The Piccolo Trumpet is a smaller version of the standard Bb trumpet and is pitched one octave above. It comes in a few different keys and is overall considered the soprano of the trumpet family. It can be difficult to find the perfect piccolo trumpet, but this Piccolo Trumpet Guide can help you narrow down everything you need to know about piccolo trumpets and how to find the best models for your needs!
Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in a family of musicians, but my uncle was a lover of music, and he just happened to play the trumpet. As a dedicated musician, he played daily. I still remember listening to him blast out jazz and funk music or enjoying playing live at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I admired his dedication and ability to play and genuinely get the most out of such an exciting instrument.
As I watched him play, I found myself fascinated by the construction and ability to play so many different styles with an instrument that has 4 valves at most. See, as a violinist, I have an entire fingerboard to make use of and a wide range of motion as well. The piccolo trumpet further fascinates me because of its smaller construction and variations.
Bottom Line Up Front
Choosing a piccolo trumpet can be a bit confusing, they aren’t cheap instruments, and a quality one that won’t break the bank is hard to come by. If you want to save some money, it’s always wise to search out a used instrument. Renting is another option; however, it can be difficult to find a place that rents these rather specialized trumpets.
All About the Piccolo Trumpet
The piccolo trumpet is an interesting little trumpet, smaller, with less tubing; it’s often confused with the pocket trumpet. Another smaller trumpet that plays in the same key as the standard Bb trumpet.
As I stated above, the piccolo trumpet is considered the soprano of the trumpet world. It’s pitched one octave above, meaning that low C on the trumpet is mid-C on a piccolo trumpet. You can typically find these trumpets in the key of A/Bb, occasionally F/G, and rarely you can find one pitched in high C.
Depending on your model, you will either have a piccolo trumpet with two leadpipes that allow you to switch from Bb to A or a model with one pipe that you extend to change the pitch to A.
The 4th valve lowers the pitch by a 4th and allows you to play as low as a C#. This will enable you to play pieces that are transposed from other keys, hence the Bb piccolo being considered a transposing instrument.
We know that most piccolo trumpets have 4 valves. Like the other members of this instrument family, you can find them with rotary or piston valves. Rotary valves are the original valve system, but piston valves produce clearer notes and are more suitable for quick passages and specific techniques.
However, rotary valves are considered excellent for classical music due to their mellower sound. You are more likely to find rotary trumpets in Europe and piston trumpets in the states. However, what you choose will be up to your personal preferences and those of your ensemble.
One of the main ways you can tell the difference between a piccolo trumpet and a pocket trumpet is through the tubing. Piccolo trumpets have tubing that is one-half the length of their standard Bb counterparts and pocket trumpets.
Believe it or not, trumpets are made out of various materials. While their primary composition is brass, of course, the type of brass plays a considerable part in the overall sounds of the instrument.
Yellow brass is the standard, and you will have quite a few to choose from if this is your choice. The overall tone will be brighter and have a strong ring. Gold brass will produce lower overtones leading to an overall mellower tone.
The plating and coating can also have an effect on the overall tone. Gold produces a more robust and sharp sound, while clear has a solid but mellow tone to it. Similar to clear coating, gold plating is a mellower option, while silver plating produces a more cheerful and bright tone.
Plastic is another material sometimes used in the body of a brass or woodwind instrument. While it’s a fair choice for younger children, I personally wouldn’t reach for a plastic piccolo trumpet over a brass one. I guess I consider plastic to be reserved for recorders and children’s toy instruments.
As I’ve mentioned, most piccolo trumpets will come with two leadpipes or shanks, and some will come with one. It’s essential to pay attention to the type of leadpipe used; some will use a standard trumpet mouthpiece, and others will fit a cornet mouthpiece. What you decided to use will depend on what you are most comfortable playing and the type of sound you want to get.
Trumpet leadpipes will use a standard trumpet mouthpiece. If you are a trumpet player who is needing to switch between instruments, this may be ideal as you won’t need a new mouthpiece. Cornet mouthpieces will be preferable for those who want a shallower and smaller mouthpiece.
Regardless of which type of mouthpiece you prefer, here are some hand tips to help you choose what is best for your playing style:
- A wide rim increases endurance
- A thin rim increases flexibility
- Rounded shapes increase comfort
- Sharp shapes increase accuracy
- A wide cup diameter increases the volume
- A smaller cup diameter increases endurance
- Deep cups make the sound darker and help with lower registers
- Shallower cups make the sound thinner but make the upper register easier to play
- A narrower backbore creates a brighter tone, makes the upper register easier to play, and helps increase the overall resistance of the tone.
- A more open backbore helps lower notes sound better and yields a darker tone.
In general, if you stick to making the upper register easier to play, you will likely lose some complexity in your overall tone. However, a more complex tone will also make the upper registers more challenging to play. I suggest evaluating how you play and what you need the most out of your mouthpiece before choosing one.
Piccolo Trumpet Uses
You may be wondering why exactly would I need a piccolo trumpet. To be honest, you may not; piccolo trumpets don’t have broad uses. But depending on the type of music you play, they may be handy. If you play in an orchestra setting, you may consider one at some point; they are often used when playing baroque music.
The piccolo trumpet is probably the most known for its solo in the Beatles’ song Penny Lane. The solo was recorded in the key of A and played by David Mason, a famous trumpet player.
Let me share some basic playing tips for the piccolo trumpet.
- Use smaller breaths but a steady stream of air; a piccolo trumpet has shorter tubing and therefore requires less air in general, but the speed that you move air into the instrument and keeping it steady is the key to maintaining an even sound.
- Don’t be scared of the upper register and approach it confidently as if you were playing any trumpet piece. While you may need to change certain aspects of your technique for the piccolo trumpet, it’s still a trumpet, and the fundamentals apply. If you have a good grasp of those, you can learn this baby in no time.
- Practice daily and practice a wide range of techniques. I personally pick a new technique to learn and focus on while also practicing any old techniques. I started with slurring, moved to shifting, and now I’m working vibrato. But I use slurring and shifting daily in practice habits. Choose the techniques you are ready for and the ones that interest you.
- Never be afraid to consult a professional or your teacher for some help.
Selection Criteria & Considerations
There are a few things to consider when looking for a piccolo trumpet your budget, your skill level, and your overall needs.
Those playing in an orchestra or band will want an instrument that is stronger and clearer. At the same time, soloists may prefer a softer instrument.
Budget is another significant concern piccolo trumpets are not cheap by any means. You can get a cheaper instrument for around $500 dollars but if you want one that you can really grow with, expect to pay over $2,000
New vs Used
Buying new ensures you typically get an instrument that is in perfect working order but buying used can save you a bit of money. It will really depend on your budget and your preferences. Online it can be a bit difficult to find used piccolo trumpets, but you may be able to save a decent bit of money. However, you won’t be able to properly inspect the instrument.
I suggest if you can go to a local music store and check out their stock, both new and used to find something you like and feel comfortable playing. You can also inquire about financing if you don’t have the cash upfront for your chosen instrument.
Renting is also an option, but that can be another challenge; however, you can try out the instrument before committing to buying it, and you won’t have to spend a lot of money upfront. Usually, rentals cap out at around $50 a month. I did have a hard time finding reliable piccolo trumpet rentals, so you may struggle to find a store that offers these. They are specialty instruments, so renting them isn’t as common.
My Piccolo Trumpet Recommendations
The Yamaha YTR-6810S is a silver-plated piccolo trumpet that is on the lower end of the price list. It’s perfect for those who want a professional piccolo but aren’t ready to spend 4k or more. I like the overall tone; it’s bright and cheery. It’s great for solo or orchestral settings, and overall, I consider it an excellent entry to mid-level piccolo trumpet.
- Yellow brass with silver finish
- Standard key of Bb/A
- .413” bore and 3-7” one-piece bell
- 4 Monel piston valves
- Bb & A interchangeable leadpipes
The Bach AP190 is a professional piccolo trumpet that retails for over $4,000. It’s an excellent choice for someone who needs a serious piccolo trumpet, and its versatility means it can solo or blend in.
This instrument is made from hand-hammered yellow brass with a clear lacquer or silver finish. This piccolo trumpet is also interesting because it has nickel silver on the slide and nickel silver balusters. I really enjoy the overall tone of the piccolo. I’d consider the tone of this piccolo to be mellow but still sweet!
- Yellow brass with clear lacquer finish
- .450 inch bore
- Brass and plastic valve guides
- Includes both cornet and trumpet leadpipes for Bb/A
- Silver finish available
- 4 Monel Piston Valves
If you liked the YTR-6810S but weren’t entirely sold on it or have a bigger budget than the YTR-9835 might be for you. This piccolo trumpet was developed by David Washburn from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. It’s perfect for those needing a piccolo trumpet for an orchestra setting. I found the overall tone to be very bright and cheery; I could see this piccolo trumpet in a fanfare setting, honestly. Its tone commands a sense of regalness.
- Standard key of Bb/A
- .409” Bore with a 3.9” Bell
- Leadpipes for cornet and trumpet in Bb and A
- TR11A5 trumpet or CR11A4 cornet mouthpieces included
- Silver finish
- 4 Monel Pistons
Maybe you are from Europe, or perhaps you just have a boatload of cash to drop on an instrument; who am I to judge? Whatever the case, the Scherzer Meister Johannes rotary valve piccolo trumpet (try saying that 5x times fast) is a perfect yet expensive option. These piccolo trumpets follow a German design and offer a warmer sound compared to their piston counterparts. I found the overall tone to be mellow and relaxing to listen to, with less of a bite compared to other models.
- Standard key of Bb/A
- 4 rotary valves, 8111 model features a 3rd valve slide trigger, 8112 model features a left-hand 4th valve.
- Includes 1 A leadpipe and 3 Bb leadpipes with medium, medium-large, and large tapers.
- .409” bore with a 4” bell
Answer: Piccolo trumpets are smaller and use half of the amount of tubing; they are also pitched an octave above a traditional trumpet. You need different breath control and different tongue and embouchure techniques due to the smaller tubing.
Answer: Typically they are used in orchestra settings, usually for baroque music and occasionally for jazz. There have been instances of these instruments being used in pop music as well.
Answer: If you have a good grasp of the basic trumpet techniques, you will pick this instrument up relatively quickly. However, it takes more effort to play, and therefore it may take time before you are able to play effortlessly and for a significant period of time.
Piccolo trumpets are quite interesting, smaller, and made with less tubing. They are much easier to produce high notes on. However, they still require a significant amount of breath control and a well-developed embouchure. While you may find it easier to play high notes, you won’t walk away saying this instrument is easy to play by any means.
They are also quite expensive, and therefore I’d consider this instrument for a well-developed trumpet player over a new player. My favorite models are the Yamaha YTR-6810S and the Bach AP190. For those who want a rotary valve piccolo trumpet or are based in Europe, the Scherzer Meister Johannes piccolo trumpet may suit your fancy.
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