Saturday, December 04, 2010

Does piccolo fourth octave exist?

Dear Jen,
Through my research, I didn´t find what i was looking for, so i decided to ask a professional: Is it possible to achieve the fourth octave on the piccolo????, There are some web pages that say yes, but other says no, and so, i got in a mess!!!!!, and there isn´t a clear explanation of this subject. Thankyou. G.

Dear G,
Here are two decent piccolo fingering charts online:

Piccolo fingering chart - Christie Beard

Piccolo fingering alternates - John Krell

As you can see, no fingerings are given above a C#4, and for good reason, I suspect.

I suppose that it is theoretically possible to squeak out a deadly high peep on D4 with much force and horrific tone quality, in a Sousa March, but, ha, ha.... no one really wants to.
When it's done well, (and only one piccoloist in twenty can play C4 on the piccolo well, and only after much practice, and often changing piccolos a few times until they find one that does it more easily) it's still horrible to listen to, and considered a "trick" for blast-fests.

The note C4 appears most prominently in the Shostakovich Waltz Suite No. 1 - Polka, for orchestra, doubled at the octave with the flute, and it's seldom in tune in recordings, and takes much practice to play it in tune. Here is a good recording, thought it's hard to say whether the flute drops out for the C4 octave unison: go to minute 1:08 and listen for the top note of the phrase:

One or two C#4s exist in the piccolo literature, but not enough to worry too much about.
There is an interesting article about the problems with C#4 on piccolo, and how to solve them by using a D-flat piccolo, here.
But for the modern piccoloist, the typical range is to C4 only (see orchestral instrument ranges and transpositions here.)

On the other hand, contemporary concert band composers not infrequently forget to transpose the piccolo parts, and write them "as if" they piccolo must go into the fourth octave. However this is a misprint.

The piccoloist should assume that the arranger/composer has made a mistake, and play one octave lower.

I advise to always play one octave lower above a high B3 unless you have three months of daily piccolo practice, (in addition to your regular flute practice) to work up the fingering, tuning and embouchure.
Be safe, be happy, and drop an octave.
If wanting to live dangerously, you still should always wear ear-plugs when practicing above D3.

Oh, and in hunting around, I also found an invention, the double-octave piccolo, whose time may have come. Have a read of this article:
Super-Octave Piccolo Written by Nancy Nourse

Quote:Buried in one of the many drawers of the enormous Dayton C. Miller Collection in the Library of Congress lies an anonymous nineteenth century oddity, no. 610, a tiny transverse flute. Built to sound a full octave higher than the modern piccolo (or a full two octaves above the standard, concert flute) its actual length is more than twice as long as its sounding length. Since playing such a tiny instrument as a super-octave piccolo obviously poses a fingering challenge for anyone without the most miniature hands, this anonymous maker has employed the same concept of remotely controlling mechanisms for the opening and closing of keys that is used to manipulate distant hole covers on baritone saxophones, bassoons, contrabass flutes or even simply the D# key on the eighteenth century traverso. Instead in this instance, the keys are used for facilitating a miniature layout rather than spanning unreachable distances.

Now there's an instrument that would be useful!!

Hope this helps.
Save your ears.I'm not kiddink! :>)
Comments (3)
Blogger Wobblegong said...

Now that super-octave piccolo would be a fascinating instrument to play ... FWLIW, I've got myself a garklein recorder, but NEVER EVER jump to the next octave up - it hurts my ears

Sunday, December 26, 2010 12:08:00 AM

Blogger Piccolo Phil said...

I'm sure that by now many have heard (usually young) piccoloists set up shop at a piccolo display at NFA or similar conventions and dutifully blast away every high not they know, but there are a growing number of persons playing the piccolo high D. Allegedly, some actually use the same fingering for it on piccolo as they do on flute, but I haven't found that to be a viable option for myself. Instead, I use Thumb B-flat, RH ring finger and the D# key.
It's not sustainable or very accessible in a technical passage, but can be subsituted at the end of work (Piccolo Espagnole, for one).

Thursday, July 19, 2012 6:00:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Phil.
That's a useful fingering for sure.
Best, Jen

Thursday, July 19, 2012 8:12:00 AM


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