Because of the piccolo's smaller size, finger technique needs to be slightly modified. Some tricky third octave passages on the flute can get a great boost by using harmonics, but because of the greater resistance on piccolo, often this option is not quite as available to us, although I am able to use this as an option many times. I try to play a little more on the finger tips, curving the fingers slightly more on piccolo since the keys are smaller and there are no open holes to worry about covering. Think about incorporating trill fingerings for extremely fast passages. Keep fingers even closer to the keys than the flute. Always, start slow and small: slower tempo and small segments of the passage (a beat is enough at the beginning). Link together as you teach the passage to your fingers, and gently ramp up the tempo. I enjoy playing the passage from right to left for a 'new' way of looking at it(this also heightens the concentration). Keep earplugs handy as you do this: Extended piccolo practice is tough on the ears.
Playing in a 'live' hall...one which has a lot of resonance, is a real joy. Many of us might notice that playing in a bathroom, with so many reflective surfaces (tile, glass, marble) is quite an ego boost for our tone! Live halls require more finesse from us: There is no reason to play louder in such a space. Do the opposite: Let the hall help carry your tone by backing off just slightly. Otherwise, you risk sounding a bit harsh with a slightly frayed tone. It will also help to make careful adjustments with articulation...play a bit shorter, because the hall will lengthen notes for you because it enhances the vibrancy of the sound. Dynamics need careful attention as well...bring out the piano side more than usual. Enjoy these live spaces...and let them help you create tonal magic.
I love working on my sound...it's a skill most professional wind players continue to hone, every day. Using harmonics as the springboard to my warm up, I play the entire series on all fundamentals from C1-F1. I usually do some kind of 'vocalise' next: arpeggios of some kind (triadic patterns, or chords) to loosen up before commencing on more static long tones, usually with crescendo/diminuendo work thrown in at the same time. Break this up for students: Working first on long tones with nice tapers, then adding in longer diminuendos, then crescendos, before putting it all together. Remember, the lips are flexible when changing dynamics, as air direction must change too! Keep the tuner handy when doing these exercises...and pay attention to the air pressure...keep it very firm on the soft dynamics. This kind of work will help EVERYTHING you play!
Developing reliable finger technique also requires training the eyes, breath, and brain! Make sure that you have played a passage correctly from the outset. Go slow enough at first to notice all details: dynamics and articulation as well. Allegro should become adagio at this stage. Make sure your eyes are reading slightly ahead: look at the notes about to arrive, not only just right where you are. Sometimes your brain can 'trick' you into stopping if you are low on breath, because that realization that stopping=breathing has been ingrained for years! Mark your breathing spots, and stick to the plan. Now to fingers alone: Slow practice is helpful, but try breaking up passages into two note units, at a very fast tempo. Link them together into longer units as you get more secure. Try different groupings of notes (starting a 16th note passage on the 'and' of the beat and grouping in 4's for example). Move your metronome up a notch, down two notches, then up three, down two, for a new way of moving forward in tempo. Above all, consistent practice cures fingering glitches. Happy New Year...happy practicing!
Building a beautiful tone on piccolo is a separate quest from the flute. Try placing the piccolo slightly higher on the lower lip for starters: it helps to mitigate the smaller size of the embouchure hole. Spend additional time building tonal security in the low and middle octaves before scaling the heights of the third register! I love to slur quick octaves between the low/middle registers to keep flexibility and focus...and I find singing pedal tones while playing arpeggios is so helpful to keep the larynx low. Nicola Mazzanti's book has some great written exercises for singing and playing! Whistle tones are terrific for relaxing the embouchure after spending time in the third octave. Make sure to keep the air pressure stronger than what you are used to on flute, and keep the lips a bit more relaxed than you might expect...this will give you a free and sweet tone. 'Tis the season for Nutcracker performances, with many flutists facing more piccolo playing than usual..hope this post is helpful!
Ah, vibrato...such a complex topic, since it cannot be seen but only heard. In general, if the ear is drawn to vibrato initially, it is probably too wide or too slow...a beautiful tone is shaded with vibrato, not dominated by it. In general, there should be 4-6 pulses of vibrato per quarter note pulse. Experiment with different speeds, especially on diminuendo exercises. Take the vibrato out as you go softer: next time, keep the vibrato spinning smaller and faster as you get softer. PLAY! Make your long tone exercises a laboratory for success by trying all kinds of speeds/widths of vibrato in each register and in different dynamics. Remember to keep the vibrato on the low side of the pitch so that you are not going sharper as a general trend when using vibrato.
Try experimenting with different vowel shapes to improve resonance in your sound...different vowels can really add more 'oomph' in specific registers. The vowel shape will affect your tongue position as well as the position of your larynx (which by the way, should generally stay low). Record yourself doing a side by side comparison of different vowels on the same pitch...you may be able to choose a different shape for coloring and shading of notes too. Experiment and be creative when you practice those long tones!
Working on articulation is part of my daily routine. There are really two parts to the 'act' of tonguing, the consonant and the vowel. Consonants can be more pointed with sounds in the 't' range, and softer with those in the 'd' range (both of these work well for single and double tonguing). Sometimes very soft piano attacks work well with 'p'. For the second syllable of double tonguing, 'g' for a more legato effect, or 'k' for a shorter style work well. The Vowel chosen can be an 'e' sound, as in the word free, or year, or 'a' sounds as in far...even an 'i' as in kick....but the key is to experiment and see which combinations work in the given musical circumstance....
It's nearly time for a new school year to begin which means it's time for the inevitable placement auditions. Just a thought for students and teachers alike: 1. Success is a fraction of failure. Musicians tend to put a lot of pressure on single audition (which will almost invariably cause more stress)which can have a negative effect on the final outcome. If a baseball player has a 300 batting average, this means he is failing 7 out of 10 times...and a 300 average is GOOD in baseball...very good in fact. We need to remember that each "less than optimal" outcome is leading us thru the road to success. Nobody remembers all the auditions they took and lost...it only takes winning ONE great audition to secure the professional job (or goal of first chair, etc). Stay process oriented...(enjoy the journey) rather than becoming outcome oriented (a total fixation on the desired goal). If you enjoy the journey, you are sure to arrive at the destination in style.
Singing and playing at the same time is a contemporary effect that has become common in 20th and 21st century literature, but it can also be used as a very helpful exercise! Try singing a note, while playing the major chord from that bass note in an arpeggiated fashion. Notice that the larynx will remain still on this sustained note. This will help your playing by making you aware of movements of your larynx, (it will help you know what an open throat can feel like). You will also increase your support as you try this technique, and your focus should improve as well. Try this on BOTH flute and piccolo too...it will really help your tone!