After so many posts on different trumpet techniques I realized that information about the auxiliary instruments is a bit scattered. In this post I aim to gather all of the relevant information on the piccolo trumpet in one easy to find place. As I add more content I will update this post to make it easier for composers looking for information on the piccolo trumpet.
The piccolo trumpet was invented to make early music, originally written for the natural trumpet, more accessible to modern players. Most instruments can be tuned to both A and Bb by changing the leadpipe. Piccolo trumpets in G, F and high C also exist, but are quite rare.
Most professional players will own or have access to a piccolo trumpet. On most piccolo trumpets the slides are not typically movable while playing, making slide glissandi impossible, and microtonal writing very tricky. If you want to write microtones for the piccolo, I would strongly recommend trying them out first with a trumpeter. Virtually all mute types are also available for piccolo trumpet.
It is important to note that the piccolo trumpet doesn‘t really extend the range upwards in comparison to the lower instruments – rather, it makes it easier to play in the high register. So, playing a high Eb’’’ will be much easier on the piccolo trumpet than it is on the Bb trumpet, but I still can’t play much higher than that on the piccolo in general.
In principle, most of the „rules“ in my post on endurance are equally valid for the piccolo trumpet. However, piccolo playing tends to be even more strenuous for the embouchure than the Bb or C trumpets. So, although the piccolo trumpet facilitates playing in a higher register, it is still better to treat the extreme high register with caution.
Some references for good writing for the piccolo trumpet can be found in the Baroque repertoire. Many players use the piccolo trumpet for Baroque trumpet literature, especially in modern orchestras – although it has become increasingly popular to use the natural trumpet. In particular, the cantatas and orchestral works by Bach and Handel are (mostly) good references for friendly piccolo trumpet writing.
At the very bottom of my post on endurance are a few helpful examples of piccolo trumpet repertoire that test the performer’s endurance in different ways.
Most of the mutes listed here and here are available for piccolo trumpet. It’s important to bear in mind that playing a muted piccolo trumpet is much more strenuous than open playing, and that intonation is often a problem.
In my original post on mutes I didn‘t include any audio examples for the picc, so here are „the standard three“ mutes with piccolo trumpet!
Flutter Tongue, Doodle Tongue and Growl
These techniques work just as well on the piccolo as they do on the Bb and C trumpets and the same rules apply. Check out this post to learn more.
Trills, Shakes and Tremolos
The same general rules for the larger trumpets also apply to the piccolo. I do not recommend writing lip trills for the piccolo as the smaller overtone intervals are well into the high and extreme high registers (see range above).
Typically, the piccolo trumpet does not have valve slides that can be easily manipulated while playing. This means that glissandi with valve slides are not an option for the piccolo trumpet. All glissandi on the piccolo (with the exception of chromatic glissandi) will need to be faked in some way using half-valve or bending.
Air sounds on the piccolo trumpet sound a minor 7th lower than fingered. As with the larger trumpets, it is not possible to access the overtone series with air sounds – only one pitch per fingering is available. Piccolos with a fourth valve will have a few extra pitches to work with. The other techniques and sound colors I mention in my post on air sounds also work with the piccolo!
Slaps and Percussive Sounds
These also work just the same as on the larger trumpets but with a somewhat larger range due to the 4th valve.
This works on the piccolo just as it does on the larger instruments. Check out my post on half-valve for more information.
Microtonal playing on the piccolo trumpet is possible, though for several reasons it is quite impractical:
- The vast majority of piccolo trumpets do not have valve slides that can be easily manipulated while playing.
- The 7th natural overtone is so high that, in practice, only the lowest two or three can be used.
- To the best of my knowledge, it is not possible to build a quarter tone trigger on the piccolo trumpet as the tube length would need to be prohibitively small.
Discouraged? There is some hope…a few methods of producing microtones on the piccolo do exist:
- Alternative fingerings can provide some approximate microtones (e.g. a little bit sharp or flat).
- De-tuning the fourth valve slide and using alternative fingerings will provide a larger selection of microtones. One disadvantage of this method is that it will cause the lower range of the instrument (anything involving the fourth valve) to be out of tune.
- Detuning the entire instrument microtonally. This requires a bit of time to setup, and again a bit of time to readjust when returning to standard tuning.
If you want to be sure that the microtones you want will work for the piccolo trumpet its best to try them out in person with a player.
Split tones do work on the piccolo, but the range is even more limited than with the larger trumpets. I would suggest sticking with the two lowest intervals, the perfect 5th and perfect 4th. Even with those “easier” intervals, I find split-tones on the piccolo to be particularly strenuous and unpredictable.
Here is an exhaustive list of the split-tone intervals (5ths and 4ths) on piccolo in A and Bb. As with the larger trumpets, the lower pitches are easiest.
In my opinion, the most interesting sounds when singing and playing come from close intervals in the low register. Because the piccolo is tuned much higher, its harder to achieve this sound. Female players with naturally high voices may be able to get more out of this technique with piccolo! Even so, I recorded a small sample for you to hear using the lower range of the piccolo in A:
As silly as it might seem to write super low notes on a high tuned instrument, pedal tones for piccolo do come up from time to time in the literature. I find them to be much more difficult to control than on the larger trumpets.
Here is the approximate range I can play in the pedal register: