Orchestration and Arranging Wiki
A Piccolo
Other Names ottavino
Range D5-C8 (Written D4-C7)
Clefs Treble
Transposition Sounds as one octave higher than writen

The piccolo (Italian for small) is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo mostly has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse 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.

Piccolos are now only manufactured in the key of C; however, they were once also available in D♭. In the orchestral setting, the piccolo player is often designated as Piccolo/Flute. 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.

Pitch Range[]

The piccolo has a high range, starting at around C5 or D5 and extending up to C8 depending on the experience of the player. This is written an octave lower to avoid excessive ledger lines and high notes.


The standard pitch has varied widely over history, and this has affected how flutes are made. Although the standard concert pitch today is A4=440 Hz, many manufacturers optimize the tone hole size/spacings for a higher pitch options such as A4=442 Hz or A4=444 Hz. (As noted above, adjustments to the pitch of one note, usually the A4 fingering, can be made by moving the headjoint in and out of the headjoint tenon, but the point here is that the mechanical relationship of A4 to all other pitches is set when the tone holes are cut. However, small deviations from the objective 'mechanical' pitch (which is related to acoustic impedance of a given fingering) can be made on the fly by embouchure adjustments.)

Timbre and Tone[]

Written to sound one octave higher, its most common use is to brighten and strengthen the upper partials of an orchestration; however, it should not be totally relegated to this position. Care must be exercised when writing extensive passages in the piccolo's upper octave, as the high-pitched and penetrating sound quickly becomes tiresome to the ear. The piccolo's lower octave (its lowest note is a D, unlike the flute) has a very special "dry" quality to it.

Piccolos are all high-pitched but vary 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.


A Piccolo

The modern piccolo is the main version of the instrument, although it is related to the fife (or classical piccolo) and piccolos in D flat existed at the beginning of the 20th century.


Most of these piccolo techniques are taken from the flute repetoire. The availability to the orchestration will depend on the performer and the individual instrument. Due to the high pitch it may become difficult to sustain a tone while using these techniques. Feel free to edit!

Flutter Tonguing[]

Flutter-tonguing is one of the oldest and most widely-used extended techniques, dating back to the works of Richard Strauss. Flutists should be familiar with and be able to execute the two different types: one produced by rolling the tongue; the other by vibrating the throat. Composers notate flutter-tonguing in one of two ways: through use of three slashes through a note stem, or by writing “flatterzunge” (or flatt.). Composers are more and more commonly choosing to specify the type of flutter-tonguing to be used in a given passage, indicating “rrrr” for the throat version. The technique has many uses beyond the mere “special effect.”

Whistle tones[]

Whistle tones are very weak and quiet, and only particularly effective in the third octave of the flute's range, the easiest to play being from C6 to B6. The proper fingerings are used and the air stream is slower and broader. They are indicted by diamond noteheads with the marking, "w.t." Because they are so quiet, they benefit from electronic amplification and will never carry through any orchestral texture acoustically.

Bisbigliando or "hollow tones"[]

Hollow tones are produced by bending an out of tune note (such as a microtone) into the correct pitch. In order to do this with accurate intonation special fingering must be used (like with any microtones) and may sometimes vary from flute to flute. Close and personal consultation with an experienced flautist is almost necessary if the composer is not already a flautist. These are also usually indicating by a combination of diamond noteheads and textual instruction such as "bisbigl." or "hollow tone", sometimes "h.t.". It is usually customary to provide the appropriate fingering above each unique hollow note in the part.


Flutes are capable of producing multiple stops anywhere from two to five notes. Every fingering on flute has at least one multiphonic; it's just a matter of how that fingering is blown. For example, underblowing the normal high D may produce the C an octave below, thus creating a ninth. When writing multiphonics, always be sure to a) consult a flutist, b) find a multiphonics chart (like those in Robert Dick's "The Other Flute"), or c) understand what you're doing! Multiphonics are NOT agile; it is not possible to play extremely fast runs with multiphonics, and without proper practice it is very hard to sustain some multiphonics. Always write in the score the fingering of the multiphonic.


Intervals smaller than a semitone. Notation methods vary, but these examples are typical of quartertones and raised & lowered inflections. Microtones are especially difficult on the piccolo, where the holes are entirely covered by keys. They are mostly produced using lip inflection.

Key Clicks[]

During the Twentieth Century, composers expanded the available sounds of the flute to include percussion-like effects. The most common of these is the key-click, pioneered by Edgard Varèse in his famous work for solo flute of 1938, Density 21.5. Key clicks can be performed by themselves; the flutist fingers a specific pitch and slaps a key without blowing (usually notated with an x notehead), or in combination with regular notes.

Alternative Fingerings[]

Different ways of fingering notes. A verbal instruction in the music and a fingering diagram. There is no need to specify fingerings normally, so the use of alternative fingerings is generally left to the player. Occasionally a composer will require a specific alternative fingering because of its timbral characteristics.

Pitch Bends[]

Can be done in two ways:

  • The lip gliss has a smaller pitch range than the fingered variety, but is more versatile because just about every note on the flute can be bent to a certain extent (though pitches in the first two octaves are much easier to bend than third-octave notes).
  • Fingered glissandi are only possible on certain notes of a French model (open-hole) flute, so it is best for a composer to consult a performer before using them.

A glissando is notated as a straight line from the note head, up or down depending on its direction.


The piccolo can be found in classical music from around the era of Beethoven into the present day. It is also found in military, marching, and concert (wind) bands. It is not usually found in jazz or popular music genres.