Piccolo vs. Alto Flute

Once you reach proficiency on the flute, it can be time to think about adding other “auxiliary” flutes to your inventory. Piccolo and alto flute are the two most common ones. So I want to share my thoughts on piccolo vs alto flute.

Some people will gravitate heavily towards one or the other. Some people might want to learn both. Others still might want to stick to the C flute.

Killer Harmony | Piccolo vs Alto Flute

If you have read my blog before, you probably already know I have a passion for the piccolo. I love the small size and being able to float above an ensemble.

If you are unsure of which auxiliary flute to learn, I am going to break it down. Piccolo vs Alto Flute.

Piccolo Pros

The piccolo is small. Even smaller than the concert flute. It can fit in almost any purse or bag. You can take it with you anywhere. It is super easy to just throw it in your bag with your flute.

The piccolo is *relatively* affordable. Piccolos start at around $400-500. Used piccolos can start even lower, but be cautious when buying used. My first piccolo was used, and it cost just under $300.

The piccolo has a growing repertoire. The piccolo is the most common auxiliary flute, so you will find more music for it than the alto or bass flute. There is not a ton of piccolo specific music, but most flute music will transfer over. And the piccolo repertoire is growing more and more each year.

The piccolo is common. You will find a piccolo part in most band pieces, a lot of symphonic orchestra works, and in quite a few flute choir pieces. If you are in a college marching band, you can also play it there. Most of the ensemble pieces I played in music school had a piccolo part, even if it was combined with flute.

Piccolo Cons

The piccolo is high pitched. I’m sure this is obvious, but the piccolo is a high pitched instrument. To avoid hearing damage, you need to wear earplugs. If you don’t like playing either the melody or other high parts, the piccolo isn’t for you. On piccolo, I often play the melody or a descant part that sits on top of the melody.

The piccolo is finicky. Since the piccolo is a small, high pitched instrument, it is very temperamental. Any tuning issues you have are magnified on piccolo. It can also be very easy to bend the mechanism during assembly or disassembly.

The piccolo is not a respected solo instrument. I would like to change that. There are a few great works for piccolo, and I would love to be able to give the piccolo a greater place in solo performance. However, the piccolo is not a common solo instrument.

The piccolo can crack. If you get a piccolo made of wood, it can be susceptible to cracking. In extreme weather, wood can crack and cause tuning and playing issues for the piccolo. If you will be playing indoors and out, it is best to get a composite piccolo or a composite for outdoors and a wood one for indoors.

Related: Should You Play Piccolo?

Alto Pros

The alto flute is lower in pitch. If you love the sound of the flute, but you don’t care for the higher notes, the alto is perfect. It is pitched a fourth below the C flute, so you play a little lower.

The alto flute comes with two headjoint options. If you have longer arms, you can get a straight head alto. If your arms are shorter, you can get a curved head. Each style does have different tendencies, but the flexibility is definitely a benefit to the alto flute.

The alto flute is unique. That could be taken as a euphemism for uncommon, but it’s true. Not many people play the alto flute, and even fewer people own an alto flute. Playing and owning an alto flute can be a great way to stand out as a flutist.

The alto flute is becoming more common. I know more and more flutists who are buying their own alto flute. The repertoire is growing (though slower than the piccolo). Most flute choir pieces call for an alto flute.

Alto Cons

The alto flute is uncommon. While the alto flute is prominent in flute choirs and has a growing solo repertoire, it is still uncommon in other settings. Very few orchestral pieces call for alto flute. I can only think of one band work with alto flute. It’s just not as common as the piccolo or C flute.

The alto flute is more expensive. One factor that can prohibit the purchase of an alto flute is the price. The lowest cost for an alto I have seen is around $1500. The price just goes up from there. If your budget is a big concern, the alto flute might not be the best purchase.

The alto flute is big. If you choose a straight headjoint, you will need quite an arm’s reach to play it. If you choose a curved headjoint, the balance can be awkward. With either headjoint, the alto is going to be bigger. You can’t just throw it in with your flute on your way to rehearsal.

The Verdict

Each flutist is different. We all have different interests and different budgets. We also all have different goals for our flute playing, from fun to a full career.

I don’t want to give a single answer as to the better choice, so here is what is better for certain groups.

For flute majors and serious flute students: Go for the piccolo. It will serve you more in ensembles and solo performances. It is also more affordable than the alto flute. If you need an alto flute, you can probably borrow one from your school.

For adult amateurs: You decide. If you play more in community bands and orchestras, then piccolo. If you play in a flute choir, choose the alto flute.

For semi-pro to professional flutists: Both, because the piccolo is almost expected of all professional flute players, and the alto flute will add to your marketability. When starting your career, you don’t need the most expensive model, but you should have both a piccolo and an alto. If you can’t afford both immediately, then get the piccolo first and save for the alto flute.

So…

I definitely do have a preference for the piccolo, but I do enjoy the alto flute. This holiday season, I think I might have to treat myself to an entry level alto flute. I’m out of school, and I would like to become a professional flutist. I need both a good piccolo (I own one) and a good alto flute to remain competitive in the current world of professional flute playing.

Do you have a piccolo or alto flute? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Flute Tips for Older Beginners

There are tons of resources for younger music students, but there aren’t many books or websites that target older learners. I started playing flute at age 16, and many of the basic beginner tools and books were for elementary school students. So, I want to share some flute tips for older beginners.

Killer Harmony | Flute Tips for Older Beginners

I have played music of some sort since I was 6, but flute came later. Whether you have prior music experience or not, I hope these tips help you up your flute game.

One of the biggest assets that older beginners have is their drive. Many young students play music because of their parents or friends. When you’re older, you can focus on music and do it for you. Whether you are 16 or 60 and up, these tips are for you.

Start with Rubank.

The Rubank books are a great beginner method for flute. Most “band books” are created with younger players in a class in mind. Those books aren’t well suited for older beginners or students who are learning independently.

Rubank has four volumes across three levels for flute players. The beginner method is similar to other beginner books, but it goes a little bit faster. In my experience, older music students are more motivated to improve.

Older beginners can handle the speed at which Rubank moves along. It is easier to learn and progress on an individual basis rather than in a class. If you start with a good quality method book, you will be better prepared for the future.

Get a Good Student Flute.

By good student flute, I don’t mean those cheap no-brand flutes you find on Amazon or Ebay. As an older beginner, especially if you are financially independent, you can afford a better instrument.

While brands like Jupiter and Gemeinhardt are well known, they are not always the best quality. I would recommend brands such as Trevor James, DiZhao, and Yamaha for older beginners. Those instruments will last longer than other brands, and they will hold their value better.

Trevor James, DiZhao, and Yamaha are more expensive, but they are worth it. I have the Trevor James 10x, which plays just as well as my more advanced flute. I have also heard good things about the DiZhao and Yamaha student flutes.

Focus on Your Tone.

Tone is the foundation of your flute sound. When you are starting out and as you get better, make getting a good tone your priority. That is another reason why you want a good flute.

I always start with tone exercises when I warm up. Harmonics, long tones, and octave leaps are all essential to my practice routine.

If you are a full time student or you work full time, you probably have a limited amount of practice time. Tone exercises are a quick and easy way to build and maintain your sound on flute.

Listen to Recordings.

Since you cannot practice all the time, listen to flute recordings on your way to work. Have some music playing while you make dinner. Listen, listen, listen.

You can then try and emulate the sounds you hear on those recordings. Listening to music also helps you learn new pieces. As you reach the point of learning full repertoire, your ears can be a super valuable resource.

I don’t listen to recordings as much as I should, but they are extremely helpful when I do listen.

Join Online Flute Groups.

I am a part of a few different flute related Facebook groups. I love being able to both ask and answer questions about the flute in a safe space. Everyone in those groups has a different background, and we can all share our experiences to help others.

When you first begin the flute, you won’t be able to answer questions. You can ask all the questions you need, and there are many flutists who can help you out.

Flute groups are especially helpful if you cannot take private lessons. Members include everyone from beginners to professionals, flute teachers, and flute technicians.

Don’t Give Up.

If you take any advice from this post, let it be this. Do not give up on the flute. It can be difficult. You might have days where you don’t want to practice. You might have a bad tone day. Things happen.

If you really want to play flute, you have to work on it. Giving up is the easy option, but is it worth it? Music does wonders for the mind, body, and soul. We need more adult amateurs in this world. Music should not just be something for children. Music is for everyone.

If you do have a ton of doubt about playing flute, take a break. Step away from it for awhile. Give yourself a break. That might be all you need. You might go back to the flute and have a renewed love of the instrument.

So…

When did you start learning the flute? Are you an older beginner? Or a re-beginner? Let me know in the comments!

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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