Piccolo-Type Instruments

by Harrison Pennybaker
Piccolos may appear in band music.

Piccolos may appear in band music.

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Piccolos -- the name deriving from an Italian word meaning "small" -- are smaller versions of a flute and part of the flute family of instruments, which falls under the woodwind category. These instruments produce sound of a higher pitch than standard flutes but are related to several kinds of similar instruments.

The Flute

The piccolo is most closely related to the flute, another woodwind instrument whose origins date back as far as 40,000 years, to paleolithic humans. The flute has no reed, unlike other woodwinds, for which a reed is standard. Instead, flutes generate sound by passing air over top of openings in the instrument. The flute is larger than the piccolo and, accordingly, has a greater range of pitch than does its smaller counterpart.


The fife is related to the piccolo and, in fact, is sometimes called a "traditional piccolo." However, the two instruments are different. Fifes are simple, made from a single tube with six holes cut on the top. Like the piccolo and flute, fifes have a hole at one end of the tube, into which the player blows. The fife originated in medieval Europe and was often used by military bands.

Eb Flute

The Eb flute -- with "b" meaning "flat" -- is another instrument in the woodwind family, also related to the fife. The Eb flute is a soprano instrument, meaning it operates at a higher pitch in the musical range. Accordingly, it is smaller in its size than its counterpart, the C flute. Although it is not a common instrument, it appears most often in flute choir music, alongside other woodwind instruments.


The recorder is another woodwind instrument related to the piccolo. It emerged and was common in Europe between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries but is still used today. Originally, the instrument was made entirely from wood although today recorders are often made from plastic. Unlike some flutes, the recorder has a whistle-like opening into which the player blows, making it easier to play than woodwinds with simple holes.

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