Playing the Piccolo

Every flutist benefits from playing piccolo, and it’s fun to learn a new instrument that uses the same fingerings but sounds an octave higher.

Piccolos are manufactured in both metal and wood. With the same cylindrical shape as the flute and a lip plate on the headjoint, a metal piccolo feels like playing a small flute. Wooden piccolos are conical (like an ice cream cone) in shape, and most do not have a raised lip plate. For marching band, always choose a metal instrument because outdoor weather conditions could damage wood. For concert band, it’s traditional to use a wooden piccolo with its more refined tone quality and sweeter sound.

Here are some tips for learning piccolo, so start practicing and have fun.

Embouchure. Because the size of the piccolo is less than half the size of the flute, your embouchure will be smaller and more focused. Producing a piccolo tone requires a more concentrated air column, so if the tone doesn’t respond, increase the air speed and focus the embouchure into a small, round shape.

Hand Position. Fingers should be curved and close to the keys with very small movements in order to have smooth phrases and clean technique. Practice with a mirror, first on flute then piccolo, to help you adjust from a larger to a smaller instrument. Slow scale and arpeggio practice helps develop new habits.

Technique. Difficult fingering patterns are often easier on piccolo than on flute because movements are smaller and closer to the keys. Fingers, hands and arms should be loose and flexible for quick response in technical passages.

Intonation. Pitch tendencies on piccolo are different than on flute, so practice with a tuner to build confidence and accuracy. Sensitive to the smallest adjustments, piccolo intonation requires increased breath support, air speed and direction to correct for pitch problems.

Begin practicing piccolo with 10-minute sessions several times a day to build endurance and strength in embouchure muscles.

About the Author

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at the University of North Texas in Denton, appears as a soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America. A renowned author, Mary has published more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. Visit

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