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Is the piccolo above the flute or below in score layout?

I thought the piccolo was always above the flute because it's a higher voice (see The Study of Orchestration - 3rd Edition - Samuel Adler, p757).

Then I saw this in Tchaikovsky's score:


Perhaps It's notated this way because it's a really old classical score and back in the day they notated this way? That's what I assumed.

Then I saw this in John Powell's score (see youtube video: How to Train Your Dragon):


OK, it's a modern score. So Tchaikovsky was right all this time and Adler was the one not to trust? Hmm... Which one is the correct way? I'm asking because I'm producing my own score, hoping that some day a real orchestra will pick it up and perform, and I want to ensure my score conforms to the standard notation they expect.


Stroking The Frog
The second staff (below flutes 1,2) is used for 'Flute 3', who commonly doubles on piccolo.
So yes, piccolo below the flutes is normal. Though not the only way.
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Seems to vary by publisher. In my copy of Copland's Hoe-Down from Boosey & Hawkes, Piccolo is above Flutes I & II:


And to add some more confusion, it's kind of... both the first and second staff simultaneously :grin:... in Williams' The Patriot from his signature edition:



Senior Member
I think it depends which flute player doubles picc. Mostly it's the 2nd or 3rd. But when it's a fixed picc/fl1/fl2 section I would write the picc on top.


Senior Member
Depends on the orchestra but I seldom write for orchestras where it is not the 'last' player (2nd in a two player section or 3rd in a three player section) that defaults to piccolo. Often the second player in a three player section will also be doubling and would double on Alto flute.

In cases where the whole section doubles it is also the first player that is last to double.


Senior Member
I tend to put it in the first staff anyway, but I've seen both score arrangements...


Senior Member
One reason to put piccolo on top is to reduce the number of ledger lines in the top staff, so your systems fit better on the page.

I just did some arrangements for a large orchestra and put it there for exactly that reason. Certainly there are other ways to go.


I put dots and lines on paper.
There is a logic to this. Typically piccolo is a double for a flute player. The person doubling is usually the second or third flute, not the first. That's because the strongest flutist is usually sitting in the 1st chair. You don't want to sacrifice your strongest flute player every time the picc is used. The 1st flute will likely still be needed to play the main melody or dominant part. That's why you will see picc notated on the second or third staff.

In classical orchestras you DO NOT want to write picc for the 1st chair if another is available. The 1st chair may not be the strongest piccolo player because that person isn't the one who usually plays picc.

In music where there is a player dedicated ONLY to piccolo, you may see the picc notated on the top staff. The 1st flute will be below that. However, you may still sometimes see the picc below the flute because that's where it will be in other music, so experienced orchestrators or conductors are used to having there, and it will be played by the person in the 2nd or 3rd chair.
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Senior Member
another reason why the first flute isn't usually playing the piccolo is that the embochure required by the piccolo could put at risk the purity of the flute tone...


I put dots and lines on paper.
another reason why the first flute isn't usually playing the piccolo is that the embochure required by the piccolo could put at risk the purity of the flute tone...
However, for those without an instrumental background, don't misinterpret that as playing piccolo somehow damages a flutist's embouchure. It's just that switching back and forth within a piece of music can make it difficult to maintain the best tone. This is why principal flutists (or other principal woodwinds) in a classical orchestra will be unhappy if asked to double when there is another chair available who can cover the part. They would prefer to not unsettle their embouchure so they can guarantee the tone they have spent their whole lives developing is there when needed for the principal lines. As a result, parts may be switched if such a request arises.

This is part of what I meant by "sacrificing" your best player to a piccolo. You may be forcing the main flute line to someone other than the principal and you simply may be risking less than the best quality from the principal player.

Plus there's the issue of how pay is structured for principals and doublers in a classical orchestra. Things are different in studio orchestras.
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