Piccolo vs. Eb Clarinet: How They Compare

Do you play the flute and clarinet but want to learn a smaller instrument? You should compare and contrast the piccolo vs. Eb clarinet to decide which to learn next.

Piccolo vs. Eb Clarinet: How They Compare | Piccolo Perfection

Both instruments offer some benefits, and neither is better for everyone. Consider you situation and read about their similarities and differences to choose the woodwind for you.

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What Is the Piccolo?

The piccolo is the smallest member of the concert flute family. It’s also the smallest and highest-pitched member of the modern orchestra.

Piccolos are usually in the key of C, so they sound an octave higher than written. However, some piccolos have been in the key of Db, so they sound an octave and a minor second higher than written.

You can play or hear a piccolo in orchestral works as well as in a wind ensemble or concert band. Some flute choir pieces also feature the piccolo as a soloist or to help cover the high range.

What Is the Eb Clarinet?

The Eb clarinet is one of the smallest members of the clarinet family, but there’s an Ab clarinet that’s smaller. For most players, the Eb clarinet is the smallest clarinet they’ll play.

It sounds a minor third higher than written, but it still has a lower lowest note than the piccolo and even the concert flute. The Eb clarinet is still used for descant parts in ensembles.

You can play or hear it in orchestras and wind ensembles as well as some clarinet ensembles. It’s not as common of a solo instrument as the piccolo.

Piccolo vs. Eb Clarinet: Similarities

The piccolo and Eb clarinet share a few qualities that you might want to know. That way, you might have an easier time learning both instruments, such as if you’re a woodwind doubler.

But you don’t have to play both small woodwinds to want to learn about their similarities. Here’s what piccolo and clarinet players should know.

Woodwinds

As I mentioned, both the piccolo and Eb clarinet are members of the larger woodwind family. That means they both use keys up and down the bore of the instrument to change the pitch.

Piccolos and most clarinets use the Boehm fingering system. Because of that, the fingerings for the written notes are very similar between the piccolo and the upper register of the Eb clarinet.

Of course, there are some differences, but if you know how to play one instrument, the other might be easier to learn. But I’d recommend learning the flute and Bb clarinet before trying the smaller woodwinds.

Small Instruments

Speaking of small woodwinds, the piccolo and Bb clarinet are the two most common small woodwinds out there. Yes, the flute and Bb clarinet are smaller than some instruments.

But when you look at all members of the flute and clarinet families, the piccolo and Eb clarinet are the highest common members. I love getting to play high parts on the piccolo.

If you also play the Eb clarinet, you may enjoy similar types of solos and passages. However, most people who play either woodwind will also have to play its larger counterpart.

Exposed Parts

Because of the sounding ranges of the piccolo and Eb clarinet, most of the parts you’ll get are somewhat exposed. That can be nice since the audience will be able to hear you.

However, it also means you’ll need to practice well to master your parts. Because mistakes can be just as exposed as parts that you play correctly.

Even if what you’re playing isn’t technically a solo, you’ll still be exposed in an ensemble. So these small woodwinds definitely aren’t for everyone.

Piccolo vs. Eb Clarinet: Differences

Another thing to look at when comparing the piccolo vs. Eb clarinet is how they differ. Sure, the two instruments share a few features, but their differences matter just as much.

Of course, I prefer the piccolo. But if you like the clarinet more than the flute, you may love the Eb clarinet, so read more about the differences to choose which you prefer.

Reed or No Reed

Unlike most woodwinds, all flutes don’t have to use reeds. That means the piccolo doesn’t use a reed, so you just need to assemble the headjoint and body to start playing.

On the other hand, an Eb clarinet does require a reed. What’s more, you can’t just use the same reed and mouthpiece on all of your clarinets.

Even if you already play the Bb clarinet, you’ll need to buy a separate stash of reeds for your Eb clarinet. That way, you can play all of your instruments well.

Concert Pitch or Transposed

The piccolo sounds an octave higher than written, but it’s still arguably in concert pitch. If you see a C on paper, you play a C, and you’ll hear a C on the piccolo.

When you play an Eb clarinet, that won’t be the case. As the name suggests, the small clarinet is in the key of Eb. That means when you see a C and play it, it will sound a concert A.

Transpositions don’t always matter, especially when you play alone. However, they do matter if you want to play with others since you don’t want to sound out of tune.

Popularity

I’ll admit some of this may have to do with my experience and bias. However, the piccolo seems to be more popular than the Eb clarinet as a solo and ensemble instrument.

I’ve only played a few band pieces with Eb clarinet parts, whereas most band works use the piccolo. I don’t think any of the orchestra pieces I’ve played have used the Eb clarinet.

But I’ve played piccolo on many orchestra concerts, some of which I didn’t even play flute at all. So if you want more chances to play a smaller auxiliary woodwind, the piccolo is probably a better choice.

Can You Play Both the Piccolo and Eb Clarinet?

You can play both the piccolo and Eb clarinet, but I’d recommend learning one at a time. Then, you can focus on learning that instrument before adding another one.

In fact, learning to play both might help you get more gigs as a woodwind player. Not many people are good at both instruments, so you could set yourself apart from the competition.

Should a Woodwind Doubler Play Piccolo or Eb Clarinet First?

If you’re a woodwind doubler, I’d suggest you consider your main instrument. For example, if your main instrument is the flute, you may want to learn the piccolo first. Clarinetists should probably learn the Eb clarinet before the piccolo.

Woodwind doublers who focus on saxophone might want to learn the piccolo first. But it’s not uncommon for oboe parts that double on clarinet to require the Eb clarinet as well.

Piccolo vs. Eb Clarinet: In Review

Before you choose which instrument to play, you should compare the piccolo vs. Eb clarinet. Both are small and can help you improve your flute or clarinet playing.

However, you should choose one to start with, so consider the differences to help make that choice. If you want to learn more about the piccolo, head to the resources page.

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