Alternate piccolo fingerings are a piccolo player’s best friend. But what are they, how do they work, and why are they so important on the piccolo but less so on the flute?
Using alternate fingerings can make certain passages easier or more enjoyable to play. Read on to learn more about the benefits of alternate fingerings.
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Standard Piccolo Fingerings
When you first learn the piccolo, you can use a lot of the same fingerings as you’ve learned to use on your flute. That’s because both instruments are part of the concert flute family.
Many of the written notes share the same fingerings. The most significant difference regarding piccolo fingerings is the lack of a low C or C#, though some models can produce those notes.
Because most piccolos don’t have those notes, you also won’t find a low B, which usually comes with a gizmo key on a C flute. Other than that, the fingerings are mostly the same.
Alternate Piccolo Fingerings
While you can use a lot of flute fingerings on the piccolo, the piccolo requires more alternate fingerings. Now, you can start with a lot of the same alternate flute fingerings, such as the different B flats.
However, you may use more alternate piccolo fingerings. I tend to have to close my right hand keys more when playing a C or C# because those notes are very open, for example.
The specific alternate fingerings you use may depend on your piccolo. Every brand and model is different, so you may need to experiment whenever you upgrade your piccolo.
Reasons for Alternate Piccolo Fingerings
If you plan on playing the piccolo seriously, you need to learn some alternate fingerings. That’s because the piccolo is very finicky, and standard fingerings might not always sound good or even be possible to play.
Consider some reasons why you may need to use alternate fingerings on your piccolo.
Correct the Intonation
One of the most common reasons to use alternate piccolo fingerings is to stay in tune. The piccolo can go out of tune more easily than lower-pitched instruments.
Also, even a slightly sharp or flat note will be more noticeable. As I mentioned earlier, using your right hand to lower the pitch of the C or C# in the staff or just above that staff can be very helpful.
You may also need to slightly open one of the trill keys when playing an E on the piccolo. That can help raise the pitch without making it go too sharp.
Some alternate piccolo fingerings are easier to use when you have to play soft or really loud. One common example is playing a high A softly.
You may need to add certain keys or fingers to help adjust the pitch. That way, you can hold the note without playing louder than the ensemble or sounding out of tune (both of which are problematic).
Even if the dynamics don’t matter, having more flexibility can come in very handy on the piccolo. You don’t have to worry about playing one specific way, especially in faster technical passages.
Ease of Playing
Some standard piccolo fingerings can be difficult or impossible to play right after another. For example, switching between the C and D in the staff requires changing the position of all of your fingers but your left-hand pinky.
If you struggle to go between two notes, consider if there are any alternate fingerings that might be easier. Of course, we almost always use alternates for trills or tremolos.
However, alternates can come in handy for slower passages as well. That way, you can play smoothly and avoid extra tones sounding in between two notes.
I have yet to come across a piccolo part that uses microtones, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one existed. Unlike the C flute, though, the piccolo doesn’t have open holes to help you play microtones.
These notes are between the standard 12 notes in the western scale (so between G and G#, for example). On a C flute, you could close half of the G hole to play that note.
But on a piccolo, you may need to slightly open a trill key or some other key, depending on your model. Be sure to test things out on your specific instrument to see what works.
Best Resources for Alternate Piccolo Fingerings
Unfortunately, I can’t easily explain alternate fingerings in writing. However, I can suggest some books and other resources to help you learn of fingering options.
My favorite resource is the book The Complete Piccolo by Jan Gippo. The book has a comprehensive list of piccolo fingerings, both standard and alternate.
If you want a free resource, check out The Woodwind Fingering Guide. It’s a website with fingering charts for all of the octaves, and there are alternate fingerings in there.
How to Practice Alternate Piccolo Fingerings
If you want to master alternate fingerings, you need to practice them. I’m still learning new fingerings regularly, so don’t feel bad if you don’t learn all of the possibilities right away.
Plus, there may be more options than even the best fingering chart showcases. Here’s what you can do to help teach yourself the best piccolo fingerings for your instrument.
Learn the Regular Fingerings
Many piccolo players will already be pretty comfortable with the regular fingerings. If you’re still pretty new to playing the piccolo and flute, take time to reinforce the standard fingerings.
That way, you can get to know them and when they are useful. You can also figure out when they aren’t the easiest to use, either due to intonation or technical problems.
Study One Fingering at a Time
As you start to learn alternate piccolo fingerings, learn one fingering at a time. Give yourself plenty of practice using that fingering in both your scales and in repertoire, if possible.
I’d also recommend testing each fingering against a tuner. I can’t stress enough how important intonation is on the piccolo, so I’d recommend printing out a comprehensive piccolo fingering chart.
Then, you can mark an X next to any fingering that doesn’t sound good on your piccolo. Do this any time you switch piccolos since every model is slightly different.
When you come across a fingering that does sound good on your piccolo, take time to learn it and internalize it. Treat it like a standard piccolo fingering because alternates are very important.
Practice Long Tones
One specific way to practice alternate fingerings is to use them when playing long tones. Hold the note using the alternate fingering you’re learning, and hold the pitch for as long as you can.
Watch your tuner to see if you stay in tune or if you tend to go sharp or flat. Then, you can figure out which fingerings are the best and how you need to adjust your air to make a fingering easier or more in tune.
Do You Have to Learn Alternate Piccolo Fingerings?
You really should learn how to play alternate fingerings on the piccolo. Some can come in very handy in anything from scales to orchestral piccolo solos.
Now, you don’t need to learn them all at once or all right away. But if you plan on getting serious about the piccolo, either in a professional sense or by playing in community groups, you should learn some alternate fingerings.
Are There Flute Specs That Avoid Alternate Fingerings?
You can avoid some alternate fingerings with certain piccolo specs. The most common example of this is to get a piccolo with a high G# mechanism so that you can use the regular G# fingering in the top octave.
Some more expensive/boutique piccolos have a vented C key that helps with notes like C#. But you don’t need those specs to get a good sound on your piccolo.
Learn Alternate Piccolo Fingerings Now
Every piccolo player should learn alternate piccolo fingerings at some point. Be sure to learn the standard fingerings first, and then learn one alternate fingering at a time.
Do you have any more questions about alternate fingerings? Comment below!