How to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra

symphony orchestraHow to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra is a question every piccoloist should wish to answer.

Playing in tune is a fundamental quality of any musician. Even more so of a piccolo player because the sound of the octave-flute will be heard over the entire orchestra.

Producing sounds one octave higher than the flute, it also produces a louder sound. This can affect the entire outcome of a symphonic production. Bad perception of tuning by a piccoloist can be so disturbing for the audience that it becomes impossible to enjoy the music.

On the other hand, a harmonic and melodic sound at the right pitch certainly adds brilliance and joy to the whole performance. Therefore, good intonation it is a technical skill of upmost importance to achieve as a professional piccolo player.

how to play the piccolo in a symphony orchestraWhy is it so difficult, coming from the study of its bigger brother, the flute?

What is the actual difference between the two and how should we cope?

The reasons for the difference in intonation lie in its construction, physics and laws of acoustics.

This issue can be dealt with by conscious daily practice. Once the difficulties are properly addressed and its reasons consciously understood.

Thanks to great players and teachers, the piccolo flute is bound to become a potent instrument of musical expression for everyone. More than just an enriching experience for tired or jobless flute players.

Adding to the complexity of playing the piccolo in tune

Intonation in general varies depending on the situation. If we look at our electronic tuner, it will tell us that we ought to have exactly 100 cents in between semi-tones, thus 1200 cents in an octave. But when producing music (except for contemporary music), this doesn’t quite work.

Our Western music is based on harmonic areas made up of major and minor scales and arpeggios. The distance to the fundamental sound depends on the grade of the scale and is never exactly 100 cents for semi-tones. The piano however, has to be able to play in all keys. So it needs to be tempered and tuned with compromises.

There are differences in playing with a piano and you can look it up in my two previous articles

—-> here        and —-> here.


Becoming a professional piccolo player – protect your hearing

how to tune a piccolo for playing

Practicing the piccolo day in and day out can result in damage to your ears and your neighbors’ ears, too (just kidding!).

Pay attention to the overall health of your hearing and study passages from the third octave one register lower, if you don’t have good professional earplugs.

I’m discussing pro earplugs for orchestral musicians to prevent hearing damage as tinnitus and hearing loss due to sitting in front of percussion or trumpets, but also next to the piccolo in another article in flute accessories here. You might want to have a look.

This is even more relevant if you are the piccoloist or studying to become one. Do yourself a favor and use earplugs. It also helps concentration and getting new insights on your sound.

This is because you will have more resonance from within your body than from the outside.


Which ear plugs do I use?

I have finally found ear plugs that work for me. They are the only ones with three different filter sets: Gold (22 dB), Silver (19 dB) and White (16 dB) . So I can choose my own level of sound attenuation and how much I still need or wish to let through. But no worries, they have excellent sound quality.

These are the professional ones we use in orchestra or to practice high frequency instruments. My clarinet colleague recently bought them too as they make him play the piccolo clarinet a lot lately.

They come with a trendy little box to attach anywhere. —>  more info.



My advice on how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra


This short article on how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra shows that there are some physics-based difficulties. But also many playful and creative ways to overcome them.

Have a look at the exercises I advise to make it on a professional level ——> here.

We should bear in mind that these obstacles do exist, but can be fundamental to a broader comprehension and deeper enjoyment of piccolo playing.

how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra

Technical problems are always just the passage to another level.

And to being more aware of what is actually happening while playing adds value to our musical expression.


Moreover, we often build more valuable musical ideas  upon when we overcome technical difficulties.

Our general musical development will benefit enormously as we overcome these obstacles and that might even result in a job with an orchestra or as a soloist. If you know how to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra.


So go have fun with the little bastard friend of the flute.

Wwhile taking care of the health of your hearing!                                



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4 thoughts on “How to tune a piccolo for playing in a symphony orchestra”

  1. Janie, I am always so impressed by your website and the content you continuously share. You seem to have such a love for the music and that is truly beautiful. I played the flute and piano for years and I was very good at my age. However, I have forgotten how to read music and just can’t seem to find the time to learn again.

    Thank you for your continued love for the music and I hope you hold on to that forever!

    • Love the passion I can read inbetween your words of appreciation. Thank you Kay, I appreciate your visits very much. Am starting to feel really sorry that the musical world has lost a player like you! But at the same time I’m thrilled you still follow and value what we do.
      All the best,

  2. Hi Janie!! first of all, I am very impressed with your website. secondly, I didnt not know that the piccolo could cause hearing damage after playing it for an extended period of time. I mean it should be obvious since it ranges higher in the decibel scale than all other instruments (including the flute) but i didnt know it was that detrimental!

    I will be visiting your blog more often

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment! We very much appreciate you taking the time to let us know what you think of our website.
      Especially since you liked it! We will be very happy to see you visiting us again and if we can help you out with anything, please just ask.
      Best wishes,


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