How to Start on the Piccolo

For flutists, there is one instrument that always brings up a heated debate. That instrument is the piccolo. It seems like you either love it or you hate it. There is no in-between.

I, personally, love the piccolo. It adds a little something to my musical life. Though there are many people out there who would rather play alto or bass flute and leave piccolo in the dust.

Killer Harmony | How to Start on the Piccolo for Flutists

If you are part of the “love it” group, or you are just interested in the piccolo, this guide is for you. I am sharing all of my tips and tricks for starting on the piccolo. I will cover everything from the different piccolo materials to prices to actually getting a sound.

So, here is my big beginner’s guide to starting on the piccolo.

Get a quality instrument.

Piccolos come at all different price points, but that doesn’t always mean they are equally as good. You get what you pay for, especially with musical instruments.

You can find cheap piccolos on Amazon and others sites for around $100, but those models won’t last. They are cheap for a reason. Do not be tempted by the seemingly good deals.

Sources for quality instruments include music stores, online music websites, and (if you’re smart about it) Craigslist. There are tons of different flute and music online stores where you can buy a good new or used piccolo.

If you are unsure of whether you will stick with it, look into renting a piccolo. Just as with flute, some music stores offer piccolo as a rental instrument.  That way, you can return the piccolo if you don’t want to continue.

Here are some more tips for finding a quality instrument.

Consider your budget.

You shouldn’t skimp on paying for a new (or new to you) instrument. The instrument you buy should be good quality, but it should also fit your level. As a beginner, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a piccolo.

If you are looking at used instruments, you can expect to spend anywhere from $300-800 for a beginner model piccolo. If you prefer to buy a new instrument, your budget should be a bit higher. You can expect to spend around $500-1000 on a new student range piccolo.

Materials, Materials.

Piccolos, even beginner models, come in different materials. You have all plastic, all silver plated (like student flutes), and a combination of the two. The material you choose can be determined on your use for the piccolo.

Will you be playing in marching band? Do you plan to play mostly indoors?

Another thing to consider is the presence or absence of a lip plate. Some flutists feel more comfortable with a lip plate and thus want a metal headjoint. I believe that there is no difference, and having a lip plate is more of a placebo affect. You’re used to having one on flute, so it’s easy to think having one on piccolo will make it easier.

I started out on an all silver plated Armstrong 204 piccolo. I found a used one for a great deal. But all silver plated piccolos are not that common. The most common set up for beginners is a plastic body and silver plated headjoint.

Plastic gives a darker sound than silver plated, so it is usually preferred for indoor performances. Having a silver plated headjoint can make the switch less intimidating for some, since it feels similar to the flute. These models are also more budget friendly.

My all silver plated piccolo, new, would cost around $1000. Plastic and metal combos run for about $600.

Assembling the piccolo.

Putting the piccolo together is similar to the flute. The main difference is that there are two pieces for the piccolo, while a flute has three pieces. The piccolo is also smaller, and most models connect with a cork. One exception is all metal piccolos.

You want to be really careful when assembling the instrument so that you don’t bend any keys. That is more difficult on piccolo, because you don’t have as much smooth space as on flute.

Once you have your piccolo ready to go, be aware of how you should hold it when not playing. The piccolo is small and so is the mechanism, which means it can bend very easily. Hold the piccolo closer to the top, and put most of the weight on the side without the keys.

Making a sound.

The piccolo is placed in a similar way to the flute: across the chin just below the opening of the lips. However, the piccolo should be placed a bit higher on the lips than flute.

The piccolo is smaller, so it needs to be closer to the lip opening for you to make a sound. When you go to play a note, you can’t always use the same method as for flute.

If you finger low A on piccolo, for example, pretend you are playing middle A on flute. This will help you get a sound out. Those notes sound the same, because the piccolo plays an octave above the flute.

It is for that reason that it is important to be confident on flute before you start playing piccolo. The piccolo plays higher, and you need to know how to form an embouchure and use your air to compensate for that difference.

For some players, it can take time to make a sound on piccolo, but keep at it. If you are having trouble, then warm up on flute first. Work on the second and third octaves of the flute, because those octaves overlap with the piccolo.

After you have worked on your flute playing, you can then switch to piccolo. Some of the concepts and techniques will transfer with time.

What to play.

A good place to start for the piccolo is to go back to your beginner flute books. Most of the exercises will work on piccolo, because the written range is (almost) the same. The Rubank elementary method for flute/piccolo is also a good book to use if you haven’t before.

You can also use most of your flute music for piccolo, assuming there are no low C’s or C#’s. The piccolo only goes down to (written) low D, so be mindful of that when choosing what to play.

As you progress on piccolo, you can then move to more advanced flute exercises and specific piccolo books. Some of my favorite piccolo books include Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Piccolo and Patricia Morris’s Piccolo Study Book.

Should you play piccolo?

This is somewhat of a loaded question, but I wrote a post a few months back on reasons why you might want to play piccolo. You can read that post here.

But the short answer is: do what feels right to you. I’m not here to tell you yes or no. I’m here to give you the information you need to decide for yourself.

So…

Do you play the piccolo? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to leave any music or flute related questions down there. I might just answer them in a future post!

Tools & Resources for Self Taught Flutists

If you have ever taken private flute lessons, you know that they can be quite expensive. I wrote a post a few months back asking: Are private lessons necessary? Now, I want to share some tools and resources for self taught flutists, because lessons aren’t always realistic.

Killer Harmony | Tools & Resources for Self Taught Flutists | Cover Image

Since finishing my degree in music performance, I have significantly decreased how often I take private lessons. They are no longer included in tuition costs, and it can be hard to schedule them. Now that I have a full time job, scheduling lessons is even harder.

So, I want to share some of my favorite tools and resources that can help you improve your flute skills, even if you aren’t taking lessons.

YouTube

There are dozens of videos on YouTube that can help you learn everything from the basics of the flute to advanced techniques. There are many flute and general music YouTubers who post tips and tutorials on various music topics.

One of my favorite flutist-YouTubers is Joanna Tse, or JustAnotherFlutist. She posts tutorials and flute reviews as well as funny stories that make her super relatable. I haven’t been able to find any other flutists on YouTube as funny as her.

Then, of course YouTube is also a great place to find free recordings of music you might be working on. When you don’t have a teacher to demonstrate how a phrase or piece should sound, recordings are a great option.

You can listen to multiple recordings to get different interpretations, and you can use different ideas to create your own sound. Even if you do take lessons, YouTube is the best place for free recording. Plus, the video format usually (not always) allows you to see the flutist in action.

Trevor Wye’s Practice Books for the Flute

If you are at the intermediate level or above, these books are perfect for you. Trevor Wye includes some text to describe how different exercises should be worked on.

The six books in the omnibus edition include: tone, technique, articulation, intonation & vibrato, and breathing & scales. The last book covers advanced exercises, and that one has a ton of reading material.

I use some of his tone exercises for my tone warm up, and it is amazing how those exercises help. The exercises in his other books are also great for improving in those areas of flute playing.

Trevor Wye’s Proper Flute Playing

Wye also wrote a book that goes with his practice books, except that it is meant for reading. There are no exercises, but he does go into different concepts of flute playing.

If you want to read about how to play the flute well, get this book. Proper Flute Playing talks about almost anything related to the flute.

Taffanel & Gaubert Daily Exercises

This book is really only for advanced flutists, but it is super helpful. If you have worked through various beginner and intermediate books, and you have started on Trevor Wye’s books, this is another resource to look into.

This is another book that work out of almost every time I pick up my flute. I have worked on some of the exercises so much that I know them by heart. That’s how good this book is.

The T&G book has 17 different scale exercises including different patterns and finger twisters that can be played in each key. It is a relatively expensive book for what you get; my copy cost about $20. But for advanced flutists, it is worth it.

If you are a beginner, these exercises are going to be intimidating, so I would recommend working through some beginner method books and then the Trevor Wye book before jumping into this one.

Amazon

If you want a one stop shop for a lot of music stuff, Amazon is (almost) perfect. While you should definitely avoid most of the lower cost instruments, they also carry sheet music and flute accessories.

I have purchased many different pieces from Amazon as well as my piccolo swab and all of my various flute and piccolo stands. If you are an Amazon prime member, you also get free two day shipping.

The great thing about Amazon is that you can use it as a resource for more than just music. You can get all of your flute accessories, clothing, and even groceries from one website. It’s amazing.

Blogs, like this one

Of course I have to mention my blog as a resource for self taught flutists. While I do want to branch out from the music niche a little, I do still plan on writing posts about music in the future.

There are a few other bloggers who write about music and the flute, such as Jennifer Cluff and Bret Pimentel. They are both super interesting to read. Pimentel is a woodwind doubler, so if you play any other woodwinds, he is definitely a good resource.

But, reading this post, you have obviously stumbled onto my blog. So, have a look around, and I hope you find something that piques your interest.

So…

Do you have any other favorite resources for flute? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Instagram (@killerharmony) for behind the scenes pics!

The What & Why of Score Study

No matter what instrument you play, you will probably have to play with others at some point. Multiple parts means there is a score available for the piece. So, I wanted to talk about score study.

What is it? Should you study scores? Why do you need to know the other parts? Those are all good questions that I hope to answer in this post. The short answer: score study is very important for understanding a work in its entirety.

In most cases, there is more to a piece than just the part you play. There will be other melodic lines and more accompaniment-based parts. So, here are the ins and outs of score study and how to get started.

What is Score Study?

Score study is something that all conductors and many advanced and professional musicians do with every piece they work on. Score study is exactly that: you study the entire score.

Studying a score allows you to figure out what is going on in each part at each moment in a piece. It could be as simple as a solo or as complex as an orchestral tutti passage.

Looking at the score and all its components can also tell you how and where you fit in. Are you the root of the chord? What kind of chord is it? How do your dynamics relate to other instruments?

Those are all good questions that can be answered from looking at a score.

Who Should Practice Score Study?

If you are a musician who plays with others, and you are no longer a beginner player, you should practice score study. Once you know the fundamentals of how to play your instrument, you can start to learn how to play the music.

Score study gives you more than just the notes and markings for your part. Knowing the relationship you have to other parts will allow you to make more informed choices regarding dynamics and articulation.

If you are a more advanced or professional player, you should definitely work score study into your routine. Just a few minutes with a score can answer many questions you have about a piece you’re working on.

What if I don’t own the score?

For solos and chamber music, you can find the score or accompaniment part online. You can order it from many different online shops, or you can look for it on IMSLP.

If you want to see the score for a large ensemble, check IMSLP or ask your director if you can borrow a copy. If that doesn’t work, you can then make a list of questions to ask the director next time you meet with them.

However, you should own both the solo part and the accompaniment to any solo repertoire that you are working on. Yes so you can use it for score study, but also so that you can provide a copy of the music to an accompanist if needed.

Another option if you really can’t get your own copy is to check with a local library or interlibrary loan program to see if you can borrow a copy. That way, you can make marks in your part so that you can be better prepared for a performance.

How I Started Score Study

The first time I had to actually study a score was for music history. Each semester, we were assigned a work from the standard orchestral repertoire to analyze. I had to find the main themes, any changes in key or tempo, and other big parts of the score.

Then I had score study assignments again during my conducting class. As a conductor, you need to know what is going on in each part through the whole piece. So conducting really made me aware of more than just my part.

If you are feeling intimidated, start small. Take a look at a duet, either from your teacher or your own collection. How do the two parts relate? What is each part doing? Where is the melody? Ask yourself those questions and the other questions scattered throughout this post. They will help get you started.

How it Helped Me

An example of how score study helped me perform a piece happened last year. I was set to play Mozart’s Andante in C for flute as part of a recital. The piece has piano accompaniment, and the piano part helped me understand how the flute line works.

There is a section in the middle where the piece changes key, but that is not obvious in the flute part alone. So taking a look at the entire score showed me that it does change. Instead of trying to make it sound major, I was able to make a better choice to give a more solemn tone to that phrase.

So…

Score study may sound intimidating, but it can open your eyes to a whole side of music making. You can actually see what is going on in other parts. It’s pretty cool when you think about it.

Have you done score study before? How has it helped? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Instagram (@killerharmony) subscribe below for exclusive music tips sent straight to your inbox!

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Solo vs Chamber Playing

As a music major, I had to play music…a lot. During my last year of college, I was in three large ensembles, one medium chamber group, and I played three other smaller chamber pieces.

I also played solos quite a bit, both with and without the piano. In fact, two of my recital requirements were an unaccompanied piece and a chamber piece.

Killer Harmony | Solo vs Chamber Playing for Musicians | Light grey background with maroon and teal text

Now, I play with a local flute choir and have begun to get involved with music at a local church. There are some similarities and differences when it comes to solo and chamber playing. Both are important to musical development, and you can learn different skills from each.

So, here is my take on these two equally different, equally important genres of music. Solo vs chamber playing!

Solos

Playing a solo, accompanied or not, is hard work. Not every musician will do this, but most serious musicians have played solos before. Solos are the pieces that high schoolers play to audition for their state band. They are the backbone of an instrument’s repertoire.

Solos give musicians the chance to let their creativity shine. They let us bring to light a composer’s vision without having to discuss anything with collaborating artists.

There are all sorts of solo genres out there. The most famous is probably the concerto. This is where a soloist is accompanied by an orchestra. You can also find sonatas for a solo instrument, or sometimes for two.

While those are some of the common types of solos, any piece where a musician has the main melody and is not playing with a few other musicians counts as a solo.

If you have to play an audition for a music group or for entrance into college, solo music is your best bet. Most audition committees will not want to hear a second violin part or a fourth trumpet part.

Chamber

The term chamber music comes from where the genre originated: a chamber, or room. Chamber music started out in small venues and only a few musicians would play. Now it has become its own genre, and we still play music in this way, just on a bigger stage.

One of the best parts of chamber music is getting to work with your fellow musicians to combine everyone’s ideas. You aren’t (usually) at the liberty of a teacher or director. You get to decide where to get louder or when to take a piece a little faster.

This past year, I played a few flute duets with my professor, and while I enjoyed them, I also liked playing with my peers. I was part of a flute quartet, and I also played a duet with a friend who plays bassoon.

When I worked with my fellow students, we were able to have a discussion about the piece. Our professors were able to give us feedback, but the piece was up to us to work on and perform.

Of all the possible group projects you could have in school, I think chamber music is the best.

One or the other?

Do you have to choose between solo and chamber playing? Absolutely not!

I think that some people tend to be stronger in one area, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do both. There are some things you can only gain from solo playing and others from chamber playing.

Being able to play both solo and in a group means you will have more chances to play and perform. You can share your music with more people, and you can learn about more wonderful works.

Chamber music can teach you team work skills, and solo playing can give you confidence in front of crowds. Small group work is almost inevitable no matter the career you pursue. A reasonable dose of confidence will make you believe in yourself a little more, again, no matter what you do.

The great thing about both of these genres of playing is that where one genre lacks, the other excels. You learn how to work with others in a chamber group, and you learn how to work alone with solos.

Related: Solo vs Chamber Playing by YouTuber JustAnotherFlutist

My preference

Before I state what I prefer, I have to disclose that this is just my opinion. I love both solo and chamber playing, and I would not give up either of them. So, without further ado…

I prefer solo playing.

Why? You ask. Well, there are multiple reasons. 1) I can be controlling and a perfectionist. Solos allow me to rely only on myself. 2) I played piano first. While plenty of pianists play with others, I never did. I was always playing solo music for piano. 3) I’m a Leo. If you happen to believe astrology, Less are confident and like center stage. Such is life, I guess.

And just because I prefer solo playing, that doesn’t mean I hate chamber playing. I do love playing with others. It’s just that solo playing is a slight preference I have.

My preference could also depend on the music. I would rather play a French-romantic duet with bassoon than an unaccompanied flute piece that uses microtones. (no offense if you’re into that… :P)

So…

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to the debate of solo and chamber playing. I don’t think there is a clear winner. Each person is more than able to have their preference.

If you prefer one or the other, which one is it? Why do you prefer it? Let me know in the comments!

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Playing Music in a Community Group

Over this past year, I have gotten to experience playing music in a few different community ensembles. Playing music in a community group is a great way to play regularly if you are not in school or a professional musician.

Killer Harmony | Cover image | light grey background with text Playing in a community group (in maroon) for musicians (in teal)

With my recent decision to keep music as a hobby, I love being able to still play with others in some capacity. I have played with two different community orchestras and also two different community flute choirs.

Now, one of each of those I received college credit for, but the experience was still the same, aside from the grades. So I wanted to tell you about what it’s like especially if you have graduated from college and no longer have access to school groups.

1. Everyone has different backgrounds.

In a more serious group, you tend to have members who all have similar backgrounds in music. All music majors or grads, long-time lesson students, etc.

When you play in a community group, things will be different. You will have serious music students, music graduates, adult beginners, and other amateur players.

I have met people with masters degrees in music and people who just love playing for the fun of it. So, that means that you may not be able to play the most advanced repertoire even if you are a more advanced player. Keep that in mind before you judge the choices of the pieces. Some music may be out of reach for others.

2. Rehearsals are still important.

Just because you are not playing for money or a grade does not mean that you can blow off rehearsals. You are still in an group that will have performances, and you need to take it seriously.

You still need to prepare ahead of time, and you still need to be a part of the group. Music is an awesome hobby to have, but it being a hobby is no excuse for blowing it off.

If everyone had a so-so mindset about rehearsals, nothing would get done. Plain and simple. You are still, again, working toward a performance, and you (should) want the performance to go well.

3. Do it because you love it.

Community groups will be different from student groups. In student ensembles, like pro ensembles, everyone has a similar background, even between music majors and non-majors.

Playing music with other members of the community is pretty different. You will have people who have played for decades and people who have only played for a few months. I have met a couple of adult beginners and adult re-beginners (people who stopped playing for a while).

This means the music might be of a different level than if you were playing with other serious students and players. The “hard” parts may be not as hard or you may not get to play more challenging pieces. That’s okay, though, because you still get to play.

4. Some groups have membership dues.

Now for the groups where I was a student member, I had to pay tuition, which could count as a membership fee. But of the groups I joined as a community member, one is free (though I was accepted based on credentials) and the other does have membership dues.

Dues can be annoying, but they can help make the group better by providing resources such as better music. It takes money to run any sort of group so when a group doesn’t have the backing of a college or university or other entity, it can be hard to grow without membership dues.

I was a bit shocked when I found out one of the groups I wanted to join had a fee, but I understand that the money will not just be thrown around randomly.

5. It’s an opportunity to play and perform.

If you aren’t a professional musician, it can be hard to find performance opportunities. Sure you can practice and play on your own at home, but that can get boring over time.

Joining a community group guarantees that you will have the opportunity to perform regularly with others. You can seek out solo opportunities, but if you prefer playing with others, community groups are a great way to perform.

I was in a community orchestra this past summer, and we had three concerts in six weeks. The rehearsals were tough, but I got to perform. I believe that it is important to practice the skills you have. If I don’t keep performing, I could lose that confidence I gained in school.

6. It’s fun!

Yes, it is different than any other group you have played with, but it is still music. I can still do the thing I love and share my passion for music with others. I can even share my musical knowledge with other musicians!

Just in the last couple of weeks, I was able to recommend different resources to different people. I loved seeing their faces light up when learning something new.

While music may not be my profession, it is still a passion of mine, and I love being able to play and have the excuse to keep up with my flute and piccolo.

So…

There you have it! Six things I have learned from playing music in community groups. It is its own experience, but I think every musician should give it a try.

Have you ever played in a community group? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive content sent to your inbox!

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