You love the high range of the piccolo, and you want to give it a try. But you have no idea how to play the piccolo.
That’s okay. We all have to start from somewhere. Lucky for you, this guide covers everything you need to know to play the piccolo.
But first, this post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy to learn more.
Prefer to watch?
What Is the Piccolo?
The piccolo is the smallest member of the concert flute family. It plays an octave higher than the concert flute. But while most piccolos today are in the key of C, there are some older piccolos in Db.
Piccolos can be made of a variety of materials, from metal to wood to plastic. Most feature a conical bore unlike the flute’s cylindrical bore. This affects the tuning and response of the instrument.
Because of its smaller size, the piccolo does have a very high range. If you already play the flute, learning the piccolo is a great next step.
How to Play the Piccolo
Maybe you enjoy playing the higher notes of the flute. Or your teacher or band director suggested that you learn the piccolo.
Either way, here are my best tips for new piccolo players.
Get a Good Model
The biggest thing that could affect your ability to play the piccolo is the model you choose. Like flutes, there are a number of cheap piccolos for sale. They may work for a bit, but they’re not going to last you very long.
Instead, it’s better to invest in a piccolo from a reputable brand, such as Yamaha, Pearl, or Gemeinhardt. These piccolos cost a bit more, but you can play on them for years before needing to upgrade.
You may be able to rent a student piccolo from a local music store. That way, you can get started without having to spend hundreds of dollars. Also, for beginners, I’d recommend avoiding wood piccolos since they require more care.
Start With the Low Register
When you’re ready to start learning how to play the piccolo, you should start like you did with the flute. You most likely learned the notes in the first octave before anything else.
Repeat the process on the piccolo. Keep in mind that this octave corresponds to the second octave on the flute. That can help you learn how to form your embouchure to get a good sound early on.
As you move into the second octave, think about how you’d play in the third octave on the flute. Work on these registers and get comfortable in them before you move up to the third octave on the piccolo.
Learn Alternate Fingerings
You use some alternate fingerings on the flute, such as the different fingerings for Bb. But when playing the piccolo, alternate fingerings are even more common.
These fingerings can help you keep the instrument in tune. They also make it easier to stay in tune when playing extremely loud or soft. Be sure to review a fingering chart to learn the different fingerings available.
Then, experiment with a tuner to figure out which fingerings work best for your piccolo. Repeat this process any time you switch piccolos or even just upgrade the headjoint because no two instruments are the same.
Play Some Flute Music
Next, you’re ready to play some music rather than just exercises. I’d recommend finding some flute music first. That way, you can use music already in your library.
Baroque music works great because it doesn’t have any low Cs or C#s, so you can play everything as written on the piccolo. This music also doesn’t generally go super high, so you can play more of it more easily.
Eventually, you’ll want to look into some piccolo repertoire. But for now, it’s totally fine to “steal” some C flute music for your smaller flute. We’ve all done it at one point or another.
Take Some Lessons
Especially if you’re a self-taught flutist, I’d recommend taking some private lessons when learning the piccolo. The piccolo isn’t as forgiving as larger flutes, and it can be easy to build up a lot of tension.
Working with a teacher can help you learn how to avoid bad habits. You can also get feedback on your playing. That way, you’ll know if you need to adjust your embouchure, hand position, or something else.
If you can’t afford private lessons, at least go through some tutorials or an online course. That will give you more direction than trying to learn the instrument all on your own.
How to Choose a Piccolo
As mentioned, selecting the right piccolo can make or break your learning. If you want to set yourself up for success, follow these tips when shopping for your first piccolo.
Stick With Plastic or Metal
Wood piccolos offer a warm sound, and many professionals (including yours truly) play on one. However, they’re also quite expensive and require more maintenance to keep in good shape.
I started on a metal piccolo, and it was nice because I used it to play in my college’s marching band. But plastic is better if you’ll primarily play indoors and don’t need to project over a whole football field.
You can also get a composite piccolo, which offers the warmth of wood but without the risk of developing cracks. The plastic helps to stabilize the wood component.
Set a Budget
Another thing you’ll want to do is figure out how much you can afford to pay for your first piccolo. You can find some used piccolos for as little as $500 or maybe even a bit less.
For the most part, reputable piccolos will cost close to $1,000 new. And yes, that includes student models. I’d recommend saving about $1,000 to $1,500 so that you have options.
You can try a few piccolos within your budget before you make your choice. I wasn’t able to do this. However, if you can, you’ll increase the chances of getting the right piccolo for you.
Avoid Cheap Knockoffs
The internet is home to some super cheap piccolos. I’ve seen some that cost $100 or so, and I bought one. These piccolos aren’t awful, but they’re not ideal for most people.
I’d only recommend them if you’re strapped for cash. But even then, you need a plan to upgrade to something better in a few months. It’s better to save up in that time and continue polishing your flute skills.
Sticking to reputable brands will help you avoid unnecessary problems. That’s not to say your piccolo will never need professional maintenance. But you can save a lot of time and money in the long run.
Try the Piccolos That Interest You
Once you find a few piccolo models in your budget, try as many of them as you can. Luckily, the flute fingerings transfer over. So as long as you have the basics down, you should be able to do a basic trial.
You can test the piccolos by playing scales, arpeggios, and some more lyrical exercises. Test how it feels to use single and double tonguing. And use a tuner to make sure the instrument isn’t too flat or sharp.
If possible, play the piccolos back to back to see what works best for you. When I was trying professional piccolos, I was able to eliminate a couple of the options right away.
As you try different piccolos, record yourself playing them. Listen back to see if you can hear anything that you may have missed while you were conducting the test. It can be easy to get caught up in the fingerings and not the sound.
I’d also recommend sending the recordings to others. Send them to your flute teacher or other flute players you know. To get even more objective feedback, send just the audio so that the brand won’t come into play.
Your opinion is the one that matters. However, if you can’t decide between two models, it never hurts to ask what others think. Plus, if you can’t try piccolos back to back, you can listen to your recordings back to back.
Best Piccolos for Beginners
There are tons of piccolo models on the market these days. If you’re new to the instrument, I’d recommend some of the following models:
This list just scratches the surface. Consider other brands, like Gemeinhardt or Di Zhao. I’d especially recommend trying any piccolos from the same brand as your C flute since there’s a good chance you’ll like how they play.
Why Play the Piccolo
It’s one thing to learn how to play the piccolo. But why should you spend money on one and take the time to learn?
Consider the following reasons in favor of learning the piccolo.
Access More Opportunities
Flute players are a dime a dozen. We just are. But not everyone plays the piccolo, or at least not to a super high degree. If you want to get more gigs or private students, consider adding the piccolo to your arsenal.
Playing piccolo opens you up to all three flute/piccolo parts in an orchestra. If you just played the flute, you’d only have access to one flute part. That’s because even the second flute part occasionally calls for piccolo.
You’ll also have more opportunities as a soloist, teacher, and even when playing chamber music. Whether you’re already a professional flutist or want to become one, you should learn the piccolo.
Play More Music
Even if you don’t want to play music professionally, there are still reasons to study the piccolo. You can play more music on the piccolo than if you only played the flute.
The piccolo has a growing repertoire of solo music. Sure, you could play a lot of the works on your flute. But they’re written for the piccolo for a reason, and they sound better on the higher instrument.
Work on Your High Register
Learning how to play the piccolo is a great excuse to work on the high register of your flute. I’ve found that when I play piccolo and switch back to flute, the high notes respond a bit better.
Playing the piccolo forces you to learn how to play higher notes. You can then transfer what you learn on the piccolo back to your regular flute. Sure, you can learn the high register on the flute, but it’s an added benefit of playing piccolo.
I can’t talk about the best things about playing the piccolo without mentioning how small it is. My piccolo fits in my purse. So when I had a performance where I only needed the piccolo, I didn’t need to bring a big bag.
If you want to practice music while traveling, you might not want to bring your flute. But the piccolo is a lot easier to pack. Sure, you won’t want to practice it at midnight, but you can practice during the day.
When learning how to play the piccolo, you should have a few accessories on hand. That will make it a lot easier to either practice or keep your piccolo in good condition.
Cleaning Rod and Cloth
The most essential accessory you’ll need is a cleaning rod and cloth. Most new piccolos will come with a cleaning rod. You can purchase a silk swab for your piccolo separately.
I also have a Valentino piccolo wand, which you screw together. One end has fabric sewn on it, and you slide that all the way through your piccolo. You can use it without disassembling the instrument.
That makes it super easy to swab out the piccolo and get rid of any water bubbles without having to retune after. I’ve used the wand during rehearsals and even my own practice sessions.
The piccolo is small, and you can rest it on your lap. But I’d highly recommend getting a stand for the piccolo. That way, you can rest it safely when you aren’t playing it.
Having a stand is particularly important if you double on the flute and piccolo a lot. Balancing one instrument on your lap can be hard when trying to play another.
When I’m at home, I use the piccolo peg with the Hercules Alto Flute Stand. I have a K&M Piccolo Stand that I use outside of my house. Pro tip: add some yellow tape to the tip to find it easily in darker environments.
Assuming you already play the flute, you probably have a good tuner. But you’ll want to make sure it can detect the super high frequencies of the piccolo.
If not, consider getting a different tuner for your new instrument. You can even switch over completely. A tuner that works with the piccolo shouldn’t have a problem with the flute.
If you lose your hearing, you’ll never get it back. And since the piccolo not only plays super high but also sits right next to your ear, you need to protect your hearing at all costs.
I use a pair of Etymotic ER-20 earplugs, and they work great. For the most part, I only wear the right earplug. But when I play in the third octave for a while, I’ll add the left earplug to be extra safe.
If you have more money, you may want to visit an audiologist. They can make special earplugs that fit your ears, specifically.
Most piccolos that require cork grease will come with some. However, you may want to buy some separately. Because in my experience, the cork grease that comes with piccolos is in a flat pallet.
I find it a lot easier to apply cork grease that comes in a tube similar to lip balm. Just don’t mistake it for lip balm and put it on your lips.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether your piccolo even needs cork grease. If there’s no cork on the tenon of the body, you shouldn’t use cork grease. You could damage your piccolo.
When to Start Playing Piccolo
I wouldn’t recommend starting to learn how to play the piccolo right away. You should learn the basics of playing the flute first. Get comfortable making a sound and playing all of the notes.
For some people, this may take a year or even less time. Others may need closer to two or three years. Consider how fast you learn. You can also ask a teacher if they think you’re ready to play the piccolo.
Where to Buy a Piccolo
You have multiple options for where to buy a piccolo. First, check with any local music stores in your area. There are also all of the major flute shops, and they carry student piccolos.
I bought my various piccolos through my flute technician, a flute shop, and even Amazon. Yes, you can buy on Amazon if you’re careful and buy a reputable brand from a trustworthy seller.
When to Upgrade Your Piccolo
Deciding when to upgrade to a better piccolo is very personal. The best thing to consider is whether your current instrument is holding you back. Maybe you struggle to get a good tone up high.
Or your low notes might sound super airy. Either way, that’s a good sign you should go piccolo shopping.
You can look at more advanced piccolos, but you could also upgrade just the headjoint. Mancke and Hernandez are two popular piccolo headjoint makers, and you can try them with your current piccolo for a cheaper upgrade.
Is the Piccolo Easy to Play?
The piccolo can be quite hard to play at first. But like any instrument, it will get easier the more you practice.
Give yourself time to learn how to make a consistent sound. After a few weeks or months, it should feel a lot easier.
Why Is the Piccolo So Hard to Play?
The piccolo is so hard because it’s less forgiving than the flute. You need a smaller (but not tighter) aperture hole between your lips. And you especially need good air support and control.
All of that takes time to develop. So if you start playing the piccolo too early, you could frustrate yourself unnecessarily.
Which Is Harder, Piccolo or Flute?
A lot of musicians find the piccolo is harder than the flute. But there are some players, such as piccolo specialists, who find the flute more difficult.
I’d say it depends on your anatomy and interests. If you form a smaller aperture already, you might not struggle with the piccolo as much as with the flute.
Learning how to play the piccolo can be a great way to improve your flute playing and grow your career. Be sure to consider how to play the flute first.
Then, you’ll have an easier time learning the piccolo due to many of the shared features of both instruments.
And if you need to learn the flute, enroll in Flexible Flute Lessons today!