Do you ever find yourself getting bored of playing the piccolo? You may want to start to play low flutes, like the alto and bass flutes.
Then, you can keep things interesting, and you may even land more gigs. Keep reading to learn more about why you should play these other flutes.
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Why Play Low Flutes as a Piccolo Player
Playing the piccolo can be a great way to stand out as a flute player. But it’s also become a very common specialization, so you may want another way to make yourself more marketable as a performer or teacher.
Consider a few reasons why you may want to play low flutes, like the alto or bass flute.
Improve Your Low Register
I’ve found that after I play my alto flute, when I switch to C flute or piccolo, my low register sounds more full. If you struggle to get a good sound in the low octave on your piccolo, lower flutes may help.
They force you to open up and control your air in such a way to make low notes sound better. You can then apply those techniques to the smaller flute.
Of course, you may not often play in the low register on your piccolo. Still, it can be a good option to help get over any mental or physical blocks you have to playing well in the lower octave.
Learn More Repertoire
The piccolo has a massive repertoire that’s growing every year. But it’s still not as big as that of the C flute or other woodwinds, so you may feel like there isn’t a ton of music you want to learn.
If you want to learn even more solos or chamber pieces, consider playing the alto flute or bass flute. These instruments have a much smaller repertoire than the piccolo, but they have different music that you can learn.
Another option is to play your favorite piccolo or flute solos on your low flutes. Then, you can give that music new life and make the pieces feel more interesting to practice and perform.
Stand Out From the Crowd
As I mentioned, a lot of flute players play the piccolo. So while it can make you stand out compared to people who only play the C flute, you aren’t going to be as unique as you were a few years ago.
Being able to play low flutes can give you an edge over other flute and piccolo doublers. Then, you may have a better chance of landing certain gigs that call for all types of flutes.
You might also get asked to sub with an orchestra that wants to play a piece like The Planets by Holst. The fourth flute part also calls for piccolo and alto flute.
Why Not Play Low Flutes as a Piccolo Player
As much as I love to play low flutes, I’m also the first to admit they aren’t for everyone. In fact, I didn’t really like the alto or bass at first because they hurt my hands to play.
I’ve since learned how I need to hold these instruments to get a good sound, and they’re more enjoyable. But there are still a few reason why you may want to stick to the piccolo.
More Instruments to Manage
If you’re busy teaching lessons, working another job, or handling personal things, you may not have much practice time. So trying to balance the flute, piccolo, and one or more low flutes may be impossible.
You’ll have less time to practice each instrument, so you may not improve as quickly. If you’re looking to go to grad school for piccolo or to land a piccolo spot in a pro orchestra, you may want to hold off on learning the alto or bass flute.
Even if you have a lot of practice time, adding a third or fourth instrument will eat into that time. Only you can decide if it’s worth managing all of the different flutes.
Can Get Expensive
Not only do you have to keep up with multiple instruments, but you have to buy and maintain more equipment. Good alto flutes start at around $2,000 new, while most new bass flutes cost at least $4,000.
The prices only go up from there, and that only accounts for the purchase price. You’ll also need to budget for annual COAs and other emergency repairs if your flutes break.
And if you take your flute playing seriously, you should also insure your instruments. Depending on your plan, you may need to pay a higher premium after adding a new alto or bass to your collection.
Not as Popular
Playing the alto or bass flute can help you stand out, but that only works so much. These instruments are still relatively new, and they don’t have a ton of solo or even chamber repertoire.
The most common place you’ll find low flutes is in flute choirs. I love playing my alto flute in my local flute choir, but it does feel a bit limiting.
Sure, the occasional orchestra piece has an alto part, but those are few and far between. You may spend a lot of money and dedicate a lot of practice time to an instrument that you never get to play.
Should You Play Alto Flute or Bass Flute?
If you decide to play low flutes, you now have another decision to make. You can play both the alto and bass flute, but I’d recommend learning one of them at a time.
Here are a few things to consider to decide which low flute is better for you.
Think About Your Goals
First, figure out why and where you want to play low flutes. If you want to play in a symphony orchestra to do musical theatre pit gigs, the alto flute will be a better choice.
On the other hand, if you want to play in a flute choir, you can choose either the alto or bass. The better flute will depend on the needs of your local flute choir.
Consider Your Budget
Another important factor is how much money you have to spend. When I bought my alto flute, I didn’t have a ton of money in savings, so I decided to go with an alto flute.
Bass flutes are about twice as expensive, so they’re better for players with larger budgets. Of course, you can finance either instrument, so you don’t have to let cost prohibit you from playing either flute.
Decide If You Want to Transpose
The alto flute is in the key of G, so it sounds a perfect fourth lower than written. That means you have to transpose when talking about scales or when tuning in an ensemble.
Meanwhile, the bass flute sounds an octave lower than written and is in C. You don’t have to worry about transposing, which is nice if you want to play your piccolo or C flute solos on the bass flute, especially if those pieces have an accompaniment part.
Note Your Preference
If you’re new to the alto and bass, I’d suggest that you try both of them. Some people prefer one low flute over the other, such as myself (I prefer the alto).
If you have a preference, you can go with that low flute first. Then, you can learn the other one later, or you can stick to the flute that you like better.
Best Alto Flutes for Beginners
If you want to play the alto flute, consider a few good models for beginners. Then, you can find an instrument that works well for you and your needs.
I started on a Pearl 201 when I bought my first alto flute. This model is all silver-plated except for the lip plate, which is solid silver, so you can get a good sound without the flute being too heavy.
It’s also easy to hold thanks to the ergonomic left hand, so you can play it with a curved or straight headjoint. Plus, the C footjoint keeps the flute from being too heavy or awkward.
When I was in college, I got to borrow a Jupiter JAF1000. It has a lot of the same specs as the Pearl, so it’s great for beginners who need a good sound.
The main thing I don’t like about this flute is that it doesn’t have an ergonomic left hand. That means your left hand has to stretch pretty far across your chest, especially if you play with a straight headjoint.
Best Bass Flutes for Beginners
Maybe the bass flute is the better low flute for you. Consider the following models when searching for a good first instrument.
The Pearl 305 is an excellent bass flute for many players. While I haven’t tried it myself, I’ve loved my Pearl alto, C flute, and piccolo, and I’ve heard others play and sound good on the Pearl bass.
You can get the bass with a C or B footjoint based on your needs. I love how the B foot option also comes with a split E mechanism to help you in the third octave.
In college, I had access to a Jupiter JBF1000 bass flute, and it sounded good. I like how it’s relatively affordable, and I remember it sounded pretty good.
The flute is comfortable to hold, so you can play more fluidly. It’s a great choice for beginners to use in a flute choir or even when playing solo.
How Do You Practice Multiple Instruments?
If you want to play low flutes along with the piccolo and C flute, you need to balance out your practice time. Be sure you consider what gigs you have coming up, and prioritize the flutes you’re playing for those gigs.
Then, you can use any extra practice time to maintain the other instruments you play.
If you want to expand your skills as a piccolo player, I’d recommend trying to play low flutes. The alto and bass flute can add a lot to your plate, but the work can be worth it.
Be sure to consider both flutes and the pros and cons of playing them as a piccolo player. Don’t forget to use a drone when learning the alto and bass flutes so that you can stay in tune!
2 thoughts on “Should Piccolo Players Also Play Low Flutes?”
I completely agree with the article on the importance of playing low flutes for a piccolo player. The low flutes can improve one’s low register and help learn more repertoire. They also help a musician stand out and increase their chances of getting gigs that require playing different types of flutes. However, it can be challenging to manage multiple instruments and can be expensive, so it’s essential to consider one’s goals and budget. Overall, playing low flutes is an excellent way to enhance one’s musicianship and make a better-rounded performer.
I totally agree!