AskDefine | Define piccolo

Dictionary Definition

piccolo n : a small flute; pitched an octave above the standard flute

User Contributed Dictionary



Borrowed from piccolo.


  1. An instrument similar to a flute, but smaller, and playing an octave higher.
  2. A bottle of champagne containing 0.1875 liters of fluid, 1/4 the volume of a standard bottle; a quarter bottle or snipe.

Derived terms




  • [ˈpikkolo]




it-adj piccol



See also

Extensive Definition

The piccolo is a small flute. Like the flute, the piccolo is normally pitched in the key of C, one octave above the concert flute (making it, effectively, a sopranino flute). Music for the piccolo is written one octave lower than concert pitch. Fingerings on the piccolo correspond to those of the flute, but sound an octave higher as the piccolo is considerably less than half the size of the flute. Also, many alternate fingerings may be used to tune the individual pitches, as many are consistently out of tune. In addition to the standard C piccolo, there is a piccolo pitched in D♭ that is sometimes used in bands, and one in A♭, rarely used outside Italian marching bands.
It is mainly used in orchestral pieces but there are a few pieces specifically for it. Often in orchestras, the piccolo player doubles up as a second or third flute because not all orchestral pieces include piccolo parts.

Timbre and construction

Because the piccolo's sound is in a very high register, it has a potential to be strident or shrill. Thus, it is often used only as an ornamental, "flavor" or "garnish" instrument, or not at all. Nonetheless, there have been many concertos and solo pieces written for the piccolo, written by notable composers such as Persichetti, Vivaldi, and Todd Goodman. (Vivaldi’s concertos, however, were originally for the sopranino recorder). Triple-woodwind orchestral works typically include two flutes and one piccolo or three flutes with a piccolo double. Not all flute players play piccolo, although most professional players do. Though the fingerings are the same, the embouchure and other differences do require a separate effort to learn. Also, flute players with large fingers may find it difficult to press the smaller piccolo keys accurately.
The piccolo can be quite noticeable in concert marches. For example, John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" carries a piccolo solo.
It is increasingly difficult to sustain notes in the third octave, especially softly.
The piccolo is somewhat notorious for being difficult to play in tune, as evidenced by the jokes circulating among musicians that defines a minor second as “two piccolos playing in unison,” or that the only way to get two piccolos to play in tune is to "shoot one of them". Its small size makes it difficult to construct completely in tune and causes what would be small pitch variances in larger instruments to become rather significant. The fact that it is so high does not help as it is rather conspicuous when out of tune.
Piccolos may be constructed out of wood, metal, plastic, or a combination of all of them. Many piccolo players find that wooden piccolos offer a more mellow timbre than metal ones. A popular compromise combines a metal head joint with a body made from wood. In more recent years the piccolo has also been made out of a plastic composite material. The composite piccolo is durable enough for marching and produces a fair quality sound. Most professionals agree that a piccolo should be made out of only one material, as two separate materials with different coefficients of thermal expansion lead to tuning inconsistencies.

Major Works for the Piccolo

Vivaldi: Piccolo Concerto in C major, RV 443 Todd Goodman: Concerto for Piccolo and OrchestraLowell Liebermann: Concerto For Piccolo And Orchestra, Op. 50

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, Switzerland. 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 fifth symphony, but the most familiar use of the piccolo was of John Phillip Sousa's "the stars and stripes forever".

Book sources

  • Kennan, Kent Wheeler. The Technique of Orchestration New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1952: 88 - 91
  • Sadie, Stanley "Piccolo." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, Vol. 19. NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Munster, Peter van. Repertoire Catalogue for Piccolo, Alto Flute and Bass Flute. Roma: Riverberi Sonori, 2004
piccolo in Catalan: Flautí
piccolo in Czech: Pikola
piccolo in Danish: Piccolofløjte
piccolo in German: Piccoloflöte
piccolo in Estonian: Pikoloflööt
piccolo in Spanish: Flautín
piccolo in Esperanto: Fluteto
piccolo in Basque: Piccolo
piccolo in French: Piccolo (musique)
piccolo in Western Frisian: Pikkolofluit
piccolo in Scottish Gaelic: Fliùiteag
piccolo in Galician: Piccolo
piccolo in Korean: 피콜로
piccolo in Croatian: Pikolo
piccolo in Italian: Ottavino
piccolo in Dutch: Piccolo (fluit)
piccolo in Japanese: ピッコロ
piccolo in Norwegian: Pikkolofløyte
piccolo in Polish: Flet piccolo
piccolo in Portuguese: Flautim
piccolo in Quechua: Pitucha
piccolo in Russian: Флейта-пикколо
piccolo in Simple English: Piccolo
piccolo in Finnish: Piccolo
piccolo in Swedish: Piccolaflöjt
piccolo in Thai: ปิคโคโล
piccolo in Turkish: Pikolo flüt
piccolo in Chinese: 短笛

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

English horn, Pandean pipe, aulos, basset horn, basset oboe, bassoon, block flute, bombard, bourdon, cello, claribel, clarinet, clarion, concert flute, contrabassoon, contrafagotto, cornet, cornopean, cromorna, cromorne, cymbel, diapason, double bassoon, double reed, dulciana, fife, fipple flute, flageolet, flute, flute stop, foundation stop, fourniture, gamba, gedeckt, gemshorn, harmonic flute, hautboy, heckelphone, hornpipe, hybrid stop, koppel flute, larigot, licorice stick, melodia, mixture, musette, mutation stop, nazard, oaten reed, oboe, oboe da caccia, ocarina, octave, organ stop, panpipe, penny-whistle, pipe, plein jeu, pommer, posaune, principal, quint, quintaten, rank, ranket, recorder, reed, reed instrument, reed stop, register, rohr flute, sax, saxophone, sesquialtera, shawm, single reed, single-reed instrument, sonorophone, spitz flute, stop, stopped diapason, stopped flute, string diapason, string stop, sweet potato, syrinx, tabor pipe, tenoroon, tierce, tin-whistle, tremolo, trombone, trumpet, twelfth, unda maris, vibrato, viola, voix celeste, vox angelica, vox humana, whistle, woods, woodwind, woodwind choir, woodwind instrument
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