Learning how to play piccolo is one of the hardest things I have ever done!
This little instrument can be a real bastard!!
Especially when it comes to tuning. So how to tune a piccolo? Great question. Playing in tune is key to becoming a successful piccoloist. But it needs some understanding and work.
So here is what you can do to improve your intonation of the piccolo.
Intonation of the piccolo – learn play piccolo
When playing the piccolo with piano accompaniment a piccolo player must know that the distance of octaves becomes larger. Therefore in the low register the piano has a tendency to be flat. But even more important for the octave flute, the higher register will be slightly sharp. And ever more so as the sound becomes higher.
This sort of tuning compromise is based on the acoustic waves and their frequencies which determine the height of a sound. If you wish to relate them mathematically, to form musical intervals, you will need serial numbers, based on the harmonic sound waves inherent in each singular sound.
They do not depend on the absolute addition of distances such as the measurement in cents might suggest. Those were merely invented to have a model for measuring and comparing different existing scales (differing in periods of time and varying for different ethnic groups).
When we play the flute with piano accompaniment
we might not feel the need to investigate this topic so profoundly. Because the flute, thanks to its cylindrical shape and the diameter/length ratio of the tube, tends to be flat at lower frequencies and sharp at higher frequencies.
The piccolo’s intonation on the other hand, is created on its low octave (which is the medium octave of the flute). Naturally more likely to be in tune. Having a conical shape and a less favorable diameter/length ratio, it produces louder and flatter sounds in the higher octaves.
This is not valid for all the notes, however, and not for all piccolos. In some octave-flutes, the middle D is actually very sharp. Though generally this indicates that the other notes will be more in tune.
How to tune a piccolo – can a piccolo be in tune?!
It is understandable that by playing an instrument with higher frequencies (measured in Hertz) which tend to be slightly flat, even more so if accompanied by the piano, we might in the beginning be terribly out of tune. Unfortunately, we are prone to produce disturbing differential sounds (differences measurable in cents).
Just to give an example: for a cello player playing an instrument that mainly produces low frequency sounds, to result out of tune, they have to create differences to the piano that exceed 100 cents. In other words a different note!
I have highlighted this aspect to make it clear that intonation is a real objective and physical problem for a piccolo player caused by the laws of acoustics. Understanding the situation at hand however, we can overcome our technical struggles with precise and attentive exercises.
Studying good tuning regularly will become an appreciated quality. However, we also need to understand that playing at 0 cents difference with a tuning machine is not synonymous with good intonation.
It shows only that you know how to technically achieve a flatter or sharper sound, and is good exercise to develop adaptability while playing.
But what we actually need to train is our ear to learn play piccolo
We ought to develop a harmonic perception of sounds within the context of different tonalities and intervals. More so even in an orchestra, we are supposed to distinguish perfect intervals of a scale and the harmonic functions of our notes within it.
This will still not be enough. To harmonic perception, we ought to add melodic awareness. As a musician it is fundamental that we remember where a phrase started and where it is going in terms of pitch.
Very often unfortunately, we start a phrase upward with sharp sounds and then end it rather flat and below pitch.
However, flute players are no exception to this unfortunate result of phrasal memory loss!
Tune awareness, vertical and horizontal (harmony and melody) is not learned by
practicing chromatic scales with a tuner
This practicing method (chromatic scales with a tuner), can be very helpful in learning how to produce a good clean sound with different dynamics and without changing intonation when applying different intensities.
A professional sense of good tuning, correct pitch and harmonic function should be aimed for by practicing famous melodies and recording yourself. If you are looking for specific exercises please check out my next post —-> practicing ideas to help learn play piccolo.
You might also want to protect your ears in a professional way. I strongly advise before diving into deep and dedicated studies to purchase a pair of professional ear plugs. Click here for musical earplugs
If you are interested in which tuner works best for you, there is a review can I use an online tuner?
Different situation require different harmonic and melodic skills. In this picture I’m playing with an Italian choir. That was a lot of fun!
To make this happen, do the exercises —> yes, you want to do them!
Which situation do you wisch to learn play piccolo for? What are your ideas on where and how to use the little bastard you will fall in love with?
Let me know in the comment section below.
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Happy fluting and octave fluting to you all,