In August I did a post which covered the flutes I had played before getting to university; now I will covering ALL the piccolos I have owned and played from high school (which was when I started playing flute) through graduate school.

One important note before I get into the reflection is that it is very common in my area that university students upgrade to a professional piccolo – a piccolo made of higher quality materials (resin/wood/metal); even in my undergrad (as a Music Education major) I felt this pressure to upgrade. And then as a Master of Flute Performance student there is DEFINITELY a push to upgrade, however, I am here to share why this isn’t a must have. Don’t feel pressured to do something that isn’t financially viable or you (yourself) feel is necessary.


High School

It is important to know that I started playing flute as a sophomore in high school for marching band. The flute section comprised of 2 seniors, 2 sophomores, and 2 freshman. Because the seniors were graduating I started my piccolo training only 3 months after learning flute (this is as a 15 year old).

  • Emerson – Nickel Silver Plated

PROS:

  • Durable for outdoor playing, I used mine exclusively for marching band every year.
  • Metal LH 1st finger rest to help with the size difference from flute (like a hand crutch).
  • Reliable – I kept this instrument through my undergrad for any outdoor playing – the mechanism held up well.

CONS:

  • The shrillness that comes with metal piccolos – less suited for indoor/concert playing.

  • Jupiter Nickel Silver Plated Head; Plastic Body*

*Before the PROS/CONS I just need to disclose I went through FOUR (yes, 4!!!) of these in a month so here’s what happened: The September of the following school year – my first school year exclusively on marching piccolo – I took a trip to a SamAsh because it was “the” musical instrument distributor in my area. The night I took home my first one I was practicing and then went to remove the head joint… and off came the barrel (aka the part that attaches the body to the head). We went back the next day and got a replacement… and I tried it in store (cautious) and it happened again. I’m not here to say anything bad about SamAsh or Jupiter, but this was VERY frustrating 8 years ago (now it’s actually comedic). I don’t know why we kept on going back to this one model of piccolo, and for context this all took place in the month of September by October I had found the piccolo I still have today. On the 3rd and 4th piccolos, there were issues with the mechanism going out of alignment. Anyway so:

PROS:

  • Decent price (just speaking on my own experience I can’t say much more than that)

CONS:

  • FRAGILE – better suited for indoor/concert rather than outdoor/marching
  • Quality assurance – in my own experience from 2013

  • Gemeinhardt 4SP; Plastic Head and Body

WINNER, WINNER. This is the piccolo I still own today, of course I have played professional piccolos, but in my own experience this piccolo plays well enough that I can not justify the price gap from this to a higher quality one.

And also considering that when you upgrade to a professional instrument you also have to pay for professional REPAIRS!!!! That is the biggest reason I keep this piccolo, it saves literally hundreds of dollars to play on this piccolo (especially considering piccolos go out of alignment much easier than flutes).

PROS:

  • Durable; can manage both indoor and outdoor playing
  • The plastic helps reduce the shrillness in the tone, more suitable for playing indoors than metal student piccolos
  • Stable tuning/intonation – 8 years on the piccolo – and even after playing professional piccolos I find that I can navigate tuning on this instrument with no issues.

CONS:

  • Not available anymore – the current comparable model would be the 4P

Bonus: Piccolos I Played In College

  • Haynes – Grenadilla Wood

This was a school instrument that I shared and borrowed within my studio, mainly because there was a stigma on student piccolos versus professional.

PROS:

  • The wood made the tone significantly less shrill.

CONS:

  • Durability – for all wooden instruments, being mindful of the temperature and not cracking the wood.
  • Scale, tuning – this particular piccolo just didn’t feel right under my fingers for the few years I played it; and intonation was always a struggle between registers.

Basically designed to be a “small flute” – has RH pinky keys, extending the lower register of the piccolo.

I don’t have any PROS/CONS for this still I tried it at a convention, but it was mind-blowing and I am still mildly interested in owning one for the novelty of a piccolo actually being designed to be a “small flute”.


What piccolos have you played? Thoughts on student versus professional models? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I thought I would start off with the first post of 2021 being an instrument comparison since this [in a non-pandemic world] is the time region band meets again, at least in NJ. I have found that non-flutists rarely think of the flute and piccolo as different instruments. Of course, the other woodwind instruments have doubles (ie bassoon v. contra, all the saxophones, Bb clarinet v. bass v. alto…why are there so many clarinets). However, I have found in my own experiences that the doubling from flute to piccolo is expected to be this easily transferable skill when for many it is not.

Have some sympathy for your brand new piccolo players, and let’s get into what you need to know to help them transition easier from flute to piccolo:


What’s the same? What’s different?

At a glance, the piccolo may just be a “small flute” in fact some scores DO list the piccolo as such; one example being Grainger’s Shepard’s Hey (not exactly sure on the edition, but when I was handed the part I had a good laugh). This “small flute” label is misleading because the way you get a sound on the piccolo is VERY different than flute, and rather than giving piccolo to your first or second chair you should assess who may be best suited to play piccolo.

YES the fingerings are generally the same. However it is important to note that some flute fingerings DO NOT work (intonation wise, coordination wise) on the piccolo.


Good flute players are NOT always good piccolo players, this applies to both in high school and college. Just because a student is responsible and organized does not mean this is always a good fit for them!


The embouchure is a vital difference between the flute and piccolo. Of course, this needs to be generalized because embouchures vary greatly (even on flute alone) because of the differences of people’s mouth cavities, lips, and physical capabilities/limitations. For this generalization I will be referring to Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”:

Nancy Toff “The Flute Book” p. 94-95

YES the body needs to be relaxed, with minimal obstructions that will impact the air stream.

YES both the flute and piccolo should rest on the chin (that space right underneath the bottom lip) rather than ON the bottom lip itself. (Offset embouchures are okay on both instruments, if your primary instrument isn’t flute DON’T meddle too much with this let their flute instructor handle it).

Here’s where the similarities end. The lip formation/apperture as Toff discusses varies just on flute ALONE, add piccolo into the mix and things get confusing (especially for non flutists):

The flute has 3 general registers, each where the lip formation adjusts slightly to accommodate. One GREAT exercise that is rarely used for flute players in public schools is harmonics. While your brass players are doing their fundamentals let the flute players join in. Why? Because discovering the ratio of the top/bottom lips, apperture size, hole coverage is all highlighted when the students can only change the pitch that way (not changing their fingers at all).

The low register (B3/C4-B4): This is the most relaxed, the jaw is slightly lower (more space in the mouth cavity), the bottom lip needs to be wide (touching the lip plate) rather than turned up, to maximize tone quality.

The middle register (C5-B5): A more neutral set up, typically the upper lip is just slightly in front of the lower lip (think of the air hitting the lower lip and going down into the flute), the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is slightly less than before this can be achieved by a neutral jaw or widening the tongue.

The high register (C6-beyond): Rarely would you tell a student to pinch, or squeeze the sound; however things are getting smaller for this top register. The space between the top and bottom lips is the smallest – the lips are still able to let the air pass through, the cheeks are still relaxed, and the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is less which can be done by lifting/widening the tongue which also requires speeding up the air (like blowing out a candle rather than filling up a balloon).

The piccolo is a transposing instrument, it reads the same as flute, but sounds an octave higher. One MAJOR MISCONCEPTION that beginning piccolo players make is taking the embouchure from the middle and high registers on flute and applying it to piccolo. NO NO NO!

Beware, just because the sounding pitch is in that range as flute does not mean the embouchure stays the same. This is precisely why flute to piccolo is this ‘hidden challenge’ in comparison to the other woodwinds because with something actually inside the mouth – reed, mouth piece – the main challenge is size. However switching from flute to piccolo requires a completely NEW embouchure!

Generally, the most common mistakes new piccolo players make is squeezing or forming a too tight embouchure because they are trying to match the mid/higher embouchure from the flute. It is actually the OPPOSITE, maintaining a loose embouchure where the lips can still vibrate, and the cheeks are relaxed is ideal.

Obviously the piccolo is smaller and requires different air than the wider, longer bore of the flute. Also the materials are completely different (especially at the more advanced level).

While flutes are made of metals, piccolos are made of plastic/resin, wood, a combination of these. Piccolo players have to adjust to all of these factors. To summarize:

  • Piccolo size is much shorter and thinner than the flute.
  • Piccolo material varies much more than flute.
  • Piccolo range – transposes up an octave.
  • Piccolo embouchure – despite it’s range the lips and apperture are NOT the same as flute. Stay relaxed, loose on piccolo.
  • Intonation on certain fingerings from flute do NOT work on piccolo.

I have compiled some resources that can be useful for these students transitioning on flute to piccolo:


What are your tips on switching from flute to piccolo? What do you want band directors know before starting new piccolo students? Share you thoughts below!

Young flutists that are surrounded non-flutists or are self-taught can develop a wide range of bad habits that take years to unlearn. There are common myths that are just taken as fact by band directors when recruiting or coaching young flute players. In this article, I’ll be clarifying what/if there is any true to these myths as well as sharing resources for more information!


Myth 1: Lip Shape/Size Matters

… NO! The way I have most commonly heard this myth is referred to as the “textbook embouchure” where the lips are fairly even is size (the bottom might be slightly wider) and the embouchure when playing is centered or inline with the nose.

James Galway, example of the centered/textbook embouchure

This isn’t the best or the only (obviously) way to produce a good tone on the flute. In fact, people with that “textbook embouchure” may struggle to get a sound out.

In comparison, the lip shape deemed challenging for flute playing is one that is tear drop shaped because of the jut in the top lip, this is also untrue. Accommodations such as forming an “offset embouchure” are common for not just this lip shape, but many others. For more detailed information check out Dr. Cate Hummel’s article.

Anyone who wants to play flute should not be deterred by the shape or ratio of their lips. More factors than just the exterior lips play a role in how easily someone produces a sound on the flute.

Emmanuel Pahud, example of an offset embouchure

Myth 2: Alignment Doesn’t Matter In The Beginning… It Will All Sound The Same

First, Jennifer Cluff has written many articles/FAQ on flute alignment – check these out to answer specific questions.

Alignment is VITAL to setting young flute players up for success,

Balancing the flute properly with the chin, left hand pointer finger, right hand thumb and pinky – helps with the stability of the instrument which creates consistency for students which will improve tone quality and register.

Also, alignment of the flute itself is vital – lining up the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys of the body AND the rod of the foot joint with the center of the keys of the body). When the flute is out of alignment, the experienced flutist has to work much harder by contorting to get a focused sound on the flute.


Myth 3: Roll In/Out To Improve Tuning and Tone

NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Below is a representation of how I feel every time I’ve heard that advice during a coaching session before I step in to talk about how meddlesome this is.

For tuning, you should NOT default to adjusting by rolling the flute – this fosters posture and alignment issues. You SHOULD pull/push out the head joint to tune. You can use this saying to remember the direction… “if you have something SHARP in your eye you should PULL it OUT”.

To be clear, this CAN be done, but it SHOULD NOT be the primary or first defense for tuning. Therefore, teaching your band students to do this is unnecessary and causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Jennifer Cluff did an article on this where she states, “Rolling the flute inward only covers the embouchure hole too much with the lower lip and strangles the tone quality, and is not a “cure all” in any way.”


Myth 4: The Flute Embouchure Doesn’t Change For Each Register

FALSE – There are very specific adjustments made to help produce a focused and vibrant tone in each register (typically divided into the low, middle, and high registers). There is an adjustment between the top and bottom lips as well as slight changes inside the mouth (much like singing) that occur with register shifts.

Jolene Harju Madewell articles one on the low register and one on good tone.

And Jennifer Cluff has an article on playing in the high register.


Vital teaching tool:

I highly recommend giving this a watch and sharing this with your students: James Galway embouchure video.


Any flute myths I left out? Did anything here surprise you? Have more embouchure resources to share? Let me know in the comments below!