Piccolo vs. Clarinet: A Comparison

It may be surprising, but I’ve had people compliment me on my picture with my clarinet. That’s because they don’t quite know the differences between the piccolo vs. clarinet.

Piccolo vs. Clarinet: A Comparison | Piccolo Perfection

The two are both black, so they can be easy to confuse for the other. However, once you know the details, you should know how to distinguish the instruments.


One of the biggest differences when comparing the piccolo vs. clarinet is the range. The piccolo’s sounding range is from D5 (just over an octave above middle C) to C8.

However, the Bb clarinet can play from a sounding D3 to a sounding Bb7. Of course, there are other clarinets in the clarinet family, including the Eb clarinet, and they each have their own sounding ranges.

So not only is the piccolo’s range higher, the clarinet has a larger range of almost five octaves compared to the piccolo’s three octaves. Keep those things in mind when playing or composing for both instruments.


Another difference between the two woodwinds is the transposition from the sounding pitches to the written notes. Most piccolos transpose up the octave, so the written range is D4 to C7.

There are some Db piccolos that sound an octave and a minor second above written. So the sounding range for those starts at Eb5 instead of D5.

When it comes to the Bb clarinet, it transposes a major second and sounds lower than written. A C on the clarinet sounds like a Bb the space or line below. Other clarinets may be in A or Eb.


If you’ve played the piccolo or the clarinet, you probably know how you have to hold your instrument. Piccolo players hold the instrument off to the right.

Meanwhile, clarinet players hold their instruments vertically in front of them. This is true for all members of the clarinet family, from the Eb clarinet to the contrabass.


You can find piccolos made of plastic, wood, or even metal. These different materials help you get a slightly different sound than what you’d get on other instruments.

But if you compare the piccolo vs. clarinet, you’ll find some similarities and differences. Many clarinets come in plastic or wood, just like piccolos.

There might be the occasional metal clarinet out there, but they’re probably pretty rare. Most clarinetists play a plastic or wood model, but piccolo players have more materials as options.


When you play the piccolo and clarinet, you have to use different embouchures for each instrument. Like other members of the flute family, the piccolo requires you to purse your lips and blow over the hole.

The air splits on the opposite side of the embouchure hole, and that’s what creates a sound.

If you play the clarinet, you’ll use a mouthpiece and reed to help make a sound. You form your lips around the setup, and you’ll blow into the gear as you play.


Both the piccolo and the clarinet use the Boehm system for fingerings. However, the piccolo uses the same set of fingerings between the first and second octaves.

The clarinet has a register key, which raises the pitch by a 12th. So a G in the lower register would come out as a D in the upper register if you add the register key.

Also, piccolo players don’t have a register or octave key, so you have to adjust your airstream. That way, you can switch between the different registers of the instrument.


The role they serve in ensembles is another difference between the piccolo vs. clarinet. If you play the piccolo, you probably won’t play it on every ensemble piece.

When you do, you’ll play some sort of melody or perhaps a countermelody. Either way, you’ll almost always have the highest notes since the piccolo is the smallest instrument.

However, a clarinet frequently plays anything from the melody to an alto or tenor line. You need to be more versatile and be able to play different types of parts in an ensemble.

Can the Piccolo and Clarinet Play Together?

The piccolo and clarinet frequently share the same part in an ensemble. In many cases, they’ll play one or two octaves apart but will play the same sounding pitches.

So the piccolo might play the G above the staff, while the clarinet plays a G in the staff. If the piccolo plays with the Eb clarinet, they can also share the same sounding notes in the same octave.

Can You Play Both the Piccolo and Clarinet?

You can play both the piccolo and the clarinet, and many woodwind doublers play both. There are a lot of gigs that call for a combination of those instruments with other woodwinds.

A popular setup requires piccolo, flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone. If you can play all of those instruments, you might get a decent number of gigs.

Should You Learn Piccolo or Clarinet First?

I’d recommend learning the flute or clarinet as your first instrument. Both are relatively affordable, and learning the basics is pretty easy for many people.

If you start on clarinet, learn the flute next before you learn the piccolo. For those who start on the flute, you can learn the piccolo or clarinet, whichever you want to learn next.

Piccolo vs. Clarinet: In Review

Comparing the piccolo vs. clarinet is important for players and listeners alike. While both are part of the greater woodwind family, there are some significant differences.

Keep them in mind when choosing the instrument for you. If you want to play the piccolo, head to the resources page for more tips and tricks!

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