The piccolo is the highest pitched instrument in the woodwind family – and this same family includes the flute, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone. This underappreciated instrument is a whole octave above the flute.
While it is sometimes used in high school bands and marching bands, most people do not truly study the piccolo until collegiate level. Even then, most people take a cursory note of this instrument, although people who stick with the training can become virtuosos. This instrument is highly sought after on professional levels – including but not limited to orchestras and studio musicians.
The higher notes the piccolo can hit can be considered shrilly, so as a result the entire capabilities are not usually explored. There are solos for this particular member of the woodwind family, although more often than not this instrument is used as an accent that emphasizes certain moods or feelings. Perhaps the most famous piece, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, the famous Americana piece by John Phillip Sousa, has a solo for this instrument too.
This instrument is very similar to a flute; both instruments are tuned in the key of C and many of the fingerings from the flute translate to the piccolo. However, some notes require altered fingering, for although the sound may be similar, some notes tend to register differently. Collegiate level education usually addresses these subtle differences, but by and large the fingerings are the same for the two instruments.
This instrument can be somewhat difficult to tune, and because the human ear particularly notices its higher wavelengths, and when this instrument is out of tune it can make an entire band sound terrible. Thorough ear training can cure an out of tune instrument, but it takes lots of practice, concentration, and dedication to achieve this level of skill.
These fine members of the woodwind family can be created using wood, metal, plastic, or a smorgasbord of these materials. High School level bands usually use composite materials, whereas professional musicians only use one type of material; when this instrument is made of a composite of materials, there are minute inflections created that on a world-class level simply can’t be tolerated (for high school or beginners use though, it’s fine).
Should you choose to master this wonderful instrument, you will be in a very exclusive league that is highly sought after and very much in demand. Learning the right fingerings, breathing techniques, and notes can be very difficult at times, but with perseverance, your hard work can come to a very profitable and rewarding fruition.