Piccolo vs. Oboe: How They Compare

I’ve met a few people who saw a picture of me with my piccolo, and they asked if it was an oboe. While I thought it was obvious, it got me thinking about doing a comparison of the piccolo vs. oboe.

Piccolo vs. Oboe: How They Compare

Both instruments are woodwinds, but there are plenty of differences. Read on to learn how the two instruments match up to help share with your friends or to choose the next instrument you want to learn.

Range

One of the most significant differences between the piccolo and oboe is the range. The piccolo has a sounding range from D5 to C8, and it sounds an octave higher than written.

Meanwhile, the oboe sounds the same as written, and its range is from B3 or Bb3 to A6. That means the piccolo sounds just over an octave higher for much of its range compared to the oboe.

Now, both instruments can easily play the melody or a countermelody in an ensemble. But the piccolo still plays over an octave higher than the oboe’s highest notes.

Transposition

I mentioned the two instruments don’t both read and play the same pitches. The oboe is in concert pitch, which means the note you see on a page is the note you hear when you play.

With the piccolo, everything sounds an octave above what’s written. So while the sounding range is D5 to C8, the written range is very similar to the flute and even the oboe, with a written range of D4 to C7.

Of course, there is the rare Db piccolo, which sounds an octave and a minor second higher than written. However, most piccolo players will primarily play the modern C piccolo.

Position

You’ll also notice that you hold the two instruments differently when you play them. If you play the piccolo, you hold it to the right, even if you’re a left-handed player.

On the other hand, oboe players hold the instrument vertically in front of them. This is very similar to the clarinet, and people confuse those two woodwinds often as well.

Materials

When comparing a professional piccolo vs. oboe, they may look similar if the camera angle is a bit off. Professional piccolos tend to use wood just like most professional and intermediate oboes.

Student oboes tend to use plastic as the main material, and some piccolos also use plastic or ABS resin. However, other piccolos use metal, such as nickel with silver plating.

The piccolo headjoint might use metal while the body is of plastic. Or the entire instrument could use metal, but you’ll probably never see a metal oboe.

Embouchure

The next major comparison between the piccolo and oboe is the embouchure they require. To play the piccolo, you purse your lips and blow over the embouchure hole on the headjoint.

If you want to play the oboe, you place a double reed into the top joint. Then, you curl your lips over and under your teeth to protect the reed from your teeth, and you close your mouth over the reed and blow.

Both instruments require a good amount of air pressure to get a good sound. And beginners can struggle with the embouchure on the piccolo as well as on the oboe.

Mechanism

Piccolos and oboes share many of the same fingerings, especially for notes like low D and E or B, A, and G in the staff. However, there are some differences due to the mechanism.

The F natural fingering on a piccolo is the same as an F# fingering on an oboe, for example. There are also more keys on the oboe that you won’t find on a piccolo, such as an octave key.

You also have to line up the two body joints of an oboe so that you can use all of the correct fingerings. Piccolo players don’t have to worry about that.

Role

In an ensemble, the piccolo and oboe serve similar but also different roles. When there’s one present, the oboe almost always gives the tuning note at the start of a rehearsal or performance.

The piccolo isn’t as critical to tuning, but the piccolo player does need to know how to tune their instrument. If you play the piccolo, you might occasionally play with the oboes.

Both instruments can tackle technical passages and more lyrical melodies. But while the oboe usually has a part in an orchestra or concert band, not all works require a piccolo.

Can Piccolo and Oboe Play Together?

The piccolo and oboe can play the same parts together in an ensemble. When I was in college, we did a wind ensemble piece, and I was on the piccolo part, and I had a duet of sorts with the first oboe player.

Even if they aren’t playing the same line, the piccolo and oboe can sound good together. The piccolo can play a higher part while the oboe plays a bit lower.

Can You Play Piccolo and Oboe?

You can play the piccolo and the oboe, and many woodwind doublers play both. Playing both well does require a bit of practice, especially to maintain your embouchure on both instruments.

But if you’re willing to practice regularly and work on the two woodwinds, you can play both. Then, you may be able to get doubling gigs.

Should You Learn Piccolo or Oboe First?

I think it depends on which instrument you prefer to learn first. If you already play the flute, the piccolo is a natural next step, and it may be a bit easier to get a jumpstart on.

However, if you want to play the oboe a bit more, you can learn that. But I’d recommend learning another woodwind, such as the flute or clarinet, before the oboe since it can be tricky.

Piccolo vs. Oboe: In Review

Comparing the piccolo vs. oboe doesn’t seem like it’s all that necessary. But if you’re ever talking to non-musicians, it helps to know the differences so that you can explain how the instruments compare.

Do you want to learn more about the piccolo? Head to the resources page for tips and tricks!

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