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The piccolo (Italian for small ) is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written. This gave rise to the name "ottavino," the name by which the instrument is referred to in the scores of Italian composers.

Now only manufactured in C, piccolos were once made in D , as well. It was for that instrument that John Philip Sousa wrote his famous march, "Stars and Stripes Forever."

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 (i.e. to play together with) the violins or the flutes, adding sparkle and brilliance to the overall sound because of the aforementioned one-octave transposition upwards. It is the highest-pitched instrument in an orchestra or band.

Concertos have been composed for piccolo, including those by Lowell Liebermann, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Todd Goodman, Martin Amlin, Will Gay Bottje, Bruce Broughton, Valentino Bucchi, Avner Dorman, Jean Doué, Michael Easton, Egil Hovland, Guus Janssen, Tilo Medek, Dexter Morrill, Raymond Niverd, Daniel Pinkham, Thomas Schudel, and Allan Stephenson. Graham Waterhouse composed a quintet for piccolo and string quartet.

Traditional use

Historically the piccolo had no keys, but does today, and should not be confused with the fife, or classical piccolo, which has a smaller bore and is therefore more strident. The piccolo is used in conjunction with marching drums in traditional formations at the Carnival of Basel, Switzerlandmarker.

The piccolo was originally made out of wood and was featured in many prominent composers' works. One of the earliest pieces to use the piccolo was Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, only playing during the final (IV) movement. Today, the piccolo can be found made from a range of materials, from plastic (or resin), to silver, to wood. Finely-made piccolos often come with a similar variety of options as the flute, such as the split-E mechanism.


  • The Complete Piccolo, compiled and edited by Jan Gippo, Theodore Presser Company, 2007/08. ISBN 1-59806-111-9


  1. Martin Amlin page of Presser website.
  2. Will Gay Bottje Piccolo Concerto, American Composers' Alliance website.
  3. Avner Dorman on the Cabrillo Music Festival website.
  4. Concerto for Piccolo, Percussion and Strings, Australian Music Centre page.

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