Usually made of silver or grenadilla wood, the piccolo is a member of the woodwind family. Not to be confused with a fife, it is the highest pitched orchestra instrument. Mainly used in an ensemble, notes are one octave higher. Most piccolo players start with a flute and move on to the piccolo, while some play both instruments. The piccolo can often be heard in marching bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles and jazz bands.
Piccolo is the Italian word for "little" with its full name, "flauto piccolo." The fingering of a piccolo is the same as a flute, but requires a tighter holding of the lips to produce a pleasant sound.
Beethoven was the first known composer to use the piccolo in orchestral music. It became a standard member of the orchestra in the nineteenth century. John Philip Sousa featured piccolo soloists in his military concert music.
Two basic piccolo forms are the cylindrical bore, where the head joint is tapered, and the conical bore, which has a tapered body. Material possibilities include a sterling silver body and head joint, silver-plated body and head joint, silver-plated with a plastic body, sterling silver with a grenadilla body, grenadilla head joint and body or resin head and body.
The piccolo is half the size of a flute, approximately 12.5 inches in length, made up of two parts.
For more stable cadence, a tapered head joint (cylindrical bore) is easier to blow. A resin body and head with a tapered body (conical bore) is more durable, provides an even tone and less shrill. The grenadilla piccolo is handmade from a dark wood with a smooth surface that is resistant to the absorption of moisture.
A molded piccolo produces the greatest overall range of sound, especially for soloists. For an edgier sound in an orchestra with less effort, a piccolo with a metal head is suitable. The grenadilla piccolo has a pleasing timbre and capable of a full, rich combination of sounds.
All are high-pitched but varied in tone. Silver-bodied are best suited for marching bands due to its effectual projection. Wood and resin are fitting for symphonies with a mellower timbre. A piccolo with a silver head joint and grenadilla body is appropriate for wind ensembles, while the all silver piccolo works for the orchestra with a more piercing, stand out quality that dominates the loudest instrument.
Dawn Renée Levesque has been a writer for over 30 years. Her travel and fashion photographs have been exhibited in Europe and the United States. As a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Levesque is the author of "Women Who Walk With the Sky" and co-author of "Wisdom of Bear." She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography.