Piccolo vs. Fife (What’s The Difference?)

Generally, piccolos are smaller or higher than fifes and Piccolos have a conoid body/ cylinder head while an authentic fife has a narrower and a cylindrical bore.

Fifes do not have keys just like piccolos until I found some piccolos too do not have keys.

Although the absence or presence of keys isn’t a determining factor, most true fifes do not have keys.

Anyway, here are the various distinguishing factors we can use to differentiate between a piccolo and an original fife.

Differences Between Piccolos and Fifes

According to my knowledge, one of the differences between files and piccolos is that fifes are in the keys of Eb and D while the Piccolos are in the keys of C, Bb and A.

Fifes have a relatively narrow bore thus making them shriller and louder. On the other hand, Piccolo resembles a tiny flute. 

Which one is easier to play?

One of the most frequently asked questions is if someone can start playing the Piccolo without learning how to play the fife? The answer is yes! I play both the Piccolo and fife, so my resolutions are based off my personal experience.

In my opinion, the fife and a piccolo are different, and the only traceable similarity is the fingering. I recommend you memorize Piccolo’s fingering if you are interested in playing it since a piccolo doesn’t always include some keys found in a fife. I learned how to play a fife first and latter Piccolo.

With time I was familiar with the breathing techniques and the holding differences in each of these instruments. In my opinion, if you want to train on how to play the Piccolo just for fun, there is no need to study how to play a fife unless you want to master playing each instrument.

As a music educator, I feel it is much easier to learn how to play the Piccolo if you can play a fife. For instance, most of my music students pick up fife reasonably quickly, but it takes more time to achieve a decent theme tune on a piccolo.

Although it may depend on an individual frustration tolerance, it is more challenging to learn fife embouchure than a piccolo. Learning how to blow a piccolo is an uphill task that may last even for six weeks of assiduous blowing and making nothing more than the “wwwffff” sound before you can get noise from your blowing efforts.

It may take you an additional of one-two weeks before you can master how to generate consistent sound and another three weeks before making that sound musical. If you have patience like me, expect to spend about 12 weeks to get positive feedback.

So if you resolve to learn Piccolo, be ready to spend a month plus of hard work with little or no positive results but keep the courage to keep going along the tough but a worthy journey.

Which are the best Octaves?

Fifes are designed to be played in the second and third octaves, and mostly have a weak first octave.

On the other hand, piccolos generally have a full first octave and usually played in the first and second octave with the third octave having an extended range just like a flute or whistle.

It is possible to have piccolos in the same register as true fifes. Piccolo is an abbreviation for flauto piccolo which means a small flute.

Still, Piccolo should only be used to describe only an octave flute with whichever a conoid body and a cylinder head or cylinder body and a Boehm’s head no matter the fingering/ key system. Note that a small flute isn’t always a piccolo.


I believe anyone who starts mastering a fife has an easy time mastering how to play the Piccolo.

This is because playing a fife trains you on how to set your lips on the mouthpiece correctly so that over time you can get a decent, tight embouchure to make on the Piccolo. Kindly don’t rush into using a piccolo if you aren’t conversant with the fife.

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