Teaching about the Flute and Piccolo in the classroom

Here are a few lesson planning ideas for teaching students about the flute and piccolo

Hi-Lo Game: Play or sing a variety of melodic intervals, both ascending and descending. 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 have a double effect of helping their aural skills and knowing the relative ranges of flutes and piccolos

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 Filling the bottle with water effectively reduced the volume inside the bottle, which is like shortening the tube inside a flute when the player lifts fingers off the finger holes.

If you are feeling ambitious, you could fill several bottles with varying amounts of liquid and tune them to the notes of the scale (certain kinds of pipes, or tests tubes borrowed from a science teacher, also work well). Students will love playing their own tunes on the bottle instruments

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

Each character in peter and the wolf is demonstrated by a section and specific instrumentation. The strings are peter, the bird is represented by the flute, the duck by the oboe, the cat by the clarinet, the bassoon represents grandfather, the horns are the scary wolf and the timpani represent the hunters.

Prokofiev also identifies characters thematically with characteristic melodies, and conveys the plot through the music.

Here are some questions for discussion:

What qualities (timbre, range, etc.) of the instruments make them good choices for 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.)

How do the themes convey personality traits of the characters? (E.g., the bouncy, major-key theme for Peter exudes boyish confidence; the minor-key theme for the wolf is powerful and ominous, like the wolf himself.)

Take one section of music and discuss how it conveys the plot (for example when the cat scampers up the tree it is showed by arpeggios rising rapidly

Discuss why you think Prokofiev chose to switch Peter’s theme from the strings to the horns.

This is an excerpt from a music lesson plan from the fun music company on instruments of the orchestra.