Brass bands are made up entirely or mostly of musicians who play brass instruments like trumpets, horns, cornets, and trombones. Many brass bands include percussion instruments, and a few even include woodwind instruments like clarinets and saxophones, but brass instruments are the only instruments in a brass band. While different bands can differ in a variety of ways, most brass bands keep a set number of each type of instrument. The distribution of different instruments in a brass band varies depending on the musical style of the band as well as the availability and skill of the players.
Tubas tuned to E flat or B flat, or a combination of the two, typically play the bass line in brass bands. The nature of the bass line varies depending on the music style, but “walking bass lines,” as in jazz, are common for tubas in brass bands. In a brass band, musicians use these instruments to replace the bass instruments used in more traditional concert or jazz bands, such as the bass guitar or bass drums. These instruments are typically used to provide the basic beat that the rest of the band adheres to.
Over the tubas’ bass line, instruments like trumpets, cornets, and other types of horns play the melody and harmonies. In many brass bands, the main melody is played a “principal” or “first” cornet or trumpet, while the others play harmonies. These instruments are frequently used for improvisation, especially in brass bands that play jazz. The bass line usually stays in place to provide rhythm while a solo cornet, trumpet, or trombone player improvises a solo in these situations. The lengths of these improvised segments vary, but they usually occur in the middle of a musical piece, with the melody returning once the improvised section is completed.
Many other instruments are used in a brass band to provide balance and richness to the instruments that are primarily involved in rhythm and melody. Percussion sections are used many brass bands to help with the rhythm sections. Flugelhorn, baritone, euphonium, and tenor horn are other common brass instruments in a brass band. Some of these instruments add to the melody, while others provide harmonies, and still others are used to “blend” the sounds of more prominent instruments with sounds that are drastically different.