound in the absolute right pitch on the electronic tuner.
Translation: Daily exercise 1)
“Just Intonation” or not just intonation?!
3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
The just intonation however, the one used when playing in an orchestra or chamber group, is based on a harmonic series generated by acoustic waves that result stable and pure in one key and are perceived as consonant to the human ear.
Practically, this means that the player has to adjust the equal scale (100 cents per semi-tone) more than the well-tempered scale of the piano (which is only a compromise as explained earlier). Actually we have to adjust to a scale of just intonation, generated by the root tone of the key. So the player has to play each note of the scale some cents higher or lower than equal temperament. This is based on the note’s function in the scale.
functional harmony – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
enriches the player’s practice and phrasing. Never should he in fact play without a musical idea in his head. With regular practice and growing awareness, musical expression will be based on pitch and function and will result more natural and convincing.
Even though the electronic chromatic tuner is of help in the above mentioned situations, especially in practice, what we really should learn is sound and muscular memory.
This way we will be able to cope with any situation as a piccolo player, be it in a symphony orchestra or as the increasingly popular soloist instrument. Be aware of the underlying math:
|Change in Cents||0||+4||-14||-2||+2||-16||-12||0|
|Change in Cents||0||+4||+16||-2||+2||+14||-12||0|
2. Combination tones – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
Furthermore, difference sounds or combination tones, as they are often called, are a fantastic way of studying just intonation, but they require concentration and experimentation. They are also called resultant tones because they are the result of the difference in Hertz between the higher and the lower sound played simultaneously and loudly.
If the difference is greater than 30 Hertz, these sounds create the phenomenon of an additional sound for the human ear. When they are less than that, they will be perceived as a disturbing, grating sound. If the difference is as big as an octave however, the combination sound might result in the illusion of a chord (for further information look up Tartini sounds).
Thus, this third sound created by the subtraction of the lower sound from the higher one in Hertz becomes a potent method to study intonation. Paying attention to the pitch of the difference sound rather than the primary sound, we create the ability to tune with any other instrument and are clearer about our own internal intonation. We will develop the required muscular memory and a fine sense of harmonic hearing.
How to learn to use your muscular memory when playing the piccolo
This can be achieved by recording all notes played long and without vibrato as a reference chromatic scale. Then play the same sound together with the recording and change the pitch slightly. Listen to the vibration created. It slows down when you come close to the right pitch and accelerates when you get further away. Get used to those frictions and interpreting them as acoustic sounds. It is easier to do when using high frequency notes.
After this preliminary exercise we should concentrate on the combination sounds. All intervals create difference tones, but only six intervals help our intonation because their resultant tones are part of the same harmonic series. Every one of those six intervals creates a perfect chord. When the two produced sounds are perfectly in tune, the third combination tone will be too. Violinists use this principle to tune their instruments every time.
IntervalDifference Toneminor 3rd (m3)minor 6th (m6)Major 3rd (M3)Root (R)Perfect 4th (P4)P4Perfect 5th (P5)Root (R)minor 6th (m6)minor 3rd (m3)Major 6th (M6)Perfect (P4)
The amazing thing about just intonation is that it works in any key.
|minor 3rd (m3)||minor 6th (m6)|
|Major 3rd (M3)||Root (R)|
|Perfect 4th (P4)||Perfect 4th (P4)|
|Perfect 5th (P5)||Root (R)|
|minor 6th (m6)||minor 3rd (m3)|
|Major 6th (M6)||Perfect 4th (P4)|
So we can
study in a different key – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
every day listening to the third resultant tone. Since it is based on mathematical principles, it should not be surprising that certain structures emerge:
- If we look at the six intervals producing combination sounds useful to study intonation, there are 2 minor, 2 Major and 2 Perfect intervals.
- Looking at the 3 M and 5 P intervals they appear the most effective for functional harmony fundamental studies as they produce the root of the key.
- Minor third and sixth intervals turn out to produce the difference to an octave of each other.
All other difference sounds are however at an octave lower than the root.
3. Sing and play with piccolo – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo
Another very effective exercise is singing and playing simultaneously. This also enhances the quality of the sound, in addition to improving harmonic hearing.
As an example, one can play a medium octave sound on the piccolo and sing its resulting scale an octave or two lower. Whenever you get close to singing the keynote, the center of the sound of the piccolo will struggle, and this is precisely what we need to work on with adjustments to our support and embouchure.
Our ears and muscles will be trained and our sound quality and pitch will improve almost immediately. We should include major and minor scales and change key every time.
Now that you have become an expert you should also have a look at how to play professionally in a symphony orchestra here.
If you have any questions on the exercises do not hesitate to ask. They were part of my Master in Piccolo at the Conservatory of Milan.
Have fun with the training and share the advice on social media!
Would love to help as many aspiring piccoloists as possible.