Learning to play a Piccolo Trumpet

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Kamikaze, Sep 1, 2009.

  1. Kamikaze

    Kamikaze New Friend

    Apr 23, 2007
    Okay, I know this thread is going to get a lot of cynical and critical replys but I am trying to find out how I should go about working on my ability to play a good quality piccolo trumpet.

    I should mention that I have been playing trumpet about 40 years now and mostly done some R & B, Funk, Latin, Big Band, small combos, little studio work and more recently some latin / tejano music. During my own time and warm-up practices, I've been working on more classical and chamber music. Sort of getting back to the basics.

    I did the cheap route and bought a e-bay, chinese or indian horn and it has aweful sound and is just an expensive "toy".

    I recently went to a good music store and they had a brand new Yamaha 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet and they allowed me to play test it. I had a couple of my mouthpieces with me and I used them with little success in producing a quality tone.

    The store has a couple of brass instructors but none of them have any experience in playing a piccolo trumpet, so they were not of any help.

    Anyone have some basics or suggestions on what I could do and work on my own? I plan on investing some money into a quality horn like a Schilke P5-4 but would like to try and see if I get the opportunity to try out other horns and have a better feel for another brand and model. The Yamaha I played had a small bore about .421 and felt really "tight" as I attempted to play various scales up and down.

    Thanks in advance for the constructive suggestions and replies!
  2. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

    Jul 28, 2009
    New Hampshire
    I have found that the biggest impediment to good piccolo trumpet playing is mental -- I have a hard time looking at and fingering, for example, a bottom-line E and having it sound an octave higher. The same aural "spatial distortion" affects me when I start practicing on D/Eb when I haven't used it for a while. But by playing for a short while my ear readjusts itself and once that happens I'm able to get a better tone.

    Most people I've known playing piccolo use a different (i.e. smaller) mouthpiece when playing picc, so if you're trying it with your standard Bb mouthpiece that can be one reason for the difficulty in getting a clear tone.

    Finally, the main reason is that it is a major physical change in structure from a Bb to a picc, and you will need time working a lot on the new picc to allow your body to make the adjustments necessary to find the sweet spot for each pitch on it.

    Remember that no matter what horn you're holding, your lips are doing the vibrating and your air-stream is what's making them vibrate, so no matter what horn you're holding, if you're playing the concert A above the staff, they have to vibrate at 880Hz. Even if you're looking at the concert A which looks like it should vibrate at 440Hz. So playing a high C on a picc is just as difficult as playing a high C on a Bb -- it's just that the picc makes it easier to have a brighter tone and since that pitch is in the center of the range of the horn it's a bit easier to hit it more precisely. But it's your body which has to hit it so it has to be in good shape to play high C and above on any sort of trumpet.

    My advice would be to play a lot of long tones on any instrument you're testing, and keep the music relatively low and play the same music on all the piccs you're testing for best comparison.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2009
  3. trumpetnick

    trumpetnick Fortissimo User

    Nov 16, 2005
    Vidin, Bulgaria
    That's an excellent advice. Make sure that you do not overblow. Myself I also use more delicate tonguing=less tongue movement on picc.
  4. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008

    I agree that mental hurdles are a big factor in learning to play the piccolo. As an accomplished trumpet player on a Bb horn you have to be prepared to suck for a while on the piccolo. You'll need to find some new things to practice because some of the things you do on your Bb (ex. exercises in multiple octaves) you can't do on the piccolo. Find the Hickman(?) Piccolo Trumpet Big Book for a start. Practicing with actual piccolo literature was the ting that helped me most.

    Next, pick a pro like Maurice Andre and listen to recordings over and over so you get the sound you want in your head. Then go for it.

    From a practice perspective, the piccolo is a bit of a chop-killer (for me at least) so I put it at the end of the day/practice for only 10 minutes or so.

    It took me about 6 months to be able to perform in public (holiday performance in church) but I'm a bit of a hack, so you can likey shorten that time if necessary.

    Best of luck...
  5. Kamikaze

    Kamikaze New Friend

    Apr 23, 2007
    Thank you all who have replied to this thread!

    I should have mentioned that when I played the Yamaha at the store, I used a couple of different mouthpieces to see if I could achieve a somewhat decent tone.

    One mouthpiece was a Schilke 14a4a, another was a gold plated Marcinkiewicz E7M and finally a Curry, (sorry, can't recall the number), that has an extremely shallow cup but with a tiny bore as well.

    My usual Bb Horns are a Holton ST-302 and a ST-200.
    I also have a L.A. Horn Flugel with a .460 bore

    Hearing and projecting the sound in the upper cycles as dhbailey stated, is not a problem for me and I also had a piano in the room to establish where on the scale I was at. I understand the situation of playing higher than what I would normally read on the staff, so that is not an issue.

    I believe that trumpetnick also had good advice and that I probably was overblowing the horn in compensation to the increased resistance and knowing the airstream needed to be more concentrated for the smaller instrument. Especially considering I do most of my playing on a large .468 bore Bb.

    gbdeamer, I hear what you are saying as far as finding a good artist to emulate their sound on this instrument! There have been many good piccolo recordings that I have been playing in my collection recently and has stirred more interest for me to try one and buy something of quality that I could practice on and improve.

    I hear what you are saying about it being a chops killer but I am thinking, (and hoping?), that my improvement on the piccolo would be of benefit to my corners and overall sound quality on a regular Bb trumpet as well!

    Besides the Hickman book and going back to the good ol Arban's, does anyone else have any suggestions to materials I should look for?

    Also, those of you who have piccolo trumpets, I know this will open a can of worms, but I would like to know your opinions of the different construction / design styles of the available 4-valve horns.

    The Yamaha I tried was a short style like a mini-herald but I have also seen some that have a conventional crooked bell and 4-valve body. Even though I have yet to actually play a Schilke P5-4, I am open to trying and testing the Benge, Selmer, other Yamaha, Amati and any other quality brand to see what "fits" me the best!

    Thanks again to those who've answered and for those who have looked into this thread!
  6. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    My trumpet teacher wrote the book (literally) on playing the piccolo trumpet, and it took me about five years before I felt I could play it with any credibility. I would suggest good old lip slurs, figuring out where the harmonics feel. This, coupled with a falsetto aproach, should speed up your learning curve.
  7. Pedal C

    Pedal C Mezzo Forte User

    Jan 24, 2005
    Clarke 1 and 2 are great for feeling out the pic. Also, the shallowest mouthpiece isn't always the best choice. Depending out what you use on the Bb, you might try starting out with your normal mouthpiece and then, when you're starting to sound decent, look for a variant of your normal mouthpiece that works a little more efficiently for the pic.
  8. Bachstul

    Bachstul Mezzo Forte User

    Jan 25, 2009
    After you fork out the money, you need to learn to play b'-roke.

    Get it? (old joke for you, new joke for the newb's).

    (sorry, I'll go now)
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I find it easiest to learn by playing melodies in the lower register and gradually expanding the range. I have never used "special" exercizes. Music can also get the job done. The Clarke exercizes in the low register are also just fine
  10. s.coomer

    s.coomer Forte User

    Mar 25, 2005
    Indianapolis, In
    There are some terrific books for weddings that work very well in the beginning for learning to play piccolo. The best advice I could give you would be to find a good teacher with experience playing piccolo and study with them.

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