What Is a Marching Brass Band?

A marching brass band is a band comprised primarily of brass instruments. Members routinely perform while taking coordinated steps together. Due to the volume of brass instruments and the large number of members, these bands usually perform outside.

Instruments such as the trumpet or cornet, mellophone, trombone, and sousaphone, as well as marching versions of the french horn, baritone, euphonium, and tuba, are common in marching brass bands. A marching brass band, unlike other marching bands, does not typically use flutes, though some do allow the use of the clarinet, despite the fact that clarinets are not brass instruments. The saxophone is the only woodwind instrument that belongs to the brass family, and it is commonly heard in marching brass bands, where it is played in a range similar to that of the marching french horns. These instruments provide a full range of pitch and tonal color to the brass band.

Percussion players in a marching brass band provide rhythmic consistency and occasional flourishes. When the band members are taking a break from playing while marching, the percussionists are in charge of maintaining a basic beat pattern that allows everyone to stay in sync. The percussion section may also create complex cadences, or rhythmic sequences, to play in between pieces. Marching brass bands must have at least one bass and snare drum, but other percussion instruments such as cymbals, tenor drums or toms, and bells or xylophones are also used.

Marching brass bands can be as small as a few players, with a single player playing each part. A typical player count is between 25 and 75. A large marching brass band can have up to 200 musicians, though smaller bands are used for smaller events like award ceremonies, while larger bands are used for sporting events and parades, frequently performing at half-time shows and during timeouts.

Marching brass band musicians usually perform songs with moderate to fast tempos, or beat speeds. At these speeds, the players can easily march naturally. Slower songs can also be played when players are unable to keep time or march, such as when they are seated in the stands at a sporting event. Bands typically perform songs such as John Phillip Sousa’s marches, but they also perform arrangements of contemporary popular music to get the audience “pumped up,” or excited. Some music selections may have specific connotations for the event, such as playing Freddie Mercury’s “We Are the Champions” at a sporting event or James Sanderson’s “Hail to the Chief” during a presidential visit, so music selection is crucial in setting the mood and tone.

For some marching brass bands, showmanship is a major consideration. This means that members of the band pay close attention to the form and synchronization of each marching step, and they go out of their way to create acoustic and visual effects. Some marching brass bands even hire choreographers to choreograph their songs. Many marching bands take this seriously enough to compete in formal marching competitions, with the best bands competing on a national or international level.

Even when a marching brass band isn’t trying to be “showy,” members usually wear some sort of uniform to identify themselves as members of the band. A simple uniform for an informal marching brass band, such as one made up of community volunteers, could be the same color shirt and style of pants. Long pants, heavy and often ornately decorated coats with cape attachments, gloves, and hats with plumes are worn members of a formal marching brass band. Members of marching brass bands formed the military frequently wear uniforms that follow the regulations of the military branch to which they belong. Some bands have multiple uniforms so that players can be comfortable in both hot and cold weather, but in bands with limited funds, players are often forced to wear the standard uniform, which is designed for cooler temperatures, even in the summer.