A classroom music lesson about the flute and piccolo

The Flute and Piccolo are important instruments to learn about in music class, but no so easy if you can’t play them yourself, so here is a few ideas to get you started. This is an excerpt from a music lesson plan from the fun music company on instruments of the orchestra.

High or Low Game: Sing or play some melodic intervals in both directions. Ask students to discern which note comes first, the high note or the low note, by describing the interval as flute-piccolo (low-high) or piccolo-flute (high-low). This will help develop the students’ pitch discrimination and will reinforce the relative ranges of the flute and piccolo at the same time.

Demonstrate how the flute makes its sound by choosing a bottle with a small neck and blowing over it with a stream of air. You can then vary the sound by filling the bottles with a few inches of water, and asking the students to predict what will happen to the pitch You can then explain that this is exactly what happens when a flute player lifts their fingers from the finger holes – its just like shortening the tube.

You could then make a home-made instrument by filling several bottles with varying amounts of liquid, and tuning them to notes of a scale. (you can even borrow some pipes or test tubes from the science teacher!) Play some tunes with your bottle instrument, and ask for student volunteers to play their own tunes.

Listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, a work for orchestra with narration. In this work both the flute and piccolo are featured as well as all the woodwind instruments, the timpani and strings. You could use this piece in several sections in many classes when learning about the orchestral instruments

In Peter and the Wolf, each character is identified timbrally by a specific instrument or section. The strings are peter, the bird is represented by the flute, the duck by the oboe, the clarinet is the cat, the grandfather by the bassoon, the horns are the scary wolf and the hunters by the timpani.

Each character has its own melody, and tells the story through the music

Here are some questions for discussion:

Why do you think the composer chose those instruments for each of the characters? (E.g., the reedy, piercing quality of the oboe actually sounds something like a duck’s quack; the loud, sharp sounds of the timpani are like the sounds of gunfire.)

What else in the music conveys the personality of the characters? (for example the classy regal tone for the clarinet showing the cat, the lively major key theme for Peter showing a young boy’s confidence, and the powerful ominous minor key theme for the wolf)

How does a given section of the music convey the plot? (E.g., the cat scampering up the tree is conveyed by rapid rising arpeggios.)

During the Victory Parade, why do you think the composer switched Peter’s music from the strings to the horns?