Getting HIGH! Two affordable piccolos that play in tune!!!

I have owned four piccolos, two of which were exemplary. For me, an exemplary piccolo has to #1 – Play in tune! #2 – It should have a pleasant tone and not be too loud in the high octave. #3 – It should be relatively easy to play skips and leaps. And, #4 – the piccolo should be able to play the altissimo “B” with the regular fingering!

Of the four piccolos that I have owned, two have met those criteria. One, a Zentner is in the hands of one of my wonderful students, and the other, a Powell, I have kept for myself to use when need be.

In the past 10 or so years I have been on the hunt for piccolos for various students. Finding a piccolo that can play in tune for a decent price can be a real challenge.

There are two main problems that crop up in piccolo scales. The first problem is similar to the problem of old scale flutes – the scale is based on a pitch that is too low! Thus the tone holes are too far apart making the unadjusted scale out of tune.

The second problem is that on wooden piccolos the bore can lose its shape, usually through a lack of oiling and proper maintenance, and certain notes will become out of tune. If the high “D” and “C#” are especially low, then this can be the case. Also, the fourth line “D” can become unstable and sharp. Sometimes oiling the bore is all that is needed to ameliorate these conditions, but it can also mean the wood is unstable.

Please be reminded that wooden instruments need a breaking-in period to help prevent damage to the instrument. For the first couple of weeks, many manufacturers recommend limited playing each day to “season” the wood and to prevent cracking. In fact, for the first week or so, a wooden instrument should be played as little as fifteen or twenty minutes a day. Also, I like to oil the bore on my piccolo fairly regularly to help keep it working well.

One of my students recently purchased an exemplary cocus wood piccolo by Hammig. This piccolo is great! It plays in tune and has a great sound. However, the price for the piccolo with an extra head joint was over $7000, which is out of the price range of most students and casual piccolo players.

Another winning piccolo is the Burkart Resona piccolo. But at a little over $2000, that is still a bit pricey for many students.

I recently recommended two piccolos that are relatively inexpensive and play quite well.

The first of these, the Trevor James grenadilla wood piccolo is priced at a quite reasonable $1200. I suggested that one of my colleagues from the Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra sell her older Haynes piccolo and replace it with the Trevor James as the intonation on the Trevor James piccolo is far superior.

The initial feel of the Trevor James was a little bit stiff, but my colleague had a woodwind repair specialist match the dimensions on the blow hole of her Lopatin picc HJ and, now, all is well. Plus, the Haynes piccolo should sell for a few thousand dollars more than the TJ cost. Such a deal! A great piccolo that plays in tune, and money in the bank.

Finally, I just got done teaching at the South Florida Youth Symphony 2014 Camp for four weeks. Grace, one of the flute players from the SFYS orchestra was in attendance at the camp and made significant flutistic progress! She had just purchased a piccolo for between $400 and $500. But it wasn’t exemplary… I suggested she return that piccolo and try the Kessler Custom Artist Series Piccolo.

Wow! The body of this piccolo is made of a composite material containing 30% grenadilla wood. The sound is quite good and the scale is really good. And the piccolo is only $479!!! Seriously, I would never have believed that a piccolo could be that good for under $500! I play tested the piccolo with a bunch of orchestral excerpts and was quite pleased.

So there you have it. My recommendations for two affordable piccolos – the Trevor James piccolo at $1200 and the Kessler Custom Artist Series Piccolo at $479.

I have play tested dozens of piccolos recently and really like these two piccolos. They are inherently usable at a very decent price. There are other good and great piccolos out there, but most are quite a bit more expensive. And few play so well in tune.

Back to the BLOG!

So I started this BLOG and then . . .

Hmm. Even the best of intentions. 🙂

Well, anyway, back to the BLOG!

Some interesting thoughts and developments. In no particular order.

Concert at Emma’s House.

How much practice time is enough?

Some thoughts on intonation.

What are some decent affordable piccolos?

How high the keys? Calibrating with calipers.

That should be enough to get me started. 🙂

Happy New Year!!!

Creating Clean Copies from IMSLP, Telemann – Der getreue Music-Meister – F Major Sonata for Recorder

Elan, one of my wonderful students, is working up the Telemann F Major Sonata for a very important audition. She works hard, is not afraid of challenges, and has a great new 1211 flute! 🙂

The most common editions of this work are overly marked with articulations and dynamics. The original for recorder and figured bass is found on pages 1 and 5 of Der Getrue Music-Meister, Lectionen Nos.1-5 (http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/108357)

It is important to try to find out the composers original markings when dealing with Early Music. The purchasing of Urtext (original text) editions is highly encouraged, but for many this can be impractical. The vast public domain repertoire contained in the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library can be useful in this regard. However, the IMSLP scanned images can be almost unreadable or unprintable due to a dark background.

First, let me show the final versions of the Sonata in B & W with a clear background.

Telemann F major Sonata for Printing

Telemann - Sonata in F - Vivace

Telemann – Sonata in F – Vivace

Telemann - Sonata in F - Largo - Allegro

Telemann – Sonata in F – Largo – Allegro

Here is the original scanned page one, Vivace movement. As you can see, it is not too easy to read and will waste a lot of ink or toner to print.

Telemann F major Sonata - Vivace - original scan

Telemann F major Sonata – Vivace – original scan

Here is an easy way of creating clean BW copies from gray-scale scanned images.

1. Open the IMSLP .pdf file in a full version of Adobe Acrobat, not Acrobat Reader, or a similar program such as PDF Converter Professional.

2. Select the first page that you want to work with.

3. Select File – Save As and select Save as Type – JPEG. Make sure you note the location where the file is saved.

4. Open the saved .jpg in Adobe Photoshop. Other photo editors will work, but will have different instructions.

5. Crop the image to leave a slight border around the music.

6. Go to Image – Adjustments – Replace Color.

7. Using the Eyedropper Tool on the upper left, select an are of the background image that is a little dark.

8. With fuzziness at about 44, use the preview to adjust the lightness level higher to get rid of the dark background.

9. Click Okay to go back to the image with the alteration. You can repeat step 8. to carefully get rid of the dark background while keeping the staff lines legible.

10. Use Save As to save the file. Giving it a new name will preserve the original file and allow you to find the altered file easier.

11. Use Print and select your .pdf printer to save the file as an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file.

12. Repeat for additional pages.

Any questions?

Simple Tweaks for a New (or Old) Flute – Eradicating the Powell Pop

Do not try this at home!

Unless you are technically adept and knowledgeable. This is a totally necessary disclaimer!

Ever since I had a WW repair class at Northern Michigan University, my undergrad school, I have tinkered with my flutes. That includes repadding, reshimming, adjusting the height of the keys, undercutting and overcutting the blow hole, and fraizing the tone holes. I am now also revoicing my baroque flute.

Based upon my experience, once you have a new flute and you want it to play as well as possible, there are a few things you can check to make sure that it plays at an optimal level.

One of the most important elements to consider is the height of the keys above the tone holes. Having the keys too high can make the sound too resonant all the time without the ability to change tone colors. It can also make the upper register notes too sharp in relation to the lower registers forcing the flutist to pull the head joint out too far. Pulling the head joint out too far dulls the sound and makes it difficult for the flutist to play with an open throat. It also causes decreased agility in the upper register.

Some experts believe that lowering the keys is detrimental to the sound and intonation of the flute. However, it is easy enough to add additional thicknesses of paper to the felts to lower the keys to gauge the effect. If the keys are too low, the sound of the flute is noticeable stuffy and a general lowering of the pitch can occur.

Once the keys are at an optimal height, there should be a feeling of increased resistance to the air stream. Especially in the upper register – which should be lower pitch-wise with relation to the lower octaves and should be generally more stable. After the keys are at an optimal height, the flute can be re-felted or re-corked. A decent repair person should be able to do this without difficulty, although some repair people are reluctant to do it.

Often, the flutist whose flute has overly high keys will experience a loss of support while playing – essentially the flutist’s body will collapse around the air making thoraco-abdominal support difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Once the position of the keys is corrected, the flutist should be able to support correctly after a fairly short amount of time – one to two weeks, typically.

I had one student whose repair person refused to lower the keys after I had diagnosed that the student was having sound production problems as a result of the keys being too high. I went ahead and lowered them myself, and within a week or so, my student was back up to snuff.

Even the best flutes can have this problem. One of my students recently purchased a really great Nagahara flute – the 95% silver, 5% platinum alloy. It is truly a work of art! However, the keys were a bit too high. My student’s 14K gold Brannen flute had lower keys and, partially as a result of having lower keys heights, played better. The key height on the Brannen matched the adjusted key heights on my Jupiter 1011. The flute was sent back to Nagahara, who gladly fixed the problem after which the flute played better.

Another consideration on a new flute is the spring tension. A relaxed tension makes life a lot easier, especially with difficult passage work. The spring tension on the aforementioned Nagahara was a bit stiff, but the factory adjusted it upon request and, boy, is that a nice flute! Especially with a less muscular action. 🙂

Finally, we get to the dreaded Powell Pop.

What, the dreaded Powell Pop? Never heard of it? That’s the moniker that I’ve given to the phenomenon whereby notes in legato passages have a distinguishing starting accent. In extreme cases this sounds like each note pops out. This effect can usually be alleviated somewhat through proper support, but there is a mechanical basis for this peculiarity that sometimes cannot be overcome.

So what causes the Powell Pop? Oddly enough, this phenomenon is caused simply by having sharp edges on the tone holes in the tube of the flute! This is especially true of flutes with soldered tone holes – such as the traditional hand-made Powell. Emma, one of my great students, was working up a piece for flute and organ for a concert. One of the few recordings of the piece was a performance on a vintage Powell flute from the 20’s or 30’s, I believe. The legato passages were all marked by the signature “popping” quality. Perhaps endearing to some, this sound can verge on the extra-musical to the point of being a tad bit obnoxious.

The means to alleviate this is simply through fraizing or undercutting the tone holes. A well qualified repair person can do this for you, if you can convince him or her of the necessity of doing it. 🙂 As this is a destructive process, you may want to find the most qualified repair person to do this.

The benefits of tone hole fraizing are an increased smoothness going from note to note in legato passages and also increased smoothness in making skips and leaps, especially in the upper register.

Now here’s the part where I have to repeat the disclaimer – DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

I was once told by a flute repair person that instead of more destructive filing, one can fraize the underside of tone holes with just a silver polishing cloth on the flute cleaning rod (for the larger holes). Also, this unnamed source told me that just the leading and trailing edges need to be smoothed to achieve the desired effect.

Tinker that I am, I tried this method of tone hole fraizing and found that it works quite well and is not terribly destructive.

But, unless you are technically adept and knowledgeable, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

A further caveat would be to try any possibly destructive operations on a junker flute first.

A Returning Student – Now We Have our Quintet!

Kris, one of my former students has returned to South Florida and will be resuming studies. Kris earned a BA with a concentration in music and his MBA from Rollins College. After working for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, Kris is now working as the Marketing Manager at eMerge Americas.

Kris had our first lesson in many years last night and I was impressed! He’s doing very well. Great sound and intonation. He reads very well. And, last but not least, he attributes his excellent skills to our earlier lessons! It’s nice to have validation of one’s teaching. 🙂

We played duets as a preliminary to getting his flute chops back up. Telemann, op. 5, no. 4, and Tara Theme and Arthur’s Theme from the Magic Duet Book. The latter two are great for practicing with a natural sounding relaxed vibrato. Then it was time for some serious work. We worked on the Charles Keller Divertissement no. 2. The Keller Divertissements are really neat little pieces of music – flutistic while sounding vocally inspired.

Two things we worked on were the position of the head joint and tongue placement. After playing for a bit, I had Kris push the head joint in a scooch to aid in facility of leaps and opening the throat. We also worked on pickup notes and the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth for the attack, rather than between the teeth. Getting the pickup note to be a pickup and in the character of the subsequent phrase is very improtant. 🙂

So now, with Kris, we (my adult students and I) have the option of playing quartets and quintets. What great fun!

A Beautiful Card From One of my Great Students

Awww!!!

Sara-Student-MC_Card_1

Sara-Student-MC_Card_2

A beautiful card from Sara, one of my great students. She’s a freshman at her high school and got first chair in her band in part by being able to play her FBA scales. She’s a talented hard worker.

The flute that I had her get is an incredible deal. Kessler Music in Los Vegas bought out the remaining stock of the Jupiter DiMedici series with an offset-G. It has been supplanted in the Jupiter lineup by the Azumi flute. Both flute models were designed by the Altus founder and flutemaker Shuichi Tanaka.

I have been having my students purchase these flutes with the D2 HJ with the gold riser. The 1311 with the gold riser and engraved keys only costs $1500 with a nominal additional fee for extras.

The flutes are so good that I went through Kessler and purchased an in-line 1311 with a C# trill key and a D# roller for myself. There are no more GC D2 headjionts left in the USA (to purchase) so my students are now getting the GC D6 HJ with their 1211 and 1311 flutes.

BTW, I haven’t been using my Cooper-scale Powell hand-made flute in years, because I prefer my Jupiter DiMedici flutes. Every once in a while, I get out the Powell and play it and think how nice it sounds. Then I play one of my Jupiters and think, “Oh, yeah. That’s why…”
http://www.kesslermusic.com/jupiter/dimedici.htm

Finally, My Own Flute Blog!

This blog is designed to aid flutists in general and my students in particular in achieving their goals as flute players and musicians.

The thoughts and materials presented will be largely elaborations and musings upon teaching with the techniques described in my doctoral essay “A Description and Application of Robert Aitken’s Concept of the Physical Flute.” http://www.rdbflute.com/RDBDE.html

The codification of the ideas and techniques presented will aid in the development of my book-to-be, Secrets to Better Flute Playing.

These ideas and techniques herein are based upon research and empirical evidence. As this is a Blog rather than a scholarly paper, I am presenting the results of my research as fact without annotation. Please feel free to research my findings for yourself. Or, better yet, obtain a copy of my doctoral essay for annotations. 🙂 For a start here is a copy of the bibliography of my paper. http://www.rdbflute.com/RDBDEbib.pdf

And now, two disclaimers.

1. What works for me and for my students is achievable by most, but not all. The ideas and techniques presented are at least worthy of consideration. Sometimes it takes quite a while to incorporate new ideas and techniques into one’s playing. Without proper tutelage it can sometimes be impossible. SKYPE, anyone?

2. Regarding posts in the Flute Mechanics category, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! I cannot be held responsible for any deleterious effects from the implementation any of my suggestions. If you do not have the mechanical skills (and why should you?), then leave tinkering with the flute to the flute repair person of your choice.