Piccolo vs. Alto Flute

Once you reach proficiency on the flute, it can be time to think about adding other “auxiliary” flutes to your inventory. Piccolo and alto flute are the two most common ones. So I want to share my thoughts on piccolo vs alto flute.

Some people will gravitate heavily towards one or the other. Some people might want to learn both. Others still might want to stick to the C flute.

Killer Harmony | Piccolo vs Alto Flute

If you have read my blog before, you probably already know I have a passion for the piccolo. I love the small size and being able to float above an ensemble.

If you are unsure of which auxiliary flute to learn, I am going to break it down. Piccolo vs Alto Flute.

Piccolo Pros

The piccolo is small. Even smaller than the concert flute. It can fit in almost any purse or bag. You can take it with you anywhere. It is super easy to just throw it in your bag with your flute.

The piccolo is *relatively* affordable. Piccolos start at around $400-500. Used piccolos can start even lower, but be cautious when buying used. My first piccolo was used, and it cost just under $300.

The piccolo has a growing repertoire. The piccolo is the most common auxiliary flute, so you will find more music for it than the alto or bass flute. There is not a ton of piccolo specific music, but most flute music will transfer over. And the piccolo repertoire is growing more and more each year.

The piccolo is common. You will find a piccolo part in most band pieces, a lot of symphonic orchestra works, and in quite a few flute choir pieces. If you are in a college marching band, you can also play it there. Most of the ensemble pieces I played in music school had a piccolo part, even if it was combined with flute.

Piccolo Cons

The piccolo is high pitched. I’m sure this is obvious, but the piccolo is a high pitched instrument. To avoid hearing damage, you need to wear earplugs. If you don’t like playing either the melody or other high parts, the piccolo isn’t for you. On piccolo, I often play the melody or a descant part that sits on top of the melody.

The piccolo is finicky. Since the piccolo is a small, high pitched instrument, it is very temperamental. Any tuning issues you have are magnified on piccolo. It can also be very easy to bend the mechanism during assembly or disassembly.

The piccolo is not a respected solo instrument. I would like to change that. There are a few great works for piccolo, and I would love to be able to give the piccolo a greater place in solo performance. However, the piccolo is not a common solo instrument.

The piccolo can crack. If you get a piccolo made of wood, it can be susceptible to cracking. In extreme weather, wood can crack and cause tuning and playing issues for the piccolo. If you will be playing indoors and out, it is best to get a composite piccolo or a composite for outdoors and a wood one for indoors.

Related: Should You Play Piccolo?

Alto Pros

The alto flute is lower in pitch. If you love the sound of the flute, but you don’t care for the higher notes, the alto is perfect. It is pitched a fourth below the C flute, so you play a little lower.

The alto flute comes with two headjoint options. If you have longer arms, you can get a straight head alto. If your arms are shorter, you can get a curved head. Each style does have different tendencies, but the flexibility is definitely a benefit to the alto flute.

The alto flute is unique. That could be taken as a euphemism for uncommon, but it’s true. Not many people play the alto flute, and even fewer people own an alto flute. Playing and owning an alto flute can be a great way to stand out as a flutist.

The alto flute is becoming more common. I know more and more flutists who are buying their own alto flute. The repertoire is growing (though slower than the piccolo). Most flute choir pieces call for an alto flute.

Alto Cons

The alto flute is uncommon. While the alto flute is prominent in flute choirs and has a growing solo repertoire, it is still uncommon in other settings. Very few orchestral pieces call for alto flute. I can only think of one band work with alto flute. It’s just not as common as the piccolo or C flute.

The alto flute is more expensive. One factor that can prohibit the purchase of an alto flute is the price. The lowest cost for an alto I have seen is around $1500. The price just goes up from there. If your budget is a big concern, the alto flute might not be the best purchase.

The alto flute is big. If you choose a straight headjoint, you will need quite an arm’s reach to play it. If you choose a curved headjoint, the balance can be awkward. With either headjoint, the alto is going to be bigger. You can’t just throw it in with your flute on your way to rehearsal.

The Verdict

Each flutist is different. We all have different interests and different budgets. We also all have different goals for our flute playing, from fun to a full career.

I don’t want to give a single answer as to the better choice, so here is what is better for certain groups.

For flute majors and serious flute students: Go for the piccolo. It will serve you more in ensembles and solo performances. It is also more affordable than the alto flute. If you need an alto flute, you can probably borrow one from your school.

For adult amateurs: You decide. If you play more in community bands and orchestras, then piccolo. If you play in a flute choir, choose the alto flute.

For semi-pro to professional flutists: Both, because the piccolo is almost expected of all professional flute players, and the alto flute will add to your marketability. When starting your career, you don’t need the most expensive model, but you should have both a piccolo and an alto. If you can’t afford both immediately, then get the piccolo first and save for the alto flute.

So…

I definitely do have a preference for the piccolo, but I do enjoy the alto flute. This holiday season, I think I might have to treat myself to an entry level alto flute. I’m out of school, and I would like to become a professional flutist. I need both a good piccolo (I own one) and a good alto flute to remain competitive in the current world of professional flute playing.

Do you have a piccolo or alto flute? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

How to Choose a Piccolo

The piccolo is a hotly debated topic in the flute community. Some flutists love it, others hate it. I have yet to come across people who don’t have some amount of love or hate for the instrument.

If you are in the group of piccolo lovers, then you have probably thought about learning how to play it. Maybe you even want to jump right in and buy your own. No rental program. You know the piccolo is for you.

Killer Harmony | How to Choose a Piccolo

Now, if you haven’t played flute for very long, piccolo is probably not something you should be starting. Focus on the flute first to build those fundamental skills, such as tone and technique. Then you can learn the piccolo.

If you already have a firm grasp on the flute and you want to learn the piccolo, keep reading. I have some tips for how to choose a piccolo.

NOTE: This post includes affiliate links. To read my full disclosure policy, click here.

Determine your budget.

This is a biggie for any major purchase. You have to know how much money you are able and willing to spend on a piccolo. If you can only afford to spend $600, that narrows your search considerably.

If you have a bigger budget, you can look at a wider range of piccolos.

Thinking about your budget keeps you from trying piccolo outside of your price range. It also keeps you from finding “the one” for thousands more than you can afford. You avoid the disappointment of loving an instrument that is too expensive.

Now, if you are searching for your first piccolo, you don’t need to spend a lot. Some great models can be found for around $400.

If you are looking to upgrade your piccolo, you will have to spend a little more. Just as with an upgraded flute, an upgraded piccolo will cost more than a student model.

Determine your needs.

What will you be playing piccolo for? In what environment(s) will you be playing? Do you have the patience to maintain your piccolo?

These are just a few questions you can ask yourself when choosing a piccolo.

If you will be playing outside a lot, an all silver (or silver plated) piccolo is a smart choice. These piccolos are very durable, and they can project quite far.

Another great choice for outdoor performances is a plastic piccolo. Plastic piccolos are good, because they aren’t affected by the weather as much as wood, but they still blend well.

If you only plan to play indoors, and you can spend a lot of time maintaining your piccolo, go for a wooden model. These are more expensive, but they sound very mellow, and they blend with other instruments.

My current piccolo of choice is the Pearl pfp-105e. It is made of “grenaditte” which is a material made of plastic resin and grenadilla wood. This piccolo is great, because I can play it both inside and out. I get all of the benefits of a wood piccolo, but it doesn’t cost as much.

Know what you are getting.

While I did buy my piccolo online (who doesn’t love Amazon Prime?!), I was smart about it. I knew that Pearl was a reputable brand, and I had heard great things about the specific model I was considering.

Not only that, my flute professor recommended that model to me. I did not buy blind (deaf?).

All of that helped me choose a piccolo that was right for me.

If you are going to buy online, make sure you can either return it or complete a trial period. The best case scenario is buying in person, but that is not always possible.

Or, maybe you’re like me. Maybe you have been given a recommendation for a specific brand. Or maybe you even know someone who has one, and you were able to test it out.

The main thing is: DON’T BUY CHEAP. While you definitely don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a piccolo, you do need to invest a little bit of money. The cheaper the piccolo, the more problems you are likely to encounter.

So spend the money upfront on a piccolo that is reliable. Get something that you know you will use.

Don’t be afraid to rent at first.

As with any new instrument, you might not end up liking the piccolo. You might prefer flute. If you are unsure of enjoying playing the piccolo, don’t hesitate to start on a rental instrument.

It will be much easier to return a rental instrument at the end of a set period (usually a month) than to try and return a purchased instrument. Rental contracts often give you the option to stop renting at any time.

With a purchase, it’s up to you to either return it soon enough or find someone to sell it to.

Renting can be very cost effective, and some programs let you upgrade or cancel at any time. If you find after a few months that you want to own your own piccolo, you can purchase the one you are renting or buy another model and return your rental one.

Get a second opinion.

If you are buying in person, the sales person might try anything to get you to make a purchase. If you are not sure, take it to someone else. Ask your flute teacher or another flutist to come along.

Usually, people will be more inclined to give an honest opinion if they aren’t trying to sell to you. Also, having someone you trust give their opinion means that you don’t have to consult only yourself.

So…

Have you purchased a piccolo before? What model or brand did you choose? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to comment if you want to see a review of my piccolo!

How to Start on the Piccolo

For flutists, there is one instrument that always brings up a heated debate. That instrument is the piccolo. It seems like you either love it or you hate it. There is no in-between.

I, personally, love the piccolo. It adds a little something to my musical life. Though there are many people out there who would rather play alto or bass flute and leave piccolo in the dust.

Killer Harmony | How to Start on the Piccolo for Flutists

If you are part of the “love it” group, or you are just interested in the piccolo, this guide is for you. I am sharing all of my tips and tricks for starting on the piccolo. I will cover everything from the different piccolo materials to prices to actually getting a sound.

So, here is my big beginner’s guide to starting on the piccolo.

Get a quality instrument.

Piccolos come at all different price points, but that doesn’t always mean they are equally as good. You get what you pay for, especially with musical instruments.

You can find cheap piccolos on Amazon and others sites for around $100, but those models won’t last. They are cheap for a reason. Do not be tempted by the seemingly good deals.

Sources for quality instruments include music stores, online music websites, and (if you’re smart about it) Craigslist. There are tons of different flute and music online stores where you can buy a good new or used piccolo.

If you are unsure of whether you will stick with it, look into renting a piccolo. Just as with flute, some music stores offer piccolo as a rental instrument. ┬áThat way, you can return the piccolo if you don’t want to continue.

Here are some more tips for finding a quality instrument.

Consider your budget.

You shouldn’t skimp on paying for a new (or new to you) instrument. The instrument you buy should be good quality, but it should also fit your level. As a beginner, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a piccolo.

If you are looking at used instruments, you can expect to spend anywhere from $300-800 for a beginner model piccolo. If you prefer to buy a new instrument, your budget should be a bit higher. You can expect to spend around $500-1000 on a new student range piccolo.

Materials, Materials.

Piccolos, even beginner models, come in different materials. You have all plastic, all silver plated (like student flutes), and a combination of the two. The material you choose can be determined on your use for the piccolo.

Will you be playing in marching band? Do you plan to play mostly indoors?

Another thing to consider is the presence or absence of a lip plate. Some flutists feel more comfortable with a lip plate and thus want a metal headjoint. I believe that there is no difference, and having a lip plate is more of a placebo affect. You’re used to having one on flute, so it’s easy to think having one on piccolo will make it easier.

I started out on an all silver plated Armstrong 204 piccolo. I found a used one for a great deal. But all silver plated piccolos are not that common. The most common set up for beginners is a plastic body and silver plated headjoint.

Plastic gives a darker sound than silver plated, so it is usually preferred for indoor performances. Having a silver plated headjoint can make the switch less intimidating for some, since it feels similar to the flute. These models are also more budget friendly.

My all silver plated piccolo, new, would cost around $1000. Plastic and metal combos run for about $600.

Assembling the piccolo.

Putting the piccolo together is similar to the flute. The main difference is that there are two pieces for the piccolo, while a flute has three pieces. The piccolo is also smaller, and most models connect with a cork. One exception is all metal piccolos.

You want to be really careful when assembling the instrument so that you don’t bend any keys. That is more difficult on piccolo, because you don’t have as much smooth space as on flute.

Once you have your piccolo ready to go, be aware of how you should hold it when not playing. The piccolo is small and so is the mechanism, which means it can bend very easily. Hold the piccolo closer to the top, and put most of the weight on the side without the keys.

Making a sound.

The piccolo is placed in a similar way to the flute: across the chin just below the opening of the lips. However, the piccolo should be placed a bit higher on the lips than flute.

The piccolo is smaller, so it needs to be closer to the lip opening for you to make a sound. When you go to play a note, you can’t always use the same method as for flute.

If you finger low A on piccolo, for example, pretend you are playing middle A on flute. This will help you get a sound out. Those notes sound the same, because the piccolo plays an octave above the flute.

It is for that reason that it is important to be confident on flute before you start playing piccolo. The piccolo plays higher, and you need to know how to form an embouchure and use your air to compensate for that difference.

For some players, it can take time to make a sound on piccolo, but keep at it. If you are having trouble, then warm up on flute first. Work on the second and third octaves of the flute, because those octaves overlap with the piccolo.

After you have worked on your flute playing, you can then switch to piccolo. Some of the concepts and techniques will transfer with time.

What to play.

A good place to start for the piccolo is to go back to your beginner flute books. Most of the exercises will work on piccolo, because the written range is (almost) the same. The Rubank elementary method for flute/piccolo is also a good book to use if you haven’t before.

You can also use most of your flute music for piccolo, assuming there are no low C’s or C#’s. The piccolo only goes down to (written) low D, so be mindful of that when choosing what to play.

As you progress on piccolo, you can then move to more advanced flute exercises and specific piccolo books. Some of my favorite piccolo books include Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Piccolo and Patricia Morris’s Piccolo Study Book.

Should you play piccolo?

This is somewhat of a loaded question, but I wrote a post a few months back on reasons why you might want to play piccolo. You can read that post here.

But the short answer is: do what feels right to you. I’m not here to tell you yes or no. I’m here to give you the information you need to decide for yourself.

So…

Do you play the piccolo? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to leave any music or flute related questions down there. I might just answer them in a future post!

What’s in My Flute Bag?

With back to school season coming up, I thought it would be fun to tell you guys about what I keep in my flute bag. As an aspiring professional flutist, I like to keep a lot of stuff on hand.

Killer Harmony | What's In My Flute Bag? | As a serious musician, I have a lot of stuff to carry around. I keep a lot of important things in my flute bag. So, I decided to share what is in there.

Now, if you are just taking lessons for fun, you may not need everything here. If you are a music major, you are just curious about what I use, this post is for you.

Without further ado, here is what I keep in my flute bag.

About the Bag

The flute bag I use is the ProTec Flute Gig Bag. I got it for about $35 from a local music store, but you can find it online.The bag comes in different colors, such as black, blue, and purple.

I went with black, because black goes with everything, and it blends in on stage. I love being able to keep my case with me during performances, and you can’t do that with a bright colored bag.

If you want a full review, let me know, and I will get a post up!

My Flute

Um, duh. It is a flute bag. So I have to keep my flute in it. I have a Lyric Artisan Flute, which I love. Lyric flutes are a branch of Miyazawa, similar to the Powell Sonare line, for you flute nerds.

My flute has a silver head joint and a silver plated body, foot joint, and mechanism. I have a B foot, a split E mechanism, an offset G, and the more common features that you see on flutes.

I do keep my flute in its own case, because the bag doesn’t have the parts that keep a flute in place like a normal case. My flute is in its French style case, which means a case that doesn’t have a handle or any exterior storage.

My Piccolo

I have an Armstrong metal piccolo, which I used for marching band in college. Now that I don’t have access to a wood model, it has become my primary piccolo.

I have had the instrument for three years, and it has served me well. It was the best birthday gift I ever received. I do need to upgrade to at least a composite model, and I hope to do that soon.

If you are a serious flutist, you should consider investing in at least a student model piccolo. It will be greatly used, and the piccolo can open up many other doors than just the flute.

Flute Cleaning Cloths

I probably have more cloths than the normal person, but I need all of them. For my flute, I have and use four different cloths at least once a week.

The first cloth is a swabbing cloth. I use it with a cleaning rod to swan out the inside of my flute. Since saliva and condensation collect in the flute, it is important to swab out your flute after playing it.

The second cloth I use daily is a microfiber cloth. I use this to wipe off any dirt or finger prints that collect on my flute. Unfortunately, I can’t skimp here, because I have acidic sweat. My sweat has actually caused a bit of the silver plating to come off of my flute. I have to polish my flute every time I play it.

Another cloth I use to polish my flute after the microfiber cloth is a plain cotton cloth. I don’t always use this cloth, but it is great for a second go over the head joint.

The last cloth I have is a two sided polishing cloth. It is meant to get the serious dirt and grime off of your flute. I only use it once or twice a week, and I don’t use it on my head joint. I did that once, and my lower lip had a slight discoloration for awhile.

Piccolo Cleaning Cloth

I do also have a piccolo swab. The swab is just a silk cloth that I bought off Amazon. I use it with the piccolo cleaning rod that came with my instrument.

Instrument Stands

A must have for me is a flute and/or piccolo stand. I have a bigger stand that stays in my room at home and smaller stands that can fit in my case for rehearsals and performances.

My flute stand is by Hercules; it is the travel size one. I also have a piccolo stand that is by K&G.

Instrument stands are awesome, because you don’t have to haphazardly put your instrument on a chair or table. You can safely put it on your stand and know that it will not get sat on or knocked off.

A Pencil

You need a pencil. Whether you have a private lesson or an ensemble rehearsal, a pencil will save your life. You can mark notes in your music, write down important dates, and much more.

Avoid using pens, because you can’t erase them. You never know if your teacher will want to make a change or if they might take a change out. If you are borrowing your music, you especially shouldn’t use pen. Borrowed music needs to be returned in good condition; pen doesn’t allow for that.

Earplugs

As a piccolo player, I have to have earplugs. When I am playing in the high register or just playing loudly, my ears need protection. I love and use Etymotic earplugs. They allow me to still hear what’s going on so I can tune to others, but they lower the volume of everything by a slight amount.

If you play piccolo or any other piercing instrument, you should own a pair of earplugs and actually use them. They will save your hearing.

So…

What do you keep in your instrument case? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to sign up for the Killer Email Squad to get music tips and tricks sent directly to your inbox!

Subscribe!

* indicates required



How to Manage Multiple Instruments

If you are a musician, odds are you have thought about playing different instruments. Maybe you have thought of playing multiple instruments, or you already do.

Killer Harmony | How to Manage Multiple Instruments |If you want to play multiple instruments, you need to be smart about it. Keep everything organized, and know how to prioritize when you are short on time.

Playing multiple instruments is super common in music, especially for professionals and advanced amateurs. Whether you play multiple instruments in the same family, or you play all sorts of instruments, it can be tough to handle.

You have to be able to give each instrument its own time and attention, and you have to be able to keep track of them all. So, here are a few tips for managing multiple instruments.

1. Prioritize.

I know I say this a lot, but prioritizing is the key to success when you have a lot going on. Odds are, you cannot treat all of your instruments with the same priority. You have to choose which is the most important.

Pick a primary instrument.

If you haven’t already, you need to pick one instrument that is your main instrument. That is the instrument that will always get attention before the others. It is what you play in ensembles. It is also, usually, the instrument you have played the longest.

By picking a primary instrument, you know just what to practice if you are severely limited on time.

2. Determine the instruments’ relationships and purposes.

How are the instruments you play related? Do you mainly stick to string instruments? Are you a flutist who plays piccolo and alto flute? Or do you play instruments from different families.

Once you determine how all your instruments are related, and what purposes they serve, you can better organize your collection of instruments.

You may be a trumpet player who dabbles in piano, because your music degree requires piano proficiency. Or, you may be an oboist who still plays clarinet sometimes so that you can join marching bands or play in musical theatre shows.

Your instruments’ relationships and purposes will help you further prioritize and manage all of your practice. If you have a piano exam next week, you should probably focus on piano. If you only want to play guitar for fun, let it be a stress reliever.

You get it, right?

3. Get organized.

The more instruments you play, the more equipment and sheet music you will have. When you have more stuff, it is hard to keep it from becoming a huge mess in your room or your locker.

Organize your sheet music into different folders based on instrument and even the type of music. Get different bags or folders to organize your music equipment.

Keeping organized means you won’t be searching for a clarinet reed when you need it. Your reeds will be with your clarinet, and your rosin can stay with your violin. You will be less stressed.

4. Make a schedule.

If you have a certain amount of time to practice any instrument, you should make a schedule to stay on track. If you only have an hour, you should probably focus on your main instrument.

Have more time? Warm up and practice your main instrument, and then move to your other ones. Use your upcoming events to figure out what needs the most attention.

If the marching season is over, odds are you won’t need to spend time on the mellophone. Are methods exams coming up? Get out those beginner books and practice for your test.

5. Get the right gear.

If you have a ton of instruments to deal with, you want to get some gear that will help. There are cases which can hold multiple instruments, if you play combinations often. You can also find instrument stands for just about any instrument.

As a flutist who frequently plays piccolo, I love having a flute bag that will fit both. I can grab my flute bag knowing that both instruments I need will fit, and I can cut down on bags to carry.

If you play a larger instrument, you can even find a case that has a pocket for your music. Instead of carrying your instrument and also a music folder, you can keep everything together.

For the pianists, you can get a binder, a multi pocket folder, or a good tote bag to keep your music and metronome in.

Related: Supplies for Every Musician

6. Be flexible.

If you play more than a couple of instruments, you probably won’t play all of them every day. That is completely okay. Things happen, and we might not have as much free time as planned.

This is where it is important to be flexible. If a guitar string breaks and you’re out of replacements, move to another instrument. If all your reeds have gone bad, take a break and practice piano or something.

Flexibility is hard, but it is necessary when you have a lot going on.

You need to remember that you chose all of these instruments, and you should be able to go with the flow that they all bring.

7. Music should be fun.

Whether you are an amateur or you want music to be your career, keep at it for the music. Music should be fun. Adding multiple instruments to your arsenal is awesome, because it adds to the amount of music you can play.

If you want a career in music, it will help you to play multiple instruments, but play music because you love it. If you only add in another instrument because you think it will get you more money or fame, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

So…

How many instruments do you play? I play flute, piccolo, piano, and I have also dabbled in many other instruments. So, let me know if you would like to hear or see me play!

And, of course, don’t forget to subscribe below for awesome tips and insights delivered right to your inbox!

Subscribe & Join the Killer Email Squad!

* indicates required