What Is the Difference between an Orchestra and Band?

Orchestra and band are two different ensembles of musicians that play similar arrangements of music with different types of instruments, though they are closely related. Bands are musical ensembles that are primarily made up of instruments that require a person’s “wind” to play them, such as brass and woodwinds, as well as percussion for a consistent rhythm. String instruments, on the other hand, are found in orchestras, either alone or in concert with many of the wind, brass, and percussion instruments found in bands.

The term “string orchestra” is used to describe an orchestra that consists solely of stringed instruments. The term symphony orchestra is used when many different types of instruments are used, while chamber orchestras are used for smaller ensembles. Orchestras usually perform while seated on a stage. Bands can be seated or marching in unison to choreographed routines based on military traditions.

Violas, violins, cellos, and basses each have their own section in a standard string orchestra, which is often accompanied in the back a percussion section. Woodwind instruments such as the bassoon, saxophone, flute, oboe, clarinet, and bass clarinet; and brass instruments such as the trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba are frequently added to the mix symphony orchestras. Only these sections, along with percussion, will be included in bands, leaving string instrumentation to the comfortably seated.

An orchestra’s and a band’s musical styles may be similar or drastically different. Some music is written specifically for string orchestras, such as Mozart’s or Brahms’ famous symphonic works, or for marching bands, such as Sousa’s marches. Other works are written for both orchestra and band, with the conductor deciding which musicians will play which parts.

Both the orchestra and the band strive for tonal balance and range in order to achieve maximum musical clarity. Each is divided into instruments that carry various parts of a musical composition, ranging from low-pitched, lolling notes to high-pitched, trilling melodies. Because they are made up of such drastically different-sounding instruments, the two will rarely, if ever, sound alike. The orchestra and band are divided among instruments that can achieve a specific voice in the overall arrangement, similar to how the modern choir divides singers range — basses, tenors, altos, and sopranos.

The modern band or orchestra has a proud historical foundation, regardless of where it was formed or for what purpose. Young people who want to break free from societal norms and parental control can form a band to express themselves through music. Orchestras of various sizes were formed in churches and royal courts dating back to early civilizations to accompany religious rituals as well as everyday life. The marching band has been associated with military and political traditions for centuries, including its use of signaling various battlefield conditions to commanders in the rear.