If you’ve played the flute or piccolo for a while, you may have come across a model with a split E mechanism. This spec is quite popular, but do you know how it works and what it does?
Read on to learn more and decide if your next piccolo or flute should have it and what your options are if you don’t have one on your instrument.
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Split E Mechanism Overview
A split E mechanism is a mechanism on a flute or piccolo that makes it easier to play the third octave E. However, it doesn’t split anything related to the E.
If anything, it splits the two keys that close when you play the note G. Some flute and piccolo players have said it should be called a split G mechanism instead, and I think that would make sense.
How It Works
As I mentioned, the split E mechanism splits the two keys that close when you finger a G. This allows the lower of the two keys to close independently of the key that you actually put your left-hand ring finger on.
If you look at the fingerings of high notes, such as Eb or F, you’ll notice that they’re all forked fingerings. Eb and F only have one key open in between the other closed holes, so for Eb this is the G# key while for F, it’s the A key.
When you play a piccolo or flute with a split E mechanism, it will allow only one key to stay open. There’s a rod that connects the lower G key to the E key so that it closes when you finger a high E.
Why It’s Beneficial
I’ve had a split E on my two most recent piccolos and on my intermediate flute. I liked having it as I was improving on the flute and piccolo when I was in college.
The third octave E can be kind of tricky to play and even harder to stay in tune without cracking. By closing that extra tone hole, you can get rid of some of the problems the note provides.
Now, I don’t have one on my current professional flute. However, I still think it’s helpful to have one on my professional piccolo due to the higher range and the fact that the piccolo is almost always more exposed in an ensemble.
How to Use It
All you need to do to activate the split E mechanism is to finger the high E on your piccolo or flute. You can tell if you have a split E by looking between the G keys on your instrument.
If there’s a rod over them, there’s a good chance you have a split E. You can also finger a high E and look to see what tone holes close to learn if the lower G key closes or not.
At least on my piccolo, I can’t see the rod as easily as I can on my intermediate flute. So fingering a high E might be the better option on your piccolo.
Piccolos With a Split E Mechanism
Most piccolos today come with a split E mechanism as a standard spec. I think that’s great since it can help when you’re playing music in the higher octave.
However, if you want to make sure you get a split E, you should consider a few models that have it.
After I graduated from undergrad, I finally saved up enough to buy myself a Pearl 105. This is a composite piccolo, so it looks and sounds similar to wood.
However, there’s plastic in the material to help stabilize the wood and prevent cracks. That makes it an excellent choice for playing both indoors and outdoors.
It’s the first piccolo I owned that has a split E mechanism, and it’s come in handy. I also like how the keys are spaced out a bit more than on some piccolos, so it’s comfortable to hold.
Another excellent piccolo to consider that has a split E mechanism is the Yamaha 62. If I remember right, I got to play on this model when I was in college since my university owned one for me to borrow.
It’s a wood model, so it’s not the best for playing outdoors. However, it sounds pretty good in orchestra, band, and other ensembles as well as when you’re playing solo.
Unfortunately, the lower register can be difficult to play and get a full sound out of. Still, it’s a good option if you want an affordable piccolo with a split E.
My latest piccolo upgrade was to a Hammig 650/3, and it’s my first professional piccolo. Like the Yamaha, it uses grenadilla wood, but this model is handmade.
I’m able to get a much richer and fuller sound on it throughout the piccolo range compared to other models I’ve tried. Of course, it’s quite expensive, so I’d only recommend it to serious players.
If you’re looking for a professional piccolo, most will come with a split E mechanism which is nice. So you shouldn’t have to worry about having to sacrifice that spec for the right brand and model for you.
Can You Add a Split E Mechanism to Your Flute or Piccolo?
Unfortunately, you can’t add a split E mechanism to your flute or piccolo after it’s made. On a flute, you can have a technician insert a G donut, which goes in the lower G tone hole.
It works similarly to a split E, but it’s not quite the same and can make your A sound stuffy. On a piccolo, you can’t even do that, so you need to be very careful about the specs before you spend a ton of money on a new piccolo.
Do You Need the Split E Mechanism?
You don’t need the split E mechanism to play your piccolo and to play it well. However I think it’s useful, especially if you don’t get to play the piccolo all of the time.
In my opinion, a split E is more helpful on a piccolo than a flute. I’ve practiced that note a lot, and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything when I bought my professional flute.
What Alternate Fingerings Should You Use Without the Split E?
If you don’t have a split E on your piccolo, you can try playing high E without putting your right pinky down. You can also experiment with opening trill keys part of the way.
The best alternate fingering often comes down to the player and the piccolo you have. So spend time practicing that note to figure out which fingering works for you and your instrument.
A split E mechanism is one of the most common flute and piccolo specs, but it can be confusing. If you’re looking to buy a new piccolo, consider if you should get one with a split E.
And don’t forget to learn about other piccolo specs to further help narrow down your choices in piccolos!