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.
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. That 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.
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.
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!