The following 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo – learn play piccolo the professional way

address fundamental problems mentioned in my previous article and have to be played without vibrato,

or at least with only a small one.

3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

1. Musical Cromatic Scale throughout the range of the piccolo


range of the piccolo


First and foremost we should renew our confidence with the instrument and ourselves daily. In other words, we ought to imprint the right support, air pressure and velocity into our muscles.

Above all, our body and ear must be reminded of the muscular tension required to produce a sound of full resonance while keeping the embouchure flexible every day.

Furthermore, the piccolo needs a faster airflow than the flute, which will only be achieved by adequate support and pressure. We should thus train to play every sound in the absolute right pitch on the electronic tuner.

Translation: Daily exercise 1)

music cromatic scale exercise 1

“Just Intonation” or not just intonation?!

3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

The just intonation however, the one used when playing in an orchestra or chamber group, is based on a harmonic series generated by acoustic waves that result stable and pure in one key and are perceived as consonant to the human ear.

Practically, this means that the player has to adjust the equal scale (100 cents per semi-tone) more than the well-tempered scale of the piano (which is only a compromise as explained earlier). Actually, we have to adjust to a scale of just intonation, generated by the root tone of the key. Thus, the player has to play each note of the scale some cents higher or lower than equal temperament. Above all other things, a sound’s intonation is based on the note’s function in the scale.


However, using

functional harmony – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

enriches the player’s practice and phrasing. Never should he in fact play without a musical idea in his head. Therefore, with regular practice and growing awareness, musical expression will be based on pitch and function and will result more natural and convincing.

Even though the electronic chromatic tuner is of help in the above mentioned situations, especially in practice, what we really should learn is sound and muscular memory.

After that, we will be able to cope with any situation as a piccolo player, be it in a symphony orchestra or as the increasingly popular soloist instrument. Be aware of the underlying math:


Major Scale

Scale DegreeRootMajor












Change in Cents0+4-14-2+2-16-120


Minor Scale

Scale DegreeRootMajor












Change in Cents0+4+16-2+2+14-120


2. Combination tones – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

Furthermore, difference sounds or combination tones, as they are often called, are a fantastic way of studying just intonation, but they require concentration and experimentation. In addition, they areAs called resultant tones because they are the result of the difference in Hertz between the higher and the lower sound played simultaneously and loudly.

If the difference is greater than 30 Hertz, these sounds create the phenomenon of an additional sound for the human ear. When they are less than that, they will be perceived as a disturbing, grating sound. If the difference is as big as an octave however, the combination sound might result in the illusion of a chord (for further information look up Tartini sounds).

Therefore, this third sound created by the subtraction of the lower sound from the higher one in Hertz becomes a potent method to study intonation. Paying attention to the pitch of the difference sound rather than the primary sound, we create the ability to tune with any other instrument and are clearer about our own internal intonation. As a result, we will develop the required muscular memory and a fine sense of harmonic hearing.


How to learn to use your muscular memory when playing the piccolo

This can be achieved by recording all notes played long and without vibrato as a reference chromatic scale. After that, play the same sound together with the recording and change the pitch slightly. Listen to the vibration created. It slows down when you come close to the right pitch and accelerates when you get further away. Get used to those frictions and interpreting them as acoustic sounds. It is easier to do when using high frequency notes.

After this preliminary exercise we should concentrate on the combination sounds. All intervals create difference tones, but only six intervals help our intonation because their resultant tones are part of the same harmonic series. Every one of those six intervals creates a perfect chord. When the two produced sounds are perfectly in tune, the third combination tone will be too. Violinists use this principle to tune their instruments every time.

IntervalDifference Toneminor 3rd (m3)minor 6th (m6)Major 3rd (M3)Root (R)Perfect 4th (P4)P4Perfect 5th (P5)Root (R)minor 6th (m6)minor 3rd (m3)Major 6th (M6)Perfect (P4)

The amazing thing about just intonation is that it works in any key.


IntervalDifference Tone
minor   3rd   (m3)minor   6th   (m6)
Major  3rd    (M3)Root   (R)
Perfect  4th   (P4)Perfect  4th   (P4)
Perfect  5th   (P5)Root      (R)
minor   6th   (m6)minor   3rd   (m3)
Major  6th    (M6)Perfect  4th   (P4)


So we can

study in a different key – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

every day listening to the third resultant tone. Since it is based on mathematical principles, it should not be surprising that certain structures emerge:

  • If we look at the six intervals producing combination sounds useful to study intonation, there are 2 minor, 2 Major and 2 Perfect intervals.


  • Looking at the 3 M and 5 P intervals they appear the most effective for functional harmony fundamental studies as they produce the root of the key.


  • Minor third and sixth intervals turn out to produce the difference to an octave of each other.


However, all other difference sounds are  at an octave lower than the root.


3. Sing and play with piccolo – 3 pro practicing tips playing piccolo

Moreover, another very effective exercise is singing and playing simultaneously.In addition, this also enhances the quality of the sound, in addition to improving harmonic hearing.

For instance, one can play a medium octave sound on the piccolo and sing its resulting scale an octave or two lower. Whenever you get close to singing the keynote, the center of the sound of the piccolo will struggle, and this is precisely what we need to work on with adjustments to our support and embouchure.

As a result, our ears and muscles will be trained and our sound quality and pitch will improve almost immediately. Therefore, we should include major and minor scales and change key every time.

learn play piccolo 3







After that, now you have become an expert you should also have a look at how to play professionally in a symphony orchestra here.

If you have any questions on the exercises do not hesitate to ask. They were part of my Master in Piccolo at the Conservatory of Milan. In conclusion, our Professor, Nicola Mazzanti, wrote this wonderful practice book, that I strongly recommend for its throurough, actual, useful and beautiful exercises.

Furthermore, find your best buying option by clicking the image or title below


The Mazzanti Method, Piccolo

The Mazzanti Method, Piccolo

In conclusion, enjoy 140 pages that cover all you need and go beyond! A must have for any piccoloist.

Have fun with the training and share the advice on social media!


Similarly, we would love to help as many aspiring piccoloists as possible.




how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra


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  1. Hi Janie! I’ve always enjoyed hearing the piccolo played. Are they closely related to the flute and if you play one can you easily transition to the other with a few minor adjustments?

    • Hi Karen, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate your question and will try to give a short answer. The piccolo is an octave flute, so a very small flute where it is harder to produce a nice sound becauser you need more air speed and a very flexible embouchure.The Piccolo also needs more adjustment in terms of intonation. So it is advisable to start with the flute and add the piccolo later in your flute journey!
      Happy flute life,

  2. I know a friend who is a musician. He’s mainly into guitars and as well as flutes. I’m sure he knows lots of stuff about them, but this piece has ton of info and I think if he is made aware of it he will find it quite useful. I will refer the link to him to take a look.

  3. Hi! Thank you for the tips.

    One struggle I have with piccolo is consistency starting notes above the staff. You mention developing muscle memory, but I struggle so much with this.

    I often put it up to start a phrase or long-tone and nothing comes out for a bit, or just ugly sound that is kind of grinding between the octaves.

    I am able to produce a clear and resonant in-tune sound on any note, so I know my instrument is good and that I do have the ability.

    I just can’t do it on command yet.

    Will these exercises help with this? Do you have any other tips that might help overcome this hurdle?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Tyler, thank you for reaching out!
      Do not worry, this problematic is perfectly normal in the beginning. It often derives from the fact that one tries to immedeately achieve a clear and precise sound, tightening the lips and supporting poorly.
      You are completely right that you can’t form a muscle memory of something that is not yet working very well.
      I would advise you to do long open and warm notes in the first octave, trying to support as much as possible, without constriction of the larynx. Have you tried sing and play? It helps a lot in developing inner openness and support.
      One day just low notes, and nothing else. The next day you can start there again and play your favorite melodies from flute palying, low and calm ones. One good exercise is to transpose those melodies a semitone up, and again and again, until you reach the third octave.
      This is very helpful because a melody you know and love will provide an imagination of the next sound so that it will be easier to actually produce it. Very often with the piccolo we have no “sound samples” in our head to use and we will tighten up and support poorly to make an unknown sound come out.
      Another very good exercise is octaves. Low, medium, low. Note for note. Then you can speed it up and do multiple octave changes quickly.
      Try to imagine the sound you want to produce from the lower one you are playing.
      Nothing weird at all about feeling uncomfortable with the second octave. Fingering is only in harmonics so everything has to be done by airspeed, angle, volume and pressure.
      A German professor once told me that he imagines when playing the flute the vowels o/u for the low, a/e for the medium and i for the high octave. (Imagining the sounds of vowels forms your oral cavity and defines how the air hits the flute). He said when going to the piccolo you have to start a/e low octave (as it is the flute’s middle register), i medium octave, and ü for the high octave.
      Those are German vowels, you’d have to switch i and e I guess.
      Anyway, for me it works if I start lower notes with o and higher with i (e). This is also what generally helps when producing any harmonic sound.
      I’d urge you to play melodies you love and transpose through the range of the piccolo. Keep in mind, you need less air than for playing the flute but more support! Also check how much of the whole you close with your lips. Very often when we first try to play the piccolo we close too much with our lips. Might be that you need to position it higher on your lip than playing the flute, and cover less.
      That has been my problem for a long time.
      I hope I haven’t confused you too much, please ask again if I am not clear about something!
      In my opinion the best Method has been written by Nicola Mazzanti, Solo Piccoloist of the Maggio Fiorentino, Florence, Italy.
      Here is a link
      Best wishes

      • Thank you so much, Janie! These tips are very helpful, and your reply is much more thorough than I anticipated.

        I’ve been practicing singing and playing like you describe, and also the just intonation exercises; my playing has already improved since January. Slowly but steadily my second octave is becoming more consistent. I already feel more confident, and now I have a clear sense of direction in my practice.

        It is also reassuring to hear that it is normal to have difficulty with the second octave at first.

        Your insight is gold. Thank you for putting together this blog.

        • You are so very welcome! Thank you for letting me know that I could help you. I really appreciate it! I am just beginning to share my experience and you are actually the first who tells me that I have helped. So I value your comment a lot. I couldn’t have been any happier. If you need anything else, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am more than happy to help you out. Also if you like to share a recording and ask for advice, you can send it to my email hildebrandtgiu@gmail.com. Probably you will have questions and not be sure if you are doing the exercises right. You can ask me and my staff anything and we will get back at you and offer all our support.
          Your next challenges will probably be not only having a consistent sound production but also manipulate colors, volume, intensity and artiulation. Whenever you are ready, I will send you more exercises.
          What you are going through is perfectly normal and the work basis for a virtuous and fun loving piccolo player!


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