10 Simple Tips For Piccolo Trumpet Playing
If you are thinking about starting to play the piccolo trumpet, or if you already play the piccolo and you think reading a few tips wouldn’t hurt…
…well, then you are on the right page because in this blog post I will present 10 tips for playing the piccolo trumpet.
Let’s jump right in…
Tip 1: Elegance elegance elegance…
You must treat the piccolo trumpet differently than the normal, big B-flat trumpet. It is literally half the size of the normal trumpet and it simply can not be approached like a normal sized trumpet. This is very important to realize in order to get any kind of enjoyment at all from spending time with the instrument for you…
…AND the audience.
The smaller piccolo trumpet has more resistance than a bigger trumpet and the piccolo will make you suffer big time if you try to overblow it. Trying to force it will also make it sound horrible.
In addition to that, the whole piccolo playing”style”, if you will, should be done with elegance and grace. However, since the piccolo also is a trumpet we should still not lose the assertive attitude, we trumpet players need to have.
That somewhat cocky, assertive attitude. The trumpet is a beast and without that attitude, it will eat us alive and the piccolo trumpet is no exception, even though it should be played with elegance and grace.
Every time I pick up my piccolo trumpet I remind me of this and I repeat these words for me, almost like a mantra:
- Elegance mixed with attitude and confidence!
Please take a look at Matthias Höfs here for a good example of playing the piccolo trumpet with elegance mixed with attitude. Mathias is the one furthest to the right with glasses. 51 seconds in is a PERFECT example…elegance at its finest!
Tip 2: Get familiar with the two lead pipes
If you are considering buying a piccolo trumpet or if you have just started your piccolo journey you should know that most piccolo trumpets comes with two lead pipes.
- One lead pipe makes the piccolo tuned in A
- The other one tunes your instrument in Bb
As you can see on the picture the “A” lead pipe is longer then the “Bb” lead pipe
On my Getzen piccolo trumpet, the “A” lead pipe works much better than the “Bb”
Why the two lead pipes?
Playing the piccolo in tune is not that easy and by having two different lead pipes we can choose which one is best suitable for the musical piece we are playing.
Let’s say you take a look at some organ sheet music and on the top of that score you see a trumpet part that would be fun to play. Well since the organ is not a transposing instrument, but the trumpet is, you have to be prepared to transpose…
…say the piece you want to play with the organist is in “D major”. If you choose the “Bb lead pipe” you will have to play one whole step higher in order to match the organ (since Bb is one step lower than the C organ) and that puts you in the key of “E-major”.
Avoid very difficult keys
E major is a difficult key to play on the trumpet and especially on the piccolo trumpet. You will have a very hard time with intonation. However, if you choose the “A” lead pipe you will have to transpose your piccolo playing one and a half step up, putting you in the key of “F-major”…
…this is an excellent key to be paying the trumpet in. In fact, most of the baroque music for trumpet is written in “sounding D”, and by choosing the “A” lead pipe you will be able to play those pieces in the familiar and comfortable F-major key.
In some cases though, the “Bb lead pipe” puts you in a better key than the “A lead pipe”. Say for example that you want to play along with an orchestra that are playing a pice in Ab-major…
…well, by using your “Bb lead pipe” you should transpose your playing up a whole step, and you get to play in the key of Bb major. If you pick the “A lead pipe” in this case, you would have to play in the nasty B major, with 5 sharps…
…and very difficult to do with the piccolo.
I highly recommend that you order the piccolo trumpet book “Hymn Descants for Trumpet” as it’s an amazing book with over 200 fun trumpet parts, that can be played on piccolo along with the hymns, as a descant part. It also has many other songs that sound great with a cool piccolo trumpet part riding on top of the song. The parts are written specially for the piccolo, so it is very fun to play them!
In that book you will also instantly see the use of the two lead pipes. Many of the descant parts are written ifor Bb piccolo and the piece goes in b major (with 5 sharps!!!) so, ignore the Bb trumpet text and put the A lead pipe in your piccolo instead. To compensate for being a half step lower than the Bb-trumpet you will have to play one half step higher…
…and a half step higher than B-major puts you int?….
….that’s right. C major! Cool, huh? =)
Tip 3: Take in LESS air!
As the piccolo trumpet is so much smaller than the normal trumpet you are also going to use less air…
…really, the difference is quite drastic! I would recommend you get used to never filling your lungs 100% when you are playing piccolo trumpet unless you are going to play a really long phrase, of course.
This is to avoid overblowing. Overblowing is never a good thing and this is especially true with the piccolo because, if you do, it will “reward” you with a nasty sound.
In addition to this, if you take in to much air you will find that you will have to breathe out when you come to a rest, in order to get the extra air out, before you can take in new, fresh air. This adds an unnecessary step to our playing without giving anything in return. In fact it will only hurt us…
…we don’t need more unnecessary steps, trumpet playing is difficult enough as it is.
Here is a short “check list” for you, when it comes to breathing and playing the piccolo trumpet.
- Do not take in more air than you need
- When in doubt about the amount, just estimate an intake of about 70% of the amount you take in on your normal trumpet
- Do NOT “refill” with a new breath at every rest (we are used to doing this)
Tip 4: You may have to use a different mouthpiece
If you are beginner, and you are just now starting with the piccolo trumpet, you should know that most trumpet players do not use their “standard” B-flat trumpet mouthpiece, when playing the piccolo…
…a few do, but I would say that more than 90% do not, and there is a good reason for that.
The piccolo has a smaller bell which are designed to amplify and give life to notes in the upper register and the whole piccolo trumpet resonates at higher “frequencies”. We have to match that with our mouthpiece and also…
…if you normally play on a Bach 1,5c you will have a very hard time with endurance in the upper register when you play the trumpet. Inotation might also be an issue as the bigger and deeper cup of your 1,5c will not support the higher notes as well as a smaller mouthpiece would.
Lean against the notes instead of forcing them out
Your goal should be to find a mouthpiece that will let you “lean” comfortable against the notes in the upper register instead of blowing them forcfully out…
…and if you are using a mouthpiece that is too big you would probably be doing the latter.
Same or different rim size?
Many trumpet players recommend you stick to the same rim size and instead go with a cup that is more shallow. The idea behind that is that our embouchure are so used to one rime size and it will only confuse the playing mechanism if we mess around with different rim sizes.
Of course I respect that opinion, the logic behind it sounds valid in theory but I have found that in reality it only takes our playing mechanism a few minutes to get used to the smaller rim size…
…perhaps a few hours at most.
Just practice the switch
In my opinion this is a small price to pay considering it will benefit your piccolo trumpet in the long run. Just like everything else in life we have to practice what we want to learn, so it is just a matter of practicing the switch between the mouthpieces. By doing a few practice sessions with a smaller mouthpiece you are practicing and learning how to do that switch…
…even if the first few times might feel a bit weird.
How to find the right piccolo trumpet mouthpiece
Keep in mind that you will almost never have to play low notes on your piccolo trumpet (lower than low c) and these are the notes that would need a bigger mouthpiece in order to sound at their best. My point is that you no longer have to take those notes in consideration when trying out your piccolo trumpet mouthpiece.
Look for a mouthpiece that best supports you with these three trumpet pillars:
Most piccolo trumpets will respond poorly to a throat size that is too big.
Some mouthpieces might first feel easy to play when you try them in your piccolo but when you test the higher notes, high c and above, you find that the intonation is not good and those notes might be way too sharp.
If so, do NOT choose that mouthpiece as it will be very frustrating to play with in the long run. This often happens on a mouthpiece that has a bigger throat size.
When in doubt, go a tiny bit smaller than you think is best
If the mouthpice feels “stuffy” with your first try, keep in mind that you will do most of your playing at soft volumes and with less air. It might just be that you are still approaching the piccolo with the normal Bb trumpet approach…
…that said, of course the mouthpiece should not feel TOO stuffy and small. It should feel “small but comfortable” and the sound you get should be pleasant and clean.
My personal piccolo mouthpiece choice and a recommendation
Personally I think the “Bobby Shew Marcinkiecz 1.5 (E9.1) is a phenomenal piccolo trumpet mouthpiece. For me it helps me so much with the intonation and I love how I can just “lean” against the notes, almost like I don’t even have to blow and use any air…
…it makes the piccolo easier to control and the sound becomes clear and clean. So far I have not found a better piccolo mouthpiece out there.
It’s not that expensive either, I think the price is just under 100 bucks. You can click here to check the current price on Amazon as it’s always changing. It becomes a bit more expensive if you choose the 24K gold option, of course. Those look very nice, and if you have the money, go for them but personally I have the standard, no gold mouthpiece.
Of course we are all different but I still recommend you give this mouthpiece a try.
Tip 5: Become a master at using alternate fingerings
One of the biggest challenges piccolo trumpet playing presents is intonation and getting every note to be perfectly in tune. With four vales at your disposal the instrument gives you a lot of options and many ways to play the same note…
…this is something you have to learn and do a lot of experimenting with. There is juts no way around that. You will have to try different ways of fingerings, depending on the key of the piece you are playing.
The four vales gives you a lot of options to do this and here are just a few examples of useful alternate fingerings…
..try them out:
- C#- 1,2,3 or 2,4
- D- 13 or 4
- E- 12 or 3 or 2,3,4
- F- 1 or 1,4
- F# 2 or 2,4
- G- 0 or 1,3 or 4 or 1,3 or 1,3,4
- Ab- 2,3 or 3,4
- A- 12 or 3 or 1,4
- Bb- 1 or 1,2,3 or 2,4
- B- 2 or 1,3 or 4
- C- 0 or 2,3 or 1,2,4
There are more, depending on in what octave you play and I highly recommend you start experimenting with them.
Tip 6: Listen listen listen
This is good advice with all instruments but I think it is even more important when it comes to piccolo trumpet playing. We really need to know what we want to sound like and have a sound in our minds ear before we start playing…
…in addition, the elegant style and approach we should have when playing this difficult instrument, is very noticeable when we hear the masters play if we pay attention to it.
Sound and style
When it comes to sound and elegance we must first notice it, then listen to it and lastly try to emulate it. This cycle should then be put on “repeat” during our whole piccolo trumpet journey.
Here are a few masters I recommend you listen to
- Maurice Andrè
- Matthias Höfs
- Alisom Balsom
- Håkan Hardenberger
Tip 7: At least 85% of your piccolo practice should be soft playing
This ties in with what I wrote about how we should approach the piccolo compared to the big trumpets but in addition to that it is very important with soft playing at a P or mp, level because of our chops.
Because most of our piccolo playing is done in a higher register, than with the normal B-flat trumpet, it will also be much more demanding for our lips. By practicing softly, you will make sure you are lasting longer and thus building the correct piccolo endurance.
It’s easy to step on the gas later, when need be
This will also help you develop a better and more pleasing piccolo trumpet sound and you will notice how your control over the instrument improves over time. By really mastering and getting your soft playing down it is very easy to step on the gas later when some more loud playing is called for. However, if we do it the other way around…
…well, let’s just say that’s a very bad idea and would get you in deep trouble.
Tip 8: Match the piece with scales
If the piece of music you are going to play is in, for example, A flat major, then before you start practicing that piece on your piccolo, you should play the A flat major scale a few times…
…or MANY times. This will help you more than you think. By playing that scale over and over you are really locking in that key with your piccolo trumpet playing. Do this and…
…you are learning to automatically adjust the notes that needs to be adjusted and then when you go to play the piece, you will do a much better job with the intonation.
I like to play the Vivaldi trumpet concerto for two trumpets. It is written in C-major. I use my “A” lead pipe and this puts me in the key of “E-fat”. I always play the E-flat scale A LOT before practicing or performing the concerto…
…not only does it help with the intonation but also with the fingering, as that piece demands pretty rapid “finger action”.
Tip 9: Expand your range with easy songs
Let’s face it, there is is no such thing as having too much range when it comes to playing the piccolo trumpet. The music we play when we use the piccolo is often demanding and it is very common that the highest notes are also the ones that makes us nervous before, and during, the performance.
What to do? …
…well, practicing helps =)
Pick a phrase form a song that you like. It should be a very easy and relatively short phrase (we are not practicing endurance here)
- Pick a key in which you can play the phrase with a good sound, with not too much effort
- Then take it up a whole step and play it in that higher key
- Play it softly
- Do NOT use a lot of air
- But use a LOT of air compression
- Rest after the phrase (too much rest is better than too little)
Tip 10: Get the Gerald Webster Piccolo Trumpet Method Book
If the Arban book is considered the holy bible for trumpet players, then the Gerald Webster piccolo trumpet book could be the bible for piccolo trumpet players. Well, perhaps not really since nothing can beat our beloved Arban book….
…however, it is an amazingly good method book and in it you will find everything you need to know, and a lot of exercises specifically tailored for the piccolo trumpet, along with things you need to know in order to become a great piccolo trumpeter. If you are about to start playing the piccolo or if you want to improve your piccolo playing then I highly recommend this method book….
…It is almost a must have item for you!
It’s not that expensive either since I think it’s just under 30 bucks. I don’t remember exactly but you can click here to check current pricing
Love the challenge and have fun
Playing the piccolo trumpet is not easy. It is one of the hardest musical instruments to play and this is why it is common to see, even world class performers, sometimes struggle when performing the piccolo trumpet.
We should not be discouraged by this. Playing the piccolo should also be fun and we should view the difficulty as a challenge. Love the challenge and constantly try to improve. And then one day, when we mess up a little in a performance…
…because that WILL happen, it is inevitable, we should find comfort in the fact that even the trumpet masters sometimes struggle with the piccolo. It is not easy. The piccolo trumpet can some days be your best friend and other days it can be a beast, wanting to eat you alive…
…but you know what?
…that’s why I love playing it so much =)
Thanks for reading this blog post “piccolo trumpet tips”
P.S. Perhaps you also would be interested in reading my article 26 trumpet playing tips. That is a post that talks about how to improve trumpet playing in general…not just piccolo trumpet.