Most piccolo players have an instrument in C, but did you know there’s a Db piccolo? That’s right, you can find a piccolo that plays a half step higher than others.
Not everyone needs this instrument, but it can still be good to learn about. Then, you can figure out if you want to shop for a good piccolo in Db.
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Db Piccolo Overview
A Db piccolo is a piccolo that’s in the key of D flat. That means it sounds an octave and a minor second higher than written, and it sounds a minor second higher than the standard C piccolo.
These instruments have very similar designs as the piccolos most of us play today. C and Db piccolos also have the same written range, so you can play a lot of the same music on each when you’re playing alone.
For both piccolos, the written range is roughly from D4 to C7, though you may be able to play higher. Of course, the sounding range of a C piccolo is an octave higher (D5 to C8).
If you play a Db piccolo, the sounding range is a minor second higher than that, at Eb5 to C#8.
Why the Db Piccolo Matters
The Db piccolo matters because it was very popular around the turn of the 20th century. Some pieces from that time used the smaller piccolo.
I played a C piccolo part in college, but the music had a Db piccolo part on the back. So luckily, a lot of works that were originally for the piccolo in D flat have a C transposed part.
How to Identify a Db Piccolo
If you want to play the smaller piccolo, you should learn how to identify it. You can do this in two main ways: visually and auditorily.
For visual reference, place what you think is a Db piccolo next to a piccolo that you know is in C. If the first piccolo is a bit smaller, odds are it’s in Db.
You can also look at the tone holes to see how far apart they are. However, this comparison is best if you have two piccolos that are from the same brand since some brands can differ.
Another option is to use a tuner and play an A on each piccolo. Push the headjoint almost all the way in on each piccolo. Because if you pull the headjoint way out on a Db piccolo, it could sound like an instrument in C.
Then, grab your tuner and play a written A in the staff or just above the staff. If the piccolo is in C, it will produce a concert A, but a Db piccolo will produce a concert Bb.
Who Should Get a Db Piccolo
Not every piccolo player needs an instrument in Db. I’ve played the piccolo for over eight years and have yet to try one in Db, and I’ve done just fine.
But depending on your current piccolo playing or your future goals, you might want a D flat piccolo. Here are a few groups of players who should look into getting a second piccolo.
Historical Performance Specialists
If you specialize in playing on historic flutes and piccolos, you can use a Db picc. That way, you’ll be able to play the original parts without having to transpose in your head or on paper.
Of course, a lot of historical performance specialists focus on Baroque music or the Classical era. However, you can find bands that focus on music from around the turn of the 20th century.
Then, you’ll be able to use your Db piccolo to play the music more authentically.
Orchestral and Band Players
Another type of player that might want the transposed piccolo is someone who plays in an orchestra and a band. The famous Stars and Stripes Forever march is in two keys.
Orchestras tend to play the piece in D/G major, whereas bands transpose it to Eb/Ab major. So if you only have a C piccolo, you’d need to learn two versions of the big solo.
But if you get a piccolo in Db, you can learn the G major solo. Then, you can use your C piccolo in an orchestra and a Db picc in band, and it will sound in tune.
Anyone Who Wants One
Maybe you don’t have a specific use for a piccolo in Db (yet). If you want one to experiment with or to eventually play in an ensemble, you can start shopping for one.
As long as you have the money, I don’t see any harm in adding a new piccolo to your collection. Just don’t feel like you have to buy one if you don’t have the funds.
A lot of players go through their life and career without a piccolo in Db. You can get away with a C piccolo for almost any piece you’d ever want to play.
Why Not Get a Db Piccolo
Before you start piccolo shopping, consider why you might not want to get one in Db. If you can get past the following drawbacks, you can enjoy playing the transposed instrument.
However, I suggest thinking hard about the following issues. Then, you can make sure buying a piccolo in Db is for you.
You might not want to get a Db piccolo because it’s another instrument that you pay to pay for and maintain. If you get a wood piccolo, you’ll have to take even better care of it to avoid cracks.
When you’re a piccolo player, you probably also have a flute that you care for, and you may even have an alto flute. All of those instruments take time to care for and keep in good condition.
Sure, you might not need to practice your C and Db piccolos separately. But it’s still just a lot to deal with, especially if you have other obligations.
Not Common Today
I’d also hesitate to buy a Db piccolo because it’s not that common today. As I mentioned, I’ve only seen a handful of pieces that call for a piccolo in Db.
Even then, most pieces have parts that have been transposed to work on the C piccolo. So there’s not much of a reason for most piccolo players to invest in a second instrument.
Unless you really want to play on an authentic piccolo, stick with your C instrument. It will be easier, and you can always change your mind and look for a D flat piccolo later.
Hard to Find
Since Db piccolos aren’t as common today, they can be difficult to find if you do want to buy one. I don’t know of any piccolo makers who produce new Db piccolos.
You’re probably going to have to shop from the used market, which is perfectly fine. But even then, Db piccolos don’t come up for sale that often.
And unless you’re shopping for one for a specific purpose, spending that time looking for one could be a waste. Keep all of that in mind before you invest time or money into buying a piccolo in Db.
Best Db Piccolo Models
If you’re looking to play a Db picc, you should look at a couple of models. Sadly, you might not get to try them before you purchase, so consider if the seller is open to a refund period.
Since these piccolos are almost always used, you can’t just go to a music store and do a trial. That means it can be risky, and you might need to spend more money restoring the instrument.
Haynes is probably the best brand when it comes to Db piccolos. The company made a wood one, and it features an open G, which can be difficult to get used to.
If you prefer silver piccolos or need to play outside, Haynes also made a silver model in Db. You can probably expect to pay for restoration, but it can be a good investment for a serious player.
How to Transpose Db Piccolo Parts for the C Piccolo
If you don’t have access to a piccolo in the key of D flat, you’ll want to learn to transpose. Db parts are written a half step lower than how they’re supposed to sound.
That means you’ll need to get used to transposing up a half step. This is easiest for music that’s in flat keys because you can turn all of the flats into naturals and naturals into sharps.
If you have a part that’s in a sharp key, you’ll need to play each note up a note name, adding enough flats as necessary. For example, transposing a Db part in the key of G would give you Ab.
How to Transpose C Piccolo Parts for the Db Piccolo
On the off chance you have a Db piccolo, you may want to practice C piccolo parts on the instrument. In that case, you’ll need to transpose the other way.
So if you have music in sharp keys, you’ll turn the sharps into naturals and the naturals into flats. For music in flat keys, you’ll have to read one note down and add any sharps as necessary.
Where Can You Buy a Db Piccolo?
You can buy a Db piccolo on the used market, but the specific places can vary. I’ve seen some models available from major flute shops, but they don’t always have them in stock.
Other places to check include eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Keep an eye on various sources if you can’t find one right away because someone could sell theirs at any time.
Are Db Piccolos Expensive?
Db piccolos can be expensive, but it depends on the model and condition. Even if the sale price looks affordable, you might need to pay a lot more to get the piccolo into playing condition.
What Happened to the Db Piccolo?
The Db piccolo was super popular around the turn of the 20th century. However, it soon fell out of favor after the instrument switched from using a simple system to the Boehm fingering system.
That made it possible to play music in all keys, so you didn’t have to switch between C and Db instruments to make music easier. The C piccolo then became the standard, so you can easily play flute music on the smaller woodwind.
Now, there are some used Db piccolos circulating in the used market. But you aren’t going to find any new Db piccs for sale.
Will You Buy a Db Piccolo?
If you currently play in a historical band or want to, you might need a Db piccolo. Otherwise, you can usually get away with your current piccolo in C.
However, you might want to grow your collection, so buying a Db instrument is worth it. If you want to check whether you have a piccolo in C or Db, head our piano keyboard and drone to check the pitch!