The piccolo is a transverse flute which means it is horizontally played. It is commonly considered a younger sibling of the flute, having the same fingerings. It also has notes that are an octave higher than that of a flute’s and has half of a regular flute’s size. This gave rise to its name, Piccolo, which is Italian for small.
The piccolo originated from flutes but it first made its appearance in the orchestra on 1700. The earliest performance with a piccolo was “Rinaldo” by Handel on 1711. It was constructed with two sections with an E-flat key during the Baroque era. It was established in the orchestra around the middle of 1700 but was usually used in performances with a military disposition. It was not used in symphonies until Beethoven wrote parts for it in his 5th symphony.
Michael Janusch, a flute teacher, created the multi-key piccolo. It was like the flute with 6 keys which was traditional at that time. This gave rose to its development during the 19th century. The piccolo was also invented in D-flat which was used in many famous solos but is not heard of in the modern times.
Later on, it was revised by Mollenhauer and this gave the piccolo a popular instrument throughout the 20th century. It is now played as an integral element of the orchestra.
Metal vs. wood piccolos
Metal piccolos are commonly used in and are suitable for parades or in open spaced areas. It is very durable and can survive extreme environments and novice’s misuse. The downside of a metal piccolo is that it produces pitchy or sharp sounds.
While metal piccolos are better for beginners or long-term exposure, wooden piccolos are often played by professionals because it has a mellower pitch. Most are not completely made of wood because the mouthpiece may still be metallic. The wood composition makes maintenance more difficult and playing in the outdoors is a risk, specifically in hot weather. Its use is normally restricted to infrequent solos or as background music following other woodwinds because of its tendency to pierce through other orchestral sounds.
Playing the piccolo
It is much easier to play the piccolo if you learn to play the flute first given that both share the same qualities. Next, decide on which piccolo is best for the event you will be using it and fits your aptitude level and gather all the necessary accessories. You could also have private lessons on how to play the piccolo or you could learn without professional help.
Also be familiar with the minor, major, and chromatic scales and, most especially, master the range of the piccolo. As stated, piccolos produce notes an octave higher than the flute and it music is written one octave below its pitch. It would also be better to practice with an electric tuner. Observe how long you can be consistent with the rhythm and can hold the note steady.
Of course, always tune before playing and practice a lot of times. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Don’t forget to clean every after playing. Put a swab through your piccolo and tuning rod to remove spit and use a cloth to polish it.
Controlling the high pitches
Among all the woodwind instruments used in military bands and orchestras, the piccolo has the highest pitch causing it to stand out. It is also difficult to get the intonation right with the piccolo. You need a lot more lip control in playing a piccolo than most woodwind instruments. Controlling the high pitches needs extra effort and practice.
Besides that, the piccolo must be played extremely loud in a performance for it to give out quality sounds. Since the sound of the piccolo is prominent, the whole crowd becomes aware of wrong intonation and melody. The supposedly small piccolo isn’t so small after all.