Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification421.121.12-71
(Flute-like aerophone with keys)
Playing range
Written range of piccolo.png

The piccolo sounds one octave higher than written.

Sounding range of piccolo.png
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 as a ‘baby flute’. The modern piccolo has most of the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute,[3] but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written. This has given rise to the name ottavino[4] Italian pronunciation: [otːaˈviːno], by which the instrument is called in Italian and thus also in scores of Italian composers.[5] It is also called flauto piccolo or flautino.

Early 19th-century French piccolo in D♭.
Early 19th-century French piccolo in D.

In the orchestral setting, the piccolo player is often designated as "piccolo/flute III", or even "assistant principal". The larger orchestras have designated this position as a solo position due to the demands of the literature. 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. In concert band settings, the piccolo is almost always used and a piccolo part is almost always available.


Since the Middle Ages we had evidence of the use of octave transverse flutes as military instruments: their penetrating sound was in fact audible above the roar of battle. In cultured music, however, the first piccolos are used in some works by Jean Philippe Rameau in the first half of the eighteenth century, but the instrument begins 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 indicated a recorder of small size (soprano or sopranino), and 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 with keys of the classical and romantic old system flute, and only at the end of the century it began to be built with the Boehm mechanism, which in any case would become the standard only during the 1900s. But the piccolo will never achieve a complete 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.

In 2014, a festival was born entirely dedicated to piccolo,[7] the International Piccolo Festival, which takes place annually in July in Degree (GO).

Traditional use

A piccolo being played
A piccolo being played

Historically, the piccolo had no keys, but it should not be confused with the fife, which is traditionally one-piece, has a smaller, cylindrical bore and produces a more strident sound.

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, 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[9] It was for this D piccolo that John Philip Sousa wrote the famous solo in the final repeat of the closing section (trio) of his march "The Stars and Stripes Forever".

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, which is 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 that surround both the cork and metal side of the piccolo body joint.[citation needed]

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


A piccolo with a grenadilla body and a silver headjoint.
A piccolo with a grenadilla body and a silver headjoint.

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 have 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,[10] Martin Amlin,[11] Will Gay Bottje,[12] Bruce Broughton, Valentino Bucchi, Avner Dorman,[13] Jean Doué, Michael Easton,[14] Egil Hovland, Guus Janssen, Daniel Pinkham, and Jeff Manookian.

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 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.


  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, Russian1, 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. ^ "Il Piccolo (Trieste's main newspaper)". Archived from the original on 2019-12-10. Retrieved 2021-08-24.
  8. ^ a b Nourse, Nancy (April 2008). "The Symphonic Debutante Piccolo: Was it Really Beethoven's Fifth?". Flute Focus (14): 26–29.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Todd Goodman: Composer". Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
  11. ^ Martin Amlin Archived 2013-12-15 at the Wayback Machine page of Presser website.
  12. ^ "Will Gay Bottje". American Composers Alliance. Feb 19, 2009.
  13. ^ Avner Dorman on the Cabrillo Music Festival website. Archived July 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Concerto for Piccolo, Percussion and Strings, Australian Music Centre page.


Media related to Piccolo at Wikimedia Commons