What Is a Piccolo Instrument?

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Key Takeaways

  • The piccolo is a small, high-pitched flute used in bands and orchestras.
  • It looks like a mini flute and plays an octave higher.
  • Piccolos are made of materials like plastic, resin, brass, nickel, silver, or grenadilla wood.
  • Piccolos have a bright, brilliant sound that stands out.
  • Learning piccolo uses similar fingerings as the flute.


Have you ever listened to a marching band or orchestra and heard an instrument that sounds especially high and bright? That is likely the piccolo! The piccolo is a small version of the flute that plays higher notes. Let’s learn all about what a piccolo is and how it is used in music.

This article will explain everything you need to know if you are curious about the piccolo. We will go over what a piccolo looks like, what it is made out of, how it makes its unique sound, and how it is played. We will also talk about where you can hear piccolos being played. By the end, you will be a piccolo expert!

Learning about musical instruments like the piccolo helps us appreciate the many creative ways music is made. Each instrument has its own special qualities that musicians use to express themselves. So let’s get started learning about the one-of-a-kind piccolo!

What Does a Piccolo Look Like?

What Is a Piccolo Instrument?

The piccolo looks just like a small flute. It has a long, narrow tube with holes for fingers to cover. There is a mouthpiece at one end to blow across and make sound. The piccolo is about half the size of a regular flute. A full-size flute is about 26 inches long, while a piccolo is around 13 inches long.

Some key parts of the piccolo are:

  • The headjoint – This is the mouthpiece end that the player blows into.
  • The body – The long middle tube with finger holes.
  • The footjoint – The end cap opposite the headjoint.
  • The keys – Metal levers pressed to cover holes.

So if you see what looks like a tiny flute, it’s likely a piccolo!

What Materials Are Piccolos Made Of?

Piccolos can be constructed from various materials, just like other musical instruments. Some common ones include:

  • Plastic – Durable and low cost. Good for students.
  • Resin – Strong and affordable synthetic material.
  • Brass – Gives a bright, projecting tone. Need regular polishing.
  • Nickel silver – Silver-colored alloy, affordable.
  • Silver – Expensive but has beautiful sound.
  • Grenadilla – Tropical hardwood that makes a warm, rich tone.

More expensive piccolos are usually made of nicer metals like silver. Student models for beginners often use plastics or resins to keep costs down. Wood piccolos are seen as high-quality for their resonant sound.

The material affects the instrument’s cost, appearance, durability and sound quality. Musicians can choose the best piccolo material for their needs and budget.

Why Does the Piccolo Sound So High?

The piccolo’s incredibly high sound compared to a regular flute comes down to its much smaller size.

The piccolo is less than half the length of a full-size flute. When an instrument is shorter, it naturally produces higher pitches. By blowing into the mouthpiece and opening finger holes, the piccolo creates notes that are one octave above the flute.

For example, if a flute plays a middle C note, a piccolo’s middle C would be the C exactly one octave higher in pitch. This gives the piccolo a very bright, prominent sound that soars over other instruments.

How Is the Piccolo Used in Music?

The brilliant, piercing tones of the piccolo make it a great choice for particular roles in musical groups:

Marching Bands: The shrill piccolo sound projects well outdoors over the rest of the band. It is used for playing louder melodies and flourishes.

Orchestras: Piccolos often play high accompaniment parts along with violins. This adds a glistening effect.

Wind/Concert Bands: The piccolo boosts the high register, playing melodies an octave above the flute section.

Chamber/Small Ensembles: The piccolo stands out clearly among a small group, sometimes substituting for flute.

Solo Performances: Advanced piccolo players can perform as soloists, showing off the instrument’s virtuosic capabilities.

From marching formations on a football field to intricate symphonies in concert halls, the piccolo’s piercing voice always makes it noticeable. Composers use this to their advantage when writing music for bands and orchestras.

How Is the Piccolo Played?

Playing the piccolo takes special skills, but it is similar to playing the flute:

  • Embouchure – Shaping lips correctly over mouthpiece. Tighter than flute.
  • Breathing – Steady airstream from diaphragm. Fast air for high notes.
  • Fingering – Covering holes in proper sequence. Similar to flute.
  • Tonguing – Using the tongue on consonants to articulate notes.
  • Intonation – Careful listening to play in tune, especially in high register.

The small size requires control and endurance to play for long periods. Faster finger technique is needed to accurately cover the holes. The highest notes take forceful, precise blowing to sound clearly.

With regular practice, the piccolo’s playability improves. Listening skills also develop with experience to keep the difficult high notes on pitch.

What Should You Look for When Buying a Piccolo?

There are a few key considerations when selecting a piccolo to purchase:

  • Skill level – Student piccolos versus intermediate and professional models.
  • Key – Most common is C piccolo but D♭and A♭also available. Check ensemble needs.
  • Headjoint style – Slight variations that affect intonation and response.
  • Key mechanism – Inline or offset keys. Inline may be better for small hands.
  • Price range – Sets materials and features. Student models much less costly than professional.
  • Brands – Respected companies like Gemeinhardt, Yamaha, Emerson, and Pearl. Try different ones.

The highest notes on a piccolo are the hardest to produce clearly, so testing a piccolo’s full range is important. Have an experienced player try the highest notes or consult your band director. With research and testing, you can find the ideal piccolo!

Fun Facts About the Piccolo

  • The name means “small” in Italian – an apt description!
  • Used in orchestras since at least the early 1800s.
  • Makes a fun tweeting sound when keys are waved side to side.
  • Plays the opening solo in John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.
  • Difficult to play softly – nature is to be loud!
  • Supersonic piccolo can hit notes above the audible frequency range.
  • Comes in versions other than the typical soprano – like alto and bass.


Whether played in a marching band on a football field or an orchestra in a concert hall, the piccolo’s extremely high, penetrating sound always makes it stand out. Understanding what the piccolo is, how it works, and its role in music groups allows us to fully appreciate this unique instrument.

The next time you hear a piccolo’s unmistakable tones soaring over the other instruments, you’ll know exactly what that miniature flute is and why it has such a brilliant voice. With your new knowledge, listen closely to the piccolo and see if you can pick out its special high-pitched parts

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