Piccolo vs. Tin Whistle: Comparing the Small Flutes

You like playing music, but you’re tired of playing a larger instrument. You may want to compare and contrast the piccolo vs. tin whistle.

Piccolo vs. Tin Whistle: Comparing the Small Flutes | Piccolo Perfection

Both are small and easy to transport, but they have some unique features as well. Consider how they differ to learn which instrument is better for you.

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Piccolo vs. Tin Whistle Similarities

When you’re looking to play a smaller flute, you should compare the piccolo vs. tin whistle. They share a few similarities, some of which are more important than others.

Sounding Range

Technically, you can find tin whistles at a variety of pitch levels. However, I know that when I think of a whistle, I thin of a small one, and it shares the same low register as that of the piccolo.

The most common tin whistle is in D, meaning the lowest note it can play is a D. And in this case, it’s a concert D5, which is the same as the lowest note on most piccolos.

You can read music for the flute or any other instrument in C. But it will sound an octave higher than written on the piccolo and the tin whistle.


Piccolo vs. Tin Whistle size

The piccolo is also about as thick around and long as most tin whistles in D. I like how these instruments are small enough to fit in backpacks, flute bags, and even smaller purses.

Now, the difference is that you can disassemble a piccolo into the headjoint and body. However, most tin whistles I’ve come across come in one piece.

Other whistles will be longer and larger, such as low whistles. Even a whistle in C will be a little longer.

Materials (Sometimes)

In some cases, piccolos and tin whistles use the same materials as a piccolo. Most of the whistles that I have or have seen are some type of metal, such as silver or brass.

There are a lot of student piccolos that are made of metal, usually nickel silver with silver plating. Often, the mouthpiece of a whistle is plastic, and some piccolos use plastic (though it’s usually an ABS plastic resin).

However, piccolos also come in other materials, most notably wood or a wood-plastic composite.

Piccolo vs. Tin Whistle Differences

While the piccolo and tin whistle share a few characteristics, there are more differences. Knowing what these are can help you decide which instrument to play.

Playing Position

The first difference you’ll probably notice is that you hold the flutes in different ways to play them. For example, the piccolo is a transverse flute, meaning you hold it off to the right.

However, you hold the penny whistle vertically in front of you when playing it. That setup also allows you to play the whistle left-handed if you choose.

If you play the piccolo, you have to play it right-handed, even if you’re left-handed. There may be a few left-handed piccolos out there, but I wouldn’t know where to look for them.


The playing position also affects another difference, which is the embouchure you use to play each instrument. Since the piccolo is played off to the right, you blow across the hole in the headjoint.

That means you don’t have much resistance, and you need to have a very specific air stream to get a sound. Compare that to the tin whistle, which is an end-blown flute.

You have to blow into a mouthpiece, similarly to the recorder or clarinet. That design can make it much easier to get a sound out as a beginner.

The Scale

The piccolo and tin whistle have slightly different scales. For one, the piccolo uses the Boehm system, which allows you to play a chromatic scale from the bottom to the top of the range and back.

Tin whistles don’t have any physical keys, so you have to open and close the holes with your fingers. While some keyless instruments, like the recorder, can play chromatically, the tin whistle can’t.

It can only play in two or maybe three keys. For example, the standard D whistle can play in D, G, and perhaps E minor or B minor.

The Key

Speaking of keys, the next piccolo vs. tin whistle difference is the key of each instrument. Most piccolos are in C, so they’re in concert pitch, but some older ones are in Db and sound a half step higher.

The most common “key” of a tin whistle is D, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. All whistles play in concert key, and the letter name refers to the lowest note the whistle can play.

One of my tin whistles is in C, so its range starts and ends a major second lower than my other two D whistles. That does mean you have to learn transpose the fingerings for each different whistle key.


Tin whistles are a lot cheaper than even the cheapest piccolos. You can find tons of options for less than $50, which is great if you want to learn an instrument but don’t have a lot of money.

On the other hand, even the cheapest, lowest-quality piccolo you’ll find costs around $100 or more. And piccolos can easily cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

Tin Whistle vs. Penny Whistle vs. Irish Whistle

As you shop for a tin whistle, you may hear other names, like penny whistle or Irish whistle. To my understanding, all of these are just different terms that refer to the same instrument.

So if you can’t find a tin whistle you like, try searching for a penny whistle. And if that doesn’t result in any better results, you can look for an Irish whistle.

Can You Play Piccolo and Tin Whistle?

You can play the piccolo and the tin whistle if both instruments interest you. I’d start with one instrument and master the basics before adding the other to my practice rotation.

Once you know how to play one, you can learn the other pretty easily, especially if you learn the piccolo first.

And learning to play both can be a good idea, such as if you want to play in a musical theatre pit orchestra. There are a few musicals that call for doubling on the piccolo and whistle, among other instruments.

Best Tin Whistles

If you’ve decided to play the tin whistle, you’ll want a good instrument first. That way, you can increase the chances of getting a good sound and enjoying the learning process.

Waltons Whistle

The Waltons Whistle is an excellent choice for beginners and even more advanced players. It’s in the key of D and is a brass whistle, so it looks like a traditional model.

Clarke Whistle

Another option is the Clarke Whistle, which is black and can give you a more wood-like tone. That’s a great option if you find the brass whistles to be too harsh.

Feadog Whistle

One of the first penny whistles I bought was a Feadog Whistle. It’s another brass model in the key of D, so it’s a great one to start with or to add to your collection.

Final Thoughts

If you want to play a small instrument, you should compare the piccolo vs. tin whistle. That way, you can determine which instrument is better for your needs.

I love playing the piccolo, but it does cost more and requires more maintenance than a whistle. But don’t be afraid to try both and rotate between them when you practice music.

And speaking of practice, be sure you use a metronome to stay in tempo!

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