How to play piccolo trumpet: A guide to getting started

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So, you want to play the Penny Lane trumpet solo?

Or maybe all those high baroque trumpet pieces?
(without learning natural trumpet! ;) )?

Or maybe high parts in shows, or brass quintets…

…the high-D trumpet part in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps…

…or Samuel Goldenberg and Schmule in Pictures at an Exhibition…

…or maybe even Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2 on a modern instrument?

Then you want to learn how to play the piccolo trumpet!

Here’s a quick guide to getting started:

Selecting a piccolo trumpet

There are a LOT of different models of piccolo trumpet to chose from. Three of the leading brands, and for good reason, are Schilke, Scherzer, and Yamaha. Each produce several models of piccolo trumpet, so be sure to know what you’ll be needing the piccolo trumpet for. As a very general rule:

  • Loud playing, such as the Rite of Spring: Schilke or Yamaha
  • Softer, lyrical playing such as Bach Magnificat: Scherzer

Of course, you can use a Scherzer for playing in shows, or a Yamaha for playing baroque music – there are no hard and fast rules. (I have been known to use a D trumpet for the high-D trumpet part in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) and a standard Bb trumpet for Samuel Goldenburg and Schmule in Pictures at an Exhibition. Again, no hard and fast rules here!

Remember that piccolo trumpets are often pitched in Bb/A. That is, you can change the fundamental pitch of the instrument by changing the leadpipe. Soprano G/F/E trumpets also exist, as do piccolo C trumpets.

What sort of piccolo trumpet do you recommend for different styles of music? Use the comment form below to have your say!

Selecting a piccolo trumpet mouthpiece

There are many theories about how to choose a piccolo trumpet mouthpiece. Here are some of them:

  • It can be beneficial to choose a mouthpiece with the SAME diameter as your main Bb or C trumpet mouthpiece, but with a shallower cup. ie. If you play a 3C on your Bb and C trumpet, a 3E might be suitable for you as a piccolo trumpet mouthpiece
  • Smaller rim diameter and shallower cup can be useful. eg. I play a 1 ½C for Bb and C trumpet, but a Schilke 13B for piccolo trumpet.
  • Scherzer piccolo trumpets (German, rotary valve design) work better with Schilke, or German-style backbores
  • Two very common piccolo trumpet mouthpieces are: Bach 7E, Schilke 14A4a

How to get started playing the piccolo trumpet

  • Start LOW in the piccolo trumpet register – perhaps a low F (1st and 4th valves, on most models)
  • Work your way SLOWLY up F major scale, 1 octave, and back down again. REST. Continue with F#. REST. G. REST. etc
  • Remember that a piccolo trumpet feels like a piccolo trumpet to play – it is NOT a standard Bb trumpet, and certainly not a flugelhorn!
  • Play some simple tunes in the middle to lower register, up to a 3rd space C, to get the feel for any possible intonation issues
  • Play full bodied, full length notes. Otherwise, the piccolo may sound ‘pecky’
  • As a first piece, try playing the Sonata in D by Henry Purcell on the A piccolo trumpet
  • Only play a few minutes at a time, and rest often

Some videos to inspire you!

How did you learn to play a piccolo trumpet?

Did you practise any special exercises?

Comment below!

13 Responses to “How to play piccolo trumpet: A guide to getting started”

  1. Jon says:

    Would a piccilo trumpet ever be used in a band or jazz band on a regular baises?

  2. Niklas says:

    Is it harder to play than a Bb trumpet? Is it harder to play the piccolo’s scale (which is 8av higher compared to a standard Bb trumpet)? Do you feel clearly that it is an octave higher?

    I want to switch from standard Bb trumpet to A/Bb piccolo trumpet, so please answer!

    • Freddie says:

      You don’t want to switch to the piccolo, just add it to your horns. Its not that its more difficult, its just a different horn, with different techniques and quirks like any other high pitched horn. Just take your time with it

  3. Jack says:

    I agree with Freddie in that you don’t want to play picc exclusively but instead add it to the horns you play.

    However, I disagree about difficulty. Most players don’t transition to the picc well and most find it very different. The larger bore piccs were developed to “help” big Bb players make the transition. In my opinion, these larger bore piccs (Schilke, Yamaha Custom) don’t sound or feel like true piccs. I prefer a smaller, traditional sound and feel. One huge issue is learning to deal with the resistance of the smaller horn. A key element in playing is the mouthpiece. If your’re playing music written for D trumpet by Bach, you’re going to need a shallower mouthpiece with possible throat and/or backbore modifications to give the range and endurance required. Another thing to remember is the picc doesn’t give you any extra range. That is if you don’t own a G above high C on the big Bb, you won’t have the G above the staff on Bb picc.
    Finally, try some horns from mail order stores or regular retail. Stick to top end instruments but be ready to pay about $3 grand. Some instruments take a cornet shank mouthpiece like the Schilke so get what you need before you do a trial. Find a good teacher who plays picc. well too. Develop a strong high register on your big horn first or you’ll go nowhere on a picc.

  4. Martin says:

    Should the fourth valve be played with the “pinky” of the right hand or a left hand finger?

    • Ate says:

      Forefinger other (left) hand with bell between middlefinger and ringfinger gives (me) the most flexibility and possibilities but it is also a little depend of ergonomics of the trumpet and how agile your fingers are, both still be performed, but if you have two hands why you should not use them

    • Sara says:

      It’s the forefinger of the left hand. The pinky of the right hand does not have the dexterity to use the fourth valve efficiently.

  5. Hugh says:

    Get yourself a soprano cornet (Eb) this will give you practice on a different instrument and make the jump from a standard Bb trumpet to a piccolo trumpet much easier. Practice practice and more practice is the only thing for high pitched brass

  6. Gclarke says:

    What is the fingering for the piccolo trumpet

    • CLee says:

      It should be the same except when you hit the lower register then you will either use the fourth valve or if it is a 3 piston piccolo trumpet then you would use the valve trigger to allow more tubing and space to reach the lower register. BUT all in all the fingering is the same.

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