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Trumpet Vs. Piccolo Trumpet? 12 Differences (Explained)

Do you want to play a small brass instrument? Let’s compare the trumpet and piccolo trumpet to decide which instrument is better for you!

Here’s what you should know about how the trumpet and piccolo trumpet differ:

1. Size

The most obvious difference between the trumpet and piccolo trumpet is the size. Trumpets are about 19 inches long, and the tubing can be roughly 4.5 feet long.

However, piccolo trumpets are about half the size, with the tubing at about 2.25 feet long. The average trumpet bell is also bigger at around 4.5 inches, whereas a piccolo trumpet bell is about 3.7 inches.

The measurements are much closer together at the smaller end of the tubing. A regular trumpet’s bore is 0.459 or 0.460 inches, and the bore of a piccolo trumpet is close to 0.413 inches.

Since the piccolo trumpet is smaller, it weighs less than your standard Bb trumpet. The exact weight can vary between models depending on the trumpet’s metals, which also applies to the piccolo trumpet.

2. Sounding Range

Shorter and smaller tubing gives the piccolo trumpet a higher sounding range than the Bb trumpet. The Bb trumpet sounds notes from E3 (the E below middle C) to C6 (the C above the treble clef).

Piccolo trumpets are also typically in Bb, but they sound an octave higher than the regular trumpet. The sounding range of the piccolo trumpet is also smaller by about a perfect fifth.

Also, skilled players can play higher than the Bb trumpet’s normal range. Doing that may be possible on a piccolo trumpet, but it will take even more skill and practice.

Some piccolo trumpets can go lower than the standard range, though. If you buy an instrument with a fourth valve, that valve can extend the range as low as the B below the lowest note E.

3. Written Range

Don’t confuse the sounding range with the trumpets’ written range. The most common standard trumpet is in the key of Bb, so the written notes are a major second higher than how they sound.

Trumpets can play from written F#3 to written D6. Since the most common piccolo trumpet is in Bb, it has a similar written range but only plays up to a written G5.

However, some composers will write piccolo trumpet parts up an octave. In that case, the written range would be F#4 to G6 on the piccolo trumpet.

Check a piccolo trumpet part to see if the composer wrote it up an octave. Many will use the same written trumpet range, but it never hurts to review your music first.

4. Transposition

After examining the written range and sounding range, you can see that most trumpets are transposing instruments. Yes, there’s the C trumpet, which sounds the same as the notes on the page.

However, your standard Bb trumpet will transpose up a major second to play the correct key. When the piccolo trumpet part is written down in the normal range, it will sound a minor seventh higher than written.

If a composer writes it up the octave, it will sound a major second lower. Of course, other trumpets have different transpositions, such as the trumpet in D, which will sound a major second higher than what you see on the page.

You can also play a piccolo trumpet in A, which will sound a major sixth higher or minor third lower than written.

5. Keys

I touched on this briefly, but trumpets and piccolo trumpets come in multiple keys. Historically, trumpets would be hard to play in multiple keys due to a lack of valves.

While we have valves now, some pieces call for trumpets in C or Eb. You can even find an F trumpet, which sits about halfway between the regular and piccolo trumpets.

Similarly, there are piccolo trumpets in different keys, with Bb and A being the most common. Some companies have made piccolo trumpets in F, G, and even the key of C.

Most players will stick to trumpets in Bb and C and the piccolo trumpet in Bb and A, but it’s still good to know what’s out there for each instrument.

6. Slides

When you buy a trumpet, it will most of the time play in one transposition. You can’t get your Bb trumpet to play in the key of C, even if you push the tuning slides all the way in.

Now, for example, you can find some trumpets that work in both D and Eb. These trumpets come with extra slides, so you’ll swap those out to get the desired transposition.

Playing one instrument in multiple keys is more common among piccolo trumpets. If you search for piccolo trumpets online, you’ll find a lot of them are listed as Bb/A piccolo trumpets.

That means you’ll be able to adjust the slides to play in either transposition. Because of that, you won’t have to carry around two piccolo trumpets to be able to play any part you may need to play.

7. Usage

Another significant difference between the instruments is how composers and players use them. The standard trumpet is common as a solo instrument.

However, you can also play it in a brass quintet, jazz band, concert band, or orchestra. Some bands may have as many as four trumpet parts, so there’s plenty of opportunity for you to play with others.

On the other hand, the piccolo trumpet shines mostly in Baroque music. You can play it as a soloist or with others, but it’s not super popular outside of that era of music.

8. Ease

If you’re new to playing music, you should start by learning the regular trumpet. It will be much easier to get a good sound on the instrument due to its larger size.

You need a lot of air and good air support to produce a nice tone on the piccolo trumpet. That makes it a better fit for people with experience playing the Bb trumpet.

Of course, the trumpet takes a lot of practice to play well, but many beginners can at least get started within a few practice sessions, so it’s not as frustrating as the piccolo trumpet could be.

9. Cost

You might think the piccolo trumpet has to be more affordable than the regular trumpet. After all, it’s smaller, so it uses fewer materials and probably doesn’t take long to make.

However, piccolo trumpets can easily cost thousands of dollars. While there are cheaper models, those are few and far between, and the cheapest models tend to use plastic instead of metal.

The jump in the price of a metal instrument is quite significant. Meanwhile, you can find quite a few metal Bb trumpets that are perfect for beginners.

Some models cost less than $1,000, so you can start learning the trumpet on a budget, and if you can’t afford to buy one, it will be much easier to find a store that rents regular trumpets than piccolo trumpets.

10. Popularity

Since it’s easier and more affordable, the standard trumpet is much more popular. You can find more trumpet teachers in your area, and there are more method books and solos for the instrument.

Of course, learning the piccolo trumpet can help set you apart from other trumpeters. Not everyone progresses to learning the smaller instrument so you can use your skills to land gigs.

But you’ll probably find fewer piccolo trumpet gigs than performances that require the trumpet. So if you’re only focusing on one instrument, the regular trumpet is a better choice.

It’s more common for beginners, and some advanced players never learn the piccolo trumpet.

11. Design

Another aesthetic difference is in the layout of the tubing. Most people know what a trumpet looks like, with the rounded tubing that extends around the valves.

Now, the piccolo trumpet has a similar shape when it comes to where the valves are. However, the rest of the tubing is more compact.

The tubing only comes from the center to produce the bell and the leadpipe. That can make the piccolo trumpet look odd, but that’s not necessarily bad.

Of course, the piccolo tubing doesn’t have much extra tubing. The four valves in the center of the instrument can easily take up most of the two-and-a-quarter feet of tubing.

12. Valves

You can find some trumpets with four valves, but three valves are standard for most models. However, most piccolo trumpets have four valves, but some models only have three.

The fourth valve allows you to play a few notes lower than the standard range of the piccolo trumpet. It doesn’t go far enough to replace your standard trumpet.

Instead, it can help you play any piccolo trumpet part you might need to. You can also use the extra valve to play certain trumpet parts without switching instruments.

If you want the extra valve on a regular trumpet, you can get it, but you may need to spend more money and time to get your ideal instrument.

The trumpet and piccolo trumpet are two of the smallest brass instruments, and many musicians play both, but there are plenty of differences to keep in mind when learning the instruments so that you can make the most of them.

Sources

Wikipedia: Piccolo trumpet