Last updated
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 421.121.12-71
(Flute-like aerophone with keys)
Playing range
Tessitura of the piccolo is D5–C8. Some have a key for low C5.
Related instruments

The piccolo ( /ˈpɪkəl/ PIH-kə-loh; Italian for 'small') [1] [2] is a half-size flute and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. Sometimes referred to as a "baby flute" or piccolo flute, the modern piccolo has the same type of fingerings as the standard transverse flute, [3] but the sound it produces is an octave higher. This has given rise to the name ottavino [4] (Italian pronunciation: [ottaˈviːno] ), by which the instrument is called in Italian [5] and thus also in scores of Italian composers.


Early 19th-century French piccolo in D. Piccolo in D-flat MET MUS1399A5.jpg
Early 19th-century French piccolo in D.

Piccolos are often orchestrated to double the violins or the flutes, adding sparkle and brilliance to the overall sound because of the aforementioned one-octave transposition upwards. The piccolo is a standard member in orchestras, marching bands, and wind ensembles.


Since the Middle Ages, evidence indicates the use of octave transverse flutes as military instruments, as their penetrating sound was audible above battles. In cultured music, however, the first piccolos were used in some of Jean Philippe Rameau's works in the first half of the 18th century. Still, the instrument began to spread, and therefore to have a stable place in the orchestra, only at the beginning of 1800 A.D. During the Baroque period, the indication "flautino" or also "flauto piccolo" usually denoted a recorder of small size (soprano or sopranino). In particular, this is the case of the concertos that Antonio Vivaldi wrote for flautino. [6]

Until the end of the 19th century, the piccolo maintained the same construction. Historically, the piccolo had the same keys of the baroque flute (one key) and then of the classical and romantic simple system flute. At the end of the century, the piccolo began to be built with the Boehm mechanism, which would become the standard during the 1900s. However, it cannot wholly transition to the Boehm system since the bore has remained conical, as in the old system flute, and the first bottom note is D, like in the baroque flute. The piccolo should not be confused with the fife, which is traditionally one-piece, has a smaller, cylindrical bore, and produces a more strident sound.

Traditional use

It is a myth that one of the earliest pieces to use the piccolo was Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, which premiered in December 1808. Although neither Joseph Haydn nor Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used it in their symphonies, some of their contemporaries did, including Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and Michael Haydn. [7] Also, Mozart used the piccolo in his opera Idomeneo . Opera orchestras in Paris sometimes included small transverse flutes at the octave as early as 1735 as existing scores by Jean-Philippe Rameau show. [7]

Piccolos are now mainly manufactured in the key of C. In the early 20th century, piccolos were manufactured in D as they were an earlier model of the modern piccolo. [8] For this D piccolo, John Philip Sousa wrote the famous solo in the final repeat of the closing section (trio) of his march "The Stars and Stripes Forever".

A piccolo being played Joueuse de flute a Chateau-Thierry.jpg
A piccolo being played

Although once made of wood, glass, or ivory, piccolos today are made from plastic, resin, brass, nickel silver, silver, and a variety of hardwoods, most commonly grenadilla. Finely made piccolos are often available with a variety of options similar to the flute, such as the split-E mechanism. Most piccolos have a conical body with a cylindrical head, like the Baroque flute and later flutes before the popularization of the Boehm bore used in modern flutes. Unlike other woodwind instruments, in most wooden piccolos, the tenon joint that connects the head to the body has two interference fit points surrounding the cork and metal side of the piccolo body joint.[ citation needed ]

The piccolo is used alongside marching drums in traditional formations at the Carnival of Basel, Switzerland.

In 2014, a festival was born entirely dedicated to the piccolo, the International Piccolo Festival, which takes place annually in July in Grado, Italy. [9] [10]


There are a number of pieces for piccolo alone by such composers as Samuel Adler, Miguel del Aguila, Robert Dick, Michael Isaacson, David Loeb, Stephen Hough, Polly Moller, Vincent Persichetti, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Brian Ferneyhough.

Repertoire for piccolo and piano, many of which are sonatas, has been composed by Miguel del Águila, Robert Baksa, Robert Beaser, Rob du Bois, Howard J. Buss, Eugène Damaré  [ fr ], Pierre Max Dubois, Raymond Guiot, Lowell Liebermann, Peter Schickele, Michael Daugherty, and Gary Schocker.

Concertos have been composed for piccolo, including those by Lowell Liebermann, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Todd Goodman, [11] Martin Amlin, [12] Will Gay Bottje, [13] Bruce Broughton, Valentino Bucchi, Avner Dorman, [14] Jean Doué, Michael Easton, [15] Egil Hovland, Guus Janssen, Daniel Pinkham, Jeff Manookian and Levente Gyöngyösi.

A concert piccolo with a grenadilla body and wave head joint and silver-plated keys Yamaha Piccolo YPC-81.png
A concert piccolo with a grenadilla body and wave head joint and silver-plated keys

Additionally, there is now a selection of chamber music that uses the piccolo. One example is Stockhausen's Zungenspitzentanz , for piccolo and two euphoniums (or one synthesizer), with an optional percussionist and dancer. Another is George Crumb's Madrigals, Book II for soprano, flute (doubling piccolo/alto flute), and percussion. Other examples include a trio for piccolo, contrabassoon, and piano, 'Was mit den Tränen geschieht' by Stephen Hough, the Quintet for Piccolo and String Quartet by Graham Waterhouse, and Malambo for piccolo, double bass, and piano by Miguel del Aguila. Currently published trios for three piccolos include Quelque Chose canadienne (Something Canadian) by Nancy Nourse and Bird Tango by Crt Sojar Voglar for three piccolos with piano. Petrushka's Ghost for eight piccolos by Melvin Lauf, Jr. and Una piccolo sinfonia for nine piccolos by Matthew King are two more examples.

Related Research Articles

The clarinet is a single-reed musical instrument in the woodwind family, with a nearly cylindrical bore and a flared bell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flute</span> Woodwind instrument

The flute is a member of a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Like all woodwinds, flutes are aerophones, producing sound with a vibrating column of air. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute produces sound when the player's air flows across an opening. In the Hornbostel–Sachs classification system, flutes are edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist or flutist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oboe</span> Double-reed woodwind instrument

The oboe is a type of double-reed woodwind instrument. Oboes are usually made of wood, but may also be made of synthetic materials, such as plastic, resin, or hybrid composites.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Recorder (musical instrument)</span> Woodwind instrument

The recorder is a family of woodwind musical instruments in the group known as internal duct flutes: flutes with a whistle mouthpiece, also known as fipple flutes. A recorder can be distinguished from other duct flutes by the presence of a thumb-hole for the upper hand and seven finger-holes: three for the upper hand and four for the lower. It is the most prominent duct flute in the western classical tradition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Woodwind instrument</span> Family of musical wind instruments

Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments within the greater category of wind instruments. Common examples include flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and saxophone. There are two main types of woodwind instruments: flutes and reed instruments. The main distinction between these instruments and other wind instruments is the way in which they produce sound. All woodwinds produce sound by splitting the air blown into them on a sharp edge, such as a reed or a fipple. Despite the name, a woodwind may be made of any material, not just wood. Common examples include brass, silver, cane, as well as other metals such as gold and platinum. The saxophone, for example, though made of brass, is considered a woodwind because it requires a reed to produce sound. Occasionally, woodwinds are made of earthen materials, especially ocarinas.

A concerto is, from the late Baroque era, mostly understood as an instrumental composition, written for one or more soloists accompanied by an orchestra or other ensemble. The typical three-movement structure, a slow movement preceded and followed by fast movements, became a standard from the early 18th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Transposing instrument</span> Musical instrument for which notated pitch differs from sounding pitch

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C; that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B, so these are referred to as B instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music; rather, their music is written at a transposed pitch. Where chords are indicated for improvisation they are also written in the appropriate transposed form.

The trill is a musical ornament consisting of a rapid alternation between two adjacent notes, usually a semitone or tone apart, which can be identified with the context of the trill. It is sometimes referred to by the German Triller, the Italian trillo, the French trille or the Spanish trino. A cadential trill is a trill associated with each cadence. A trill provides rhythmic interest, melodic interest, and—through dissonance—harmonic interest. Sometimes it is expected that the trill will end with a turn, or some other variation. Such variations are often marked with a few appoggiaturas following the note bearing the trill indication.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ocarina</span> Ceramic wind instrument

The ocarina is a wind musical instrument; it is a type of vessel flute. Variations exist, but a typical ocarina is an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. It is traditionally made from clay or ceramic, but other materials are also used, such as plastic, wood, glass, metal, or bone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multi-instrumentalist</span> Musician who plays multiple musical instruments

A multi-instrumentalist is a musician who plays two or more musical instruments at a professional level of proficiency.

The Western concert flute is a family of transverse (side-blown) woodwind instruments made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a “flautist” in British English, a “flutist” in American English.

The soprano recorder in c2, also known as the descant, is the third-smallest instrument of the modern recorder family and is usually played as the highest voice in four-part ensembles. Since its finger spacing is relatively small, it is often used in music education for children first learning to play an instrument.

In music, fingering, or on stringed instruments sometimes also called stopping, is the choice of which fingers and hand positions to use when playing certain musical instruments. Fingering typically changes throughout a piece; the challenge of choosing good fingering for a piece is to make the hand movements as comfortable as possible without changing hand position too often. A fingering can be the result of the working process of the composer, who puts it into the manuscript, an editor, who adds it into the printed score, or the performer, who puts his or her own fingering in the score or in performance.

Fingering...also stopping...(1) A system of symbols for the fingers of the hand used to associate specific notes with specific fingers....(2)Control of finger movements and position to achieve physiological efficiency, acoustical accuracy [frequency and amplitude] and musical articulation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zuffolo</span> Italian fipple flute

Zuffolo (also chiufolo, ciufolo) is an Italian fipple flute. First described in the 14th century, it has a rear thumb-hole, two front finger-holes, and a conical bore. It is approximately 8 cm in length and has a range of over two octaves, from B3 to C6 (Marcuse 1975c). A larger instrument of the same name, with a lowest note of C5 appeared in the early 17th century (Fuller-Maitland, Baines, and Térey-Smith 2001).

The contrabassophone is a woodwind instrument, invented about 1847 by German bassoon maker Heinrich Joseph Haseneier. It was intended as a substitute for the contrabassoon, which at that time was an unsatisfactory instrument, with a muffled sound due to tone holes that were too small and too close together. Haseneier's design made use of some of the same principles that went into the Boehm system flute, in which keywork was developed based on tone holes with acoustically optimum sizes and positions. Another change in the Haseneier design of the contrabassophone was increasing the size of the bore to be substantially larger than that of the contrabassoon. This resulted in an instrument with a powerful tone. Haseneier applied for a patent for his design but was rejected. The contrabassophone was regarded as too loud for orchestral use, though it was suitable for outdoor use in military bands. Dr W.H. Stone brought a Haseneier instrument to England playing it in performances of the Handel Festival of 1871. Alfred Morton, the best English bassoon maker of the time made 3 or 4 copies of this instrument some of which included improvements in the keywork. In 1881, Morton's eldest son played one of these instrument with the Halle Orchestra. He also played it at the Crystal Palace, at Richter's concerts and at the opera. Morton made one of a higher pitch for Sir Arthur Sullivan for use in the Savoy Theatre. Following Sullivan's death, this instrument disappeared. Many other European makers produced copies of the contrabassophone, including a lightweight version made of papier-mâché.

A triple concerto is a concerto with three soloists. Such concertos have been composed from the Baroque period, including works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach and Telemann, to the 21st century, such as two works by Dmitri Smirnov. The most famous example is Beethoven's Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano. His combination of solo instruments, a piano trio, was often used also in later works.

Maurice Steger is a Swiss recorder player and conductor, mostly in Baroque music.

The alto recorder in F, also known as a treble (and, historically, as consort flute and common flute) is a member of the recorder family. Up until the 17th century the alto instrument was normally in G4 instead of F4. Its standard range is F4 to G6.

Musical instruments used in Baroque music were partly used already before, partly are still in use today, but with no technology. The movement to perform music in a historically informed way, trying to recreate the sound of the period, led to the use of historic instruments of the period and to the reconstruction of instruments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Voice flute</span>

The voice flute (also the Italian flauto di voce and the French flûte de voix are found in English-language sources) is a recorder with the lowest note of D4, and is therefore intermediate in size between the alto and tenor recorders.


  1. "Piccolo". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
  2. "piccolo - Dictionary Definition". Vocabulary.com. Retrieved 2021-01-25.
  3. "Transverse flute". The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
  4. Italian substantified adjective (an ellipsis of flauto ottavino, "small flute at the [high] octave") that means "small at the [high] octave". In the past ottavino was not a specific word for the piccolo, as it was also used for other instruments like the small spinet at the octave, spinetta ottavina or simply ottavino.
  5. "The Names of Instruments and Voices in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish". Yale University Music Library. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
  6. Moreover, even the simple indication flauto in the music of that period is to be understood as a (alto) recorder; the transverse flute was always explicitly requested with names such as flauto traverso or flauto traversiere. It is in fact only from the second quarter of the 18th century that the recorder begins a rapid decline which in the following decades will see the transverse flute become the only type of flute in cultured music.
  7. 1 2 Nourse, Nancy (April 2008). "The Symphonic Debutante Piccolo: Was it Really Beethoven's Fifth?". Flute Focus (14): 26–29.
  8. Hanlon, Keith D. (2017). The Piccolo in the 21st Century: History, Construction, and Modern Pedagogical Resources (Doctor of Musical Arts in Flute Performance). West Virginia University. doi: 10.33915/etd.5756 . ProQuest   1947737021.
  9. "About Grado". International Piccolo Festival. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  10. "Il Piccolo (Trieste's main newspaper)". Archived from the original on 2019-12-10. Retrieved 2021-08-24.
  11. "Todd Goodman: Composer". Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
  12. Martin Amlin Archived 2013-12-15 at the Wayback Machine page of Presser website.
  13. "Will Gay Bottje". American Composers Alliance. Feb 19, 2009.
  14. Avner Dorman on the Cabrillo Music Festival website. Archived July 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  15. Concerto for Piccolo, Percussion and Strings, Australian Music Centre page.


Commons-logo.svg Media related to Piccolo at Wikimedia Commons