Imagine you have a big piccolo solo, and you know you execute all of the correct fingerings. But one of the notes sounds a half or whole step lower. You know: you have water bubbles in your piccolo.
It’s annoying, but it can happen to any piccolo player. A water bubble can clog one of the tone holes and keep you from playing certain notes.
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Overview of Water Bubbles in a Piccolo
Water bubbles in your piccolo occur when there’s a build up of water or spit. The condensation collects near one of the tone holes somewhere on the piccolo.
If it gets stuck, it will create a water bubble. When this happens, you won’t be able to play certain notes. You may try to open a key, but the bubble will make the piccolo sound as if the hole is closed.
I had this happen once when I played through a piece with a lot of Ebs. The Eb key had a water bubble, so all of those notes sounded like Ds.
Why Water Bubbles Happen
As you play the piccolo, spit or condensation is bound to happen. The more you play, the more that liquid can build up, and the easier it will be for it to turn into water bubbles.
Luckily, you can reduce the chances of this happening by swabbing out your piccolo regularly. Taking your piccolo to a professional repair technician for more advanced piccolo maintenance is also important.
How to Get Rid of Water Bubbles in Your Piccolo
When water bubbles show up in your piccolo, it can be annoying. At best, one note will be affect, but at worst, multiple notes won’t sound across the octaves.
Fortunately, you can get rid of the water bubbles. That way, you can get back to playing your piccolo normally, and you can ensure you have the best possible sound.
Here are some things I’d recommend you do when you have water bubbles in your piccolo.
Swab the Inside
First, I’d suggest you swab the inside of the piccolo with a good piccolo swab. Many piccolos come with a small cleaning rod, and you can pair that with a silk swab to absorb moisture from inside the tubing.
That system works well for beginners, and it’s very affordable. However, I prefer to use a Valentino piccolo wand, which screws together to be the length of the instrument.
The wand is quite expensive, but it’s so worth it for whenever you need to swab out your piccolo quickly. You don’t have to disassemble it and then re-tune after you put the piccolo back together.
Blow on the Tone Hole
Depending on the severity of the bubble, you may be able to pop it by blowing air on it. Figure out which tone hole is affected based on what notes sound normally and which sound lower.
Then, you can make sure the tone hole is open. Of course, most holes are naturally open on the piccolo, but you may need to manually open the Eb or G# key if the water bubble is in one of those.
Lightly blow on the tone hole to get the water out. Try not to spit when you blow since that will obviously add more water to the tone hole. This method is great if one tone hole has a water bubble, but it can take time if there are multiple bubbles.
Focus on Prevention
You can get rid of water bubbles in your piccolo pretty quickly. But the goal overall should be to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Unfortunately, this may not always be possible depending on the player or the piccolo model they use. If possible, though, you can reduce the chances of bubbles appearing by swallowing before you start to play.
Regular maintenance both at home and with a professional woodwind or flute tech can also help. I’ll share more details about the best ways to prevent water bubbles in the next section.
How to Prevent Water Bubbles in Your Piccolo
As I mentioned, preventing water bubbles is a lot better than always having to get rid of them. I had water bubbles pop up fairly frequently on my now backup piccolo.
Luckily, I haven’t had that issue as much since I upgraded a couple of years ago. But you never know what can happen, so it’s vital that you work to keep your piccolo in good shape.
Here are my best tips for how to keep water bubbles from developing in your piccolo.
Swab the Piccolo Often
I can’t stress enough how important it is to swab your piccolo often. If you’re practicing for a long time or are in a rehearsal that lasts multiple hours, I’d suggest keeping your piccolo swab close by.
Whenever I get a break or have a long rest, I’ll swab out my piccolo. Of course, the Valentino wand makes this easier, but you can do it with a traditional silk swab if you have time to tune your piccolo again.
At the very least, you should swab your piccolo before you put it away after a rehearsal, concert, or practice session. That way, condensation won’t stay in the piccolo while it’s in the case.
Another thing you can do to reduce the chances of getting water bubbles in your piccolo is to swallow. It sounds simple, but when you have a lot of saliva in your mouth, more of it is bound to go into your instrument.
On the other hand, if you swallow more, you can keep that from happening. Now, you don’t want to play with a totally dry mouth because that can be difficult and uncomfortable.
Try to find a balance so that you can get a good sound on your piccolo. Plus, getting rid of excess saliva will make it so that you can play longer phrases without saliva getting in the way.
Hold Your Piccolo Vertically
When you’re actively playing the piccolo, you have to hold it horizontally. However, when you have a long rest or when you take an even longer practice break, hold your piccolo vertically.
That will allow the condensation to run out the end of the instrument. For shorter rests, this may mean holding your piccolo in your hand so that it’s ready to go when you come back into a piece.
If you’re taking a longer break to get water or use the restroom, place your piccolo on a stand. I like the K&M piccolo stand or the Hercules flute and piccolo stand when I also have to play the flute.
Your piccolo will be safer than if you rest it on a chair. And you can keep the condensation from building up throughout your rehearsals or practice sessions.
Do Water Bubbles Happen With Every Piccolo?
I can’t speak about a lot of piccolos, but I can speak about the models I’ve played and owned. The only model that I’ve ever had that had a water bubble problem is my Pearl 105.
That’s not to say that all Pearl 105 piccolos will have that issue. And that’s not to say that no Armstrong 204 or Hammig 650/3 (my other piccolos) won’t have a problem with water bubbles.
It has more to do with how you maintain the piccolo at home and with a professional. The environment may also play a role because most of the water bubbles that formed happened when I lived in Omaha rather than in Kansas City.
Can Water Bubbles Affect Your Playing?
Water bubbles can definitely affect your piccolo playing. As I mentioned, it can change the pitch of certain notes, and that happened to me in a flute/piccolo lesson.
Fortunately, there are easy and quick ways to get rid of the problem. You don’t have to take it to a technician to get your piccolo to play the correct pitches.
It can be frustrating to get water bubbles in your piccolo. But don’t fret because you can get rid of them by blowing air on them or swabbing the inside of your instrument.
I’ve had water bubbles pop up, but they’re a quick fix. At least you don’t have to spend hundreds on repairs, like with some other issues.
If you want to prevent water bubbles, be sure you have a good piccolo swab in your case at all times.