Saturday, August 24, 2013

30 year old piccolo question

Hello Jen, 
Recently my dad just gave me a piccolo that has been given to him since he was 15 years old (the age of the piccolo is 30 years old). He always wanted to play the piccolo because it was my passed grandmother's gift to him, but he can't play it. And so, the piccolo left unused for more than 30 years. And so my dad gave me his piccolo, in the hope that I can learn to play the piccolo because it will be very nice for him. 

When I look at the piccolo, the color is grayish and my dad said the color was aluminum color when he first got it. I've attached the picture of the piccolo in the email. I've been tweaking around trying to figure out how to play this thing. I tried to blow through the mouthpiece, but all I hear is just the sound of wind through the tube, and no note. 

I've been searching through the internet, and I didn't find anything. 

And I got into your blogspot and see that you're an expert with flutes, and that you're actually active.

 So I think I would give it a shot asking you several questions: Is it because the piccolo was too old (probably it's rusty or something)? Or is it because I blew it the wrong way? 
Will there be any way to get my piccolo working? Can it be fixed? 

It will mean a lot to me if I can get this piccolo working. I thank you so much for reading through my message, and I hope that I can get help from you. 

Thanks. J.E.

 Dear JE,

Here's a diagram showing the typical repair needs of a 30 year old un-played instrument:

Headjoint repairs close up diagram.

Body repairs close up diagram

Also see links below for more info. on easy ways to learn and understand the picc.

 This situation is exactly the same as being given an old bicycle by your dad, who never rode it either.

You need to get the bike fixed, oiled, and tires checked for worn out rubber (just like the soft-cotton pads on the piccolo which may have worn out), and get the tire's inner tubes replaced etc. because they've dried out unevenly and are abraded or worn.

Then, once it's all cleaned and oiled, you learn to ride a bike from someone who knows how to teach it quickly, without frustration for the student.

 If you try to teach yourself it takes twenty times longer. And it's impossible if the machine is not working properly.

Then, after three lessons or so,  you can begin to ride the bike everywhere you want more safely, and improve your skills as you go along.

And of course, you take it in once a year for a checkup and re-oiling.

 I'm surprised that people don't realize that musical instruments that are really old are exactly the same as bicycles. Oh, you can try to ride a wonky,bent, squeaky, dried-out bike in your driveway, but even if you do learn to stay on it and pedal, the mechanical breakdown will follow quite swiftly..

 So.... Phone up a good flute teacher in town, (how to is here)and ask them who the best repair person is who fixes flutes and piccolos.

Then take the piccolo into that shop, get an estimate, and have it repaired and cleaned.

Then with your newly restored piccolo sign up for three or more piccolo-flute lessons to get help with embouchure, holding, breathing, posture and note-reading.

What you're going through is normal. I get questions like this all the time.

So to all and sundry: This is how it works:

 The piccolo needs tiny amounts of interior oil and a general cleaning and adjustment of moving parts at least once a year when it's being played. Flute/piccolo repair technicians do this work quite inexpensively as they do it for a living. They know what the instrument needs, and they'll suggest the amount of work that would be minimal to get the instrument functioning optimally for your budget.

Say, $40-$120 depending on how wrecked the piccolo is.

Yours does not look "wrecked". Even the pads look half-decent. So go straight to a reputable repair person and get an estimate; it might be way cheaper than you think. Plus the piccolo will work afterward, be cleaner (and smell nicer, ha ha.)  and look much more like a family heirloom. :>)
(note: even the case may need to be cleaned, vaccuumed out and checked for mold etc.)

Basically: The headjoint cork needs checking for shrinkage. A new cork is only $10 and can be expertly fitted.  The pads beneathe the finger keys need to be checked for drying out, hardness, and unevenness (pads should seal the holes with no finger pressure when you depress the keys, but you can only hear this if you can already play the piccolo.)

And the moving parts need oil to stop the dry metal from abrading itself as the instrument is played (continual up and down motion of the keys on dry rods and hinges will damage the instrument; that's why it needs oil in microscopic amounts during a dissassembly and cleaning.)

When the piccolo comes back from the shop a nearby expert flute player or good quality flute teacher will show you how to play it. They can also "play-test" it so you can hear what the instrument is capable of doing. That will be a thrill! :>)

More useful links: 

1. Is your old flute broken? Blog article with diagrams. Basic knowledge.

Flute repair tests: Miyazawa article.

More links of total usefulness for a  pre-beginner looking at an old instrument:

2. How to create a flute embouchure for the first time. AOL video.
 (sorry about the stupid car commercial; can't find this video on youtube anymore...doh, I hate that.)

Note, that if the piccolo has cracked or missing solder (can see daylight) around the embouchure chimney, or a shrunken or missing cork in the headjoint, or even a tiny upper body trill key that's hanging open,  not much sound will come out of it even if you blow it correctly.

3. Easy Fun Tunes to Play:
 Music you can play on piccolo (even if you're just messing around, and not taking it all too seriously, but just want to have fun): 110 Best Irish Tin Whistle Tunes.
 The above book has the fingerings given below each note for the first few pages. Very fun and nice tunes. Just stay aware that the tin-whistle or penny whistle has no thumb key like the piccolo, so you'll need help knowing about the left hand thumb key and how its used.

Also see:
 4. More piccolo questions answered by Jen in a previous piccolo-blog article that shows embouchure drawings with piccolo height on lip highlighted.

And for the future; usually flute teachers will tell you "Play flute first, then play the piccolo secondly..."

Here's why: Thoughts on how piccolo playing is different from flute playing, and requires some previous knowledge of flute playing:

Good luck


Comments (2)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jennifer,
I am a freshman in college and I'm music majoring. However, I am having ALOT of difficulty practicing technique. I've looked at all the articles on your website, and they've helped tremendously(lifting the finger, practicing T&G) but my fingers are still not even. I slow my metronome WAY down(sometimes even 50 per quarter note for T&G) but my fingers seem to have a mind of their own. I tried "analyzing" the fingerings as you said, but do I have to do that for every technical part in my piece?(Carmen Fantasy, Borne). I'm desperate and have a Concerto Competition coming up! Please help me! BTW, I read your blog religiously.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013 9:22:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anon,

1. How's your flute's repair condition?
Many "technique problems" turn out to be leaking pads.
Do you have your flute adjusted and leaks checked once a year? Or once every six months?
If you play more than 2 hours a day, you might even need to have it checked MORE often.
When was the last time you took it to a truly great flute technician (that the symphony flutists use)?

2. What does your teacher say? Have you spoken to them about your technique ?What do they think the problem is? Have they tried your flute? Have you tried another flute (your teacher's?)

3. What changes do you make to your hand positions that help technique be faster, and clearer?
Have you tried?
a) moving the LH closer to the Ab key so that the fingers are curved on the A, G and Ab?
b) moving the RH thumb to allow the RH to turn at the wrist slightly to the right (like opening a door knob clockwise). This helps the E to F# fingering change specifically and frees up the RH.

Let me know by email.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013 12:11:00 AM


Post a Comment