HAPPY NEW YEAR! I thought I would start off with the first post of 2021 being an instrument comparison since this [in a non-pandemic world] is the time region band meets again, at least in NJ. I have found that non-flutists rarely think of the flute and piccolo as different instruments. Of course, the other woodwind instruments have doubles (ie bassoon v. contra, all the saxophones, Bb clarinet v. bass v. alto…why are there so many clarinets). However, I have found in my own experiences that the doubling from flute to piccolo is expected to be this easily transferable skill when for many it is not.

Have some sympathy for your brand new piccolo players, and let’s get into what you need to know to help them transition easier from flute to piccolo:


What’s the same? What’s different?

At a glance, the piccolo may just be a “small flute” in fact some scores DO list the piccolo as such; one example being Grainger’s Shepard’s Hey (not exactly sure on the edition, but when I was handed the part I had a good laugh). This “small flute” label is misleading because the way you get a sound on the piccolo is VERY different than flute, and rather than giving piccolo to your first or second chair you should assess who may be best suited to play piccolo.

YES the fingerings are generally the same. However it is important to note that some flute fingerings DO NOT work (intonation wise, coordination wise) on the piccolo.


Good flute players are NOT always good piccolo players, this applies to both in high school and college. Just because a student is responsible and organized does not mean this is always a good fit for them!


The embouchure is a vital difference between the flute and piccolo. Of course, this needs to be generalized because embouchures vary greatly (even on flute alone) because of the differences of people’s mouth cavities, lips, and physical capabilities/limitations. For this generalization I will be referring to Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”:

Nancy Toff “The Flute Book” p. 94-95

YES the body needs to be relaxed, with minimal obstructions that will impact the air stream.

YES both the flute and piccolo should rest on the chin (that space right underneath the bottom lip) rather than ON the bottom lip itself. (Offset embouchures are okay on both instruments, if your primary instrument isn’t flute DON’T meddle too much with this let their flute instructor handle it).

Here’s where the similarities end. The lip formation/apperture as Toff discusses varies just on flute ALONE, add piccolo into the mix and things get confusing (especially for non flutists):

The flute has 3 general registers, each where the lip formation adjusts slightly to accommodate. One GREAT exercise that is rarely used for flute players in public schools is harmonics. While your brass players are doing their fundamentals let the flute players join in. Why? Because discovering the ratio of the top/bottom lips, apperture size, hole coverage is all highlighted when the students can only change the pitch that way (not changing their fingers at all).

The low register (B3/C4-B4): This is the most relaxed, the jaw is slightly lower (more space in the mouth cavity), the bottom lip needs to be wide (touching the lip plate) rather than turned up, to maximize tone quality.

The middle register (C5-B5): A more neutral set up, typically the upper lip is just slightly in front of the lower lip (think of the air hitting the lower lip and going down into the flute), the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is slightly less than before this can be achieved by a neutral jaw or widening the tongue.

The high register (C6-beyond): Rarely would you tell a student to pinch, or squeeze the sound; however things are getting smaller for this top register. The space between the top and bottom lips is the smallest – the lips are still able to let the air pass through, the cheeks are still relaxed, and the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is less which can be done by lifting/widening the tongue which also requires speeding up the air (like blowing out a candle rather than filling up a balloon).

The piccolo is a transposing instrument, it reads the same as flute, but sounds an octave higher. One MAJOR MISCONCEPTION that beginning piccolo players make is taking the embouchure from the middle and high registers on flute and applying it to piccolo. NO NO NO!

Beware, just because the sounding pitch is in that range as flute does not mean the embouchure stays the same. This is precisely why flute to piccolo is this ‘hidden challenge’ in comparison to the other woodwinds because with something actually inside the mouth – reed, mouth piece – the main challenge is size. However switching from flute to piccolo requires a completely NEW embouchure!

Generally, the most common mistakes new piccolo players make is squeezing or forming a too tight embouchure because they are trying to match the mid/higher embouchure from the flute. It is actually the OPPOSITE, maintaining a loose embouchure where the lips can still vibrate, and the cheeks are relaxed is ideal.

Obviously the piccolo is smaller and requires different air than the wider, longer bore of the flute. Also the materials are completely different (especially at the more advanced level).

While flutes are made of metals, piccolos are made of plastic/resin, wood, a combination of these. Piccolo players have to adjust to all of these factors. To summarize:

  • Piccolo size is much shorter and thinner than the flute.
  • Piccolo material varies much more than flute.
  • Piccolo range – transposes up an octave.
  • Piccolo embouchure – despite it’s range the lips and apperture are NOT the same as flute. Stay relaxed, loose on piccolo.
  • Intonation on certain fingerings from flute do NOT work on piccolo.

I have compiled some resources that can be useful for these students transitioning on flute to piccolo:


What are your tips on switching from flute to piccolo? What do you want band directors know before starting new piccolo students? Share you thoughts below!

This fall I completed the first book in the Suzuki flute method, as a classically trained flutist I had some tools in my belt prior to taking this course. After taking the course, I recognized some of the limitations in engaging young students, such as the younger siblings (anywhere from 3+) of students in beginning band (generally ages 9-10) . In this post I will be sharing a combination of methods that can be used to support new flute students of any age.


Spitting Rice

Starting with a Suzuki method technique…

This is a relatively inexpensive tool since one bag of rice can go a long way. The largest benefit of this method is that the student is directing the instruction: you don’t need to lecture them or walk them through the hows and whys. Simply modeling and having them copy you is enough to get them started.

Furthermore, this tool can be build on for the students as the advance: making a game out of spitting rice at a target/picture will inadvertently teach the students how to direct their air without a long explanation. Plus, the students get to navigate what works for them with minimal exposition from the teacher,

Mimicking Sounds (“mm” “pah” “poo”)

Sounds that engage the lips particularly using fricatives which are a hard constant sound (for example, a common choir warmup is singing with a “ffffff” or “zzzz” or “vvvvvv” sound).

You can find a variety of online content that reference about their preferred sounds; some work better depending on the individual – generally the “mmm” like M&M, “pah” with an emphasis on the pop ‘h’ at the end of the sound, and “poo” with an emphasis on the ‘ew’ ending sound are successful for forming the flute embouchure shape.

Breathing; Organizing Air

For early wind students learning how to organize and control their air is most likely a completely new concept. Isolating this skill before introducing the instrument can help avoid headaches and bad habits later on when the students have to worry about assembling and holding their instrument, forming the embouchure, and having enough air to play.

The system used for teaching breathing really depend on the student’s level – regardless of age. Some students are ready for an exposition on understanding inhaling and exhaling, while other students would just rather observe and copy, another group work better in a natural, less pressured environment, etc.

The most important take away is that you isolate the skill of breathing before adding the flute; and then you can play games to build on that foundation.

For young students using bubble wands or balloons, to see how long they can exhale, what they notice about needed to in take more air, and how that results in forming a bigger a bubble or balloon.

Visual Tools

Not all students have the same learning style, some students benefit from seeing what they need to do and building on that some of these students prefer to teach themselves.

Two tools you can provide these students to enable their learning style are coffee straws and a mirror. The coffee straw can be placed between the top/bottom lip, no more than 1 centimeter in the mouth, at a diagonal where the higher point is pointed towards the roof of the mouth. This tool allows the students to see how large the aperture (or the shape between the top and bottom lip) should be. The mirror allows for self-assessment, with or without a coffee straw, the student can see their own lips and observe what they are doing with guided questions to help them notice what to look for.

Eliminating Variables/Distractions

Rarely would you teach a young student to do several things at once. As a general rule, you would want to establish small foundational steps that you continue to build on as they develop. While it is important to hold students to a high standard, allowing them the space to succeed with realistic goals and expectations is paramount.

When introducing the producing first sounds on head joint (after successfully forming the embouchure and exploring air organization), bringing the head joint to the student and asking them to just focus on breathing and forming the sound/articulation will provide the least distractions and eliminate any potential bad habits. By bringing the head joint to the student, they don’t need to adjust their body, move their head, etc – remind the student to let the flute come to them. Early on this could be a game in group lessons where the students “deliver” the flute to another student.


What do you do for getting the first sound on the flute? Have you seen any Suzuki flute teaching incorporated into the classroom before?

Young flutists that are surrounded non-flutists or are self-taught can develop a wide range of bad habits that take years to unlearn. There are common myths that are just taken as fact by band directors when recruiting or coaching young flute players. In this article, I’ll be clarifying what/if there is any true to these myths as well as sharing resources for more information!


Myth 1: Lip Shape/Size Matters

… NO! The way I have most commonly heard this myth is referred to as the “textbook embouchure” where the lips are fairly even is size (the bottom might be slightly wider) and the embouchure when playing is centered or inline with the nose.

James Galway, example of the centered/textbook embouchure

This isn’t the best or the only (obviously) way to produce a good tone on the flute. In fact, people with that “textbook embouchure” may struggle to get a sound out.

In comparison, the lip shape deemed challenging for flute playing is one that is tear drop shaped because of the jut in the top lip, this is also untrue. Accommodations such as forming an “offset embouchure” are common for not just this lip shape, but many others. For more detailed information check out Dr. Cate Hummel’s article.

Anyone who wants to play flute should not be deterred by the shape or ratio of their lips. More factors than just the exterior lips play a role in how easily someone produces a sound on the flute.

Emmanuel Pahud, example of an offset embouchure

Myth 2: Alignment Doesn’t Matter In The Beginning… It Will All Sound The Same

First, Jennifer Cluff has written many articles/FAQ on flute alignment – check these out to answer specific questions.

Alignment is VITAL to setting young flute players up for success,

Balancing the flute properly with the chin, left hand pointer finger, right hand thumb and pinky – helps with the stability of the instrument which creates consistency for students which will improve tone quality and register.

Also, alignment of the flute itself is vital – lining up the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys of the body AND the rod of the foot joint with the center of the keys of the body). When the flute is out of alignment, the experienced flutist has to work much harder by contorting to get a focused sound on the flute.


Myth 3: Roll In/Out To Improve Tuning and Tone

NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Below is a representation of how I feel every time I’ve heard that advice during a coaching session before I step in to talk about how meddlesome this is.

For tuning, you should NOT default to adjusting by rolling the flute – this fosters posture and alignment issues. You SHOULD pull/push out the head joint to tune. You can use this saying to remember the direction… “if you have something SHARP in your eye you should PULL it OUT”.

To be clear, this CAN be done, but it SHOULD NOT be the primary or first defense for tuning. Therefore, teaching your band students to do this is unnecessary and causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Jennifer Cluff did an article on this where she states, “Rolling the flute inward only covers the embouchure hole too much with the lower lip and strangles the tone quality, and is not a “cure all” in any way.”


Myth 4: The Flute Embouchure Doesn’t Change For Each Register

FALSE – There are very specific adjustments made to help produce a focused and vibrant tone in each register (typically divided into the low, middle, and high registers). There is an adjustment between the top and bottom lips as well as slight changes inside the mouth (much like singing) that occur with register shifts.

Jolene Harju Madewell articles one on the low register and one on good tone.

And Jennifer Cluff has an article on playing in the high register.


Vital teaching tool:

I highly recommend giving this a watch and sharing this with your students: James Galway embouchure video.


Any flute myths I left out? Did anything here surprise you? Have more embouchure resources to share? Let me know in the comments below!