Piccolo vs. Flute: How to Decide Which to Play

piccolo vs. flute

Flute vs Piccolo

You (or your child) want to play an instrument and you have narrowed the choices down to the flute or the piccolo. The following considerations may help you with your decision.

The flute and the piccolo are both part of the woodwind family of instruments. They are reedless and sound is produced by the player’s air being blown across the mouthpiece. The flute is the oldest known instrument to produce tones, rather than just rhythm. A standard concert flute is approximately 26 inches in length, while the piccolo, which means “small” in Italian, is 13 inches.

What are flutes and piccolos made of?

Originally made from wood, clay or reeds, most flutes are now made of metal, such as silver-plated brass, nickel silver, silver or gold. When it comes to piccolos, there are two basic types: metal piccolos, which respond easily but have a more unrefined sound, and wooden piccolos, which have a sweeter sound and more dynamic flexibility. Metal piccolos are commonly employed in marching bands (they may even be part metal, part plastic), while wooden piccolos are mostly used by advanced players. Wood piccolos tend to be more expensive and they require more care, as wood is susceptible to cracking.

What are the pitch and range of flutes and piccolos?

The standard concert flute has a range of three octaves, starting with middle C. Because of its smaller size, the piccolo is pitched one octave higher and is limited to about one and a half octaves, because higher notes are difficult to play and unpleasant to the ear. Important to note is that piccolo players must transpose the notes as written to an octave higher, adding another level of complexity.

Intonation with flutes and piccolos

Intonation is by far the most difficult aspect of playing the piccolo. For one thing, many notes have a natural tendency to be too sharp or too flat. Not only that, but even the slightest embouchure adjustment can make a big difference in high frequencies. For these reasons, learning to play in tune can take a long time. On the other hand, the piccolo can be a great way to train your ear. Another consideration is that while the piccolo takes less air to play than the flute, it requires much more support for higher notes.

Are fingerings different for flute and piccolo?

The basic fingerings are the same for both instruments, but alternate fingerings exist to adjust the intonation or responsiveness of some problematic notes on the piccolo. Another thing to consider is that, since everything is smaller on the piccolo, your hands and fingers are closer together, which can make some fingering feel more awkward than on the flute, especially if you have large hands. Check out a flute fingering chart from Gemeinhardt.

Who plays the piccolo?

Piccolos are not for shy players; in fact, when you are playing a piccolo, it is impossible to hide! Because of their high tone and unique sound, piccolos often play solo parts, while flutes usually play in groups and can blend with each other. If you are a young player just starting out, be sure to select a student piccolo to help you learn.

Flute and piccolo repertoire

The flute and piccolo repertoires are not interchangeable. The flute is a very versatile instrument, well suited for most types of music; piccolos, on the other hand, are best suited for marching band and orchestral works. Pieces for solo piccolo or for piccolo and piano are relatively rare. However, there is a wide range of flute and piccolo music to choose from!

Most professional musicians and teachers suggest that you learn how to play a beginner flute first. Once you have mastered the flute, you will find it easier to adapt to playing the piccolo.

Why is the flute easier to learn than the piccolo?

  • Flutes maintain their tune better.
  • The music you see is what you play.
  • There are more parts written for flute than piccolo; in time, the piccolo can add depth to your musical repertoire.
  • Although the flute requires more air, the piccolo requires greater strength and force, which could present more of a challenge for a young musician.

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