Marching bands feature a lot of interesting and unique instruments that are different from a lot of other musical acts. There are many instruments responsible for the unique sound these bands create, and we’re going to tell you about 17 musical instruments in marching bands that you should know below!
First on our list is the trumpet, which is part of the brass section, and it’s the one instrument that people will recognize even if they aren’t too familiar with marching bands or even instruments in general. They are one of the oldest types of instruments out there, being used at one point in the military. Did you know that cow horns had been used in the past to create this iconic instrument?
Even though the shape and design of the trumpet have changed over the years, including those used in marching bands, the sounds have stayed almost the same. To use this instrument, you just use closed lips around the blowhole to produce compressed air. This air will then touch the valves and push them open, allowing beautiful sounds to come out.
A marching band has around six or eight trumpets, and they are very lightweight, which makes it more incredible that they have such a loud vibrant sound. Since these have such a loud sound, they often are the front of the marching band as they can cut through the other instruments.
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Next on our list is also one of the most crucial instruments within a marching band, and it’s part of the brass section. The tuba is critical for any marching band because it’s the foundation and backbone for the rest of the instruments. It is very heavy and big, so it’s difficult to carry in the marching band.
Most of the time, the strongest people within the band will carry the tuba since it requires physical strength to maintain the instrument. There are at least three tuba players in a marching band, although some will have several tuba players.
The sousaphone is a tuba that you’ll only see in a marching band since that’s what its primary use is, and it’s part of the brass section. This instrument is going to give the lowest sounds of all of the instruments, but it will provide harmony since it has bass tones. Most marching bands will opt to use a sousaphone because of how it’s designed.
There is coil wrapping to help distribute the weight of the instrument more proportionately, so it’s easier for musicians in the band to carry it since it’s such a large instrument. The bell on the sousaphone is much bigger and will be forward so that while you’re marching, the instrument is both easier to see and hear.
Next on our list is the cornet, which is a smaller brass instrument than the trumpet although it works in a similar way to it. One major difference is the shape of the cornet is not exactly like the trumpet.
Just like with a trumpet, you will need to close your lips and use the blowhole to produce the sound. You can manipulate the various valves on this instrument, which will give you different tones. The cornet has a mellower sound compared to the brassiness of the trumpet. Another similarity is that the cornet is also lightweight, so if you’re in a marching band, it’s perfect and can be carried by younger musicians.
There’s not a whole lot we can say about the trombone as it’s one of the most iconic instruments, and when you adjust the sliding pipe, different sounds and notes are created. It can go up to 115 decibels, which is similar to the clarinet, which hits 114 decibels. If you want to create a melody or specific harmony in the marching band, the trombone is going to be the go-to instrument.
This brass instrument has a distinctive sound that you’ll recognize immediately, but it’s heavier and more awkward to carry in a marching band because of its shape. There are usually two or more musicians with this instrument.
One of the bad things about the trombone is that it’s hard to play quick-moving musical notes on it since there are no valves and keys on this instrument. This makes the trombone one of the harder instruments to master, and it’s going to take a lot more than a few lessons to become proficient with this instrument.
6. French Horn
Next on our list is the brass section instrument, the French horn, and it’s there to add a lot of depth to the music in the marching band. The deeper sounds it creates also help give the band a foundation to build from. It has a weird shape with the bell forward, and that allows this instrument to produce sounds with higher intensity.
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A brass instrument that we have to talk about is the mellophone, which is an important part of the marching band since it will fall in the middle register of all of the brass instruments. The bell on the mellophone faces forward, so it’s useful in a marching band.
Since it looks similar to the French horn and the trumpet, it’s often referred to as the marching French horn. This brass instrument has a very mellow and smooth sound, which is why it’s called the mellophone. While it’s similar in appearance to the trumpet, there is a bigger bell on the mellophone.
Next is the clarinet, which is a wood instrument that is a common piece of any marching band, and it’s very easy to carry because it’s incredibly lightweight. Another great aspect is that it does not take up a lot of room, which is another reason why it’s so popular in marching bands. What’s cool is that it is capable of both higher and lower sounds since it’s a cylindrical shape that has a bell on one end of it.
The clarinet plays alongside the saxophone and flute and gives hints of melody between the other two instruments in the marching band. Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it because it’s distinct and recognizable by almost everyone. There are multiple clarinets in a marching band because of their portability.
We have to mention the saxophone, which you might remember former President Bill Clinton famously played. Out of all of the wind instruments, this is the instrument that people recognize and have heard since it’s in more than just marching bands and is a staple of jazz music.
There is more than one type of saxophone, but the one that’s most common in marching bands is known as an alto saxophone. This is perfect for the marching band since it gives a much higher pitch and is lighter than the other varieties. Other saxophones include baritone and tenor, and these can also vary in size. While the alto might be the most common in a marching band, all types of saxophones can be a part of the band.
One of the most well-known wind instruments is the flute, which most people know from its use as a primary instrument for band solos. These have been around for ages, and remnants of flutes from more than 70,000 years ago have been found, which were made out of bone.
There is a high-pitched beautiful sound that is produced by the flute that can help give a voice and soulful feel to any marching band. A lot of people who watch a marching band will remember the flute performances since it can be heard over a lot of the other instruments.
In a marching band, you will see at least two musicians with flutes, but some will choose to have a lot more. They are easy to hold and carry because it’s so lightweight, which makes them great for younger musicians too.
The piccolo is a woodwind instrument that helps provide more smooth jazz sounds to the marching band music, and it’s nearly identical to the flute. One of the main differences between a piccolo and a flute is size, with the piccolo being much smaller than the flute.
Since it’s smaller, you’re going to have a higher pitch with this instrument. Some marching bands have solos specifically for the piccolo player. An interesting fact is that the piccolo will produce a higher-pitched sound than all or almost all of the other instruments in the marching band.
We can’t mention percussion instruments without talking about cymbals as they are some of the most identifiable instruments in a marching band. For marching bands, these come in a pair, so the musician in the marching band holds them with their hands. If the cymbals were part of a drum kit, they would be hit with the mallet instead of being clashed together.
They are big circular instruments that produce a loud sound when you clash the metal circular discs together. If you don’t put a lot of strength into the clash of the cymbals, you will get a softer sound. A stronger and more forceful clash creates that higher-pitched loud sound we all know.
In a marching band, they use a Garfield grip, which means the musician puts their palm into the straps and then will twist it ensuring that their hand will be on the top part of the bell. These are pretty lightweight and will only weigh between two to five pounds, so it’s much lighter than a lot of the other instruments.
13. Snare Drum
Snare drums are a percussion instrument that you’d recognize because two sticks are used to play these drums, which are small in size and cylindrical in shape. Drum rolls and accents are often what snare drums are used for, and they help the marching band stay in beat. If you look underneath the drum, you can see snares, which is how the snare drum came to be.
The snares on the underside of the drums are usually metal and have wire or strips that are going to rattle when the drum has been struck with the sticks. If you’ve paid attention to a marching band, then you may have noticed the drum rolls or solos which are powerful, loud, and strong. They can weigh anywhere between 10 to 18 pounds, so while they are not insanely heavy, it’s still a lot to carry for a long time while marching.
14. Bass Drum
In what is likely the most critical part of the percussion group, the bass drum is important because it helps give the sounds being produced bass and adds a lot of layers to the music. For marching bands, these are also used to help keep time.
Bass drums are pretty big, and you have to wear shoulder straps to march with this instrument due to its large size. In fact, it can weigh up to 30 pounds. The harness you have to wear can be 10 pounds, so it’s quite a heavy instrument when you combine the strap and the instrument itself. It’s going to take a bigger musician in the marching band to have the stamina to march with this heavier instrument.
In a marching band, you can have two or more bass drummers, and while the dynamics aren’t great, the sounds it produces when hit with the soft mallet can be incredibly deep and powerful. What’s cool about a bass drum is that you can tune it just like a guitar, so you can get the sounds you want for that particular song or event. Anyone that knows about bass and high and low frequencies would have fun tuning it and changing the frequency range throughout the performance to create these different sounds.
15. Tenor Drum
Next is the percussion instrument known as the tenor drum, which is usually seen as an accessory for snare drums. Most of the time, there will be between four and six tenor drums, and they are together so that you can easily carry them. As part of the percussion section, these will help keep the tempo for the marching band.
Since they are joined together, it also makes it easier for you to play them in the marching band. Typically, there will be two accent tenor drums and four that are the main tenor drums, so you’ll have six in the band. Tenor drums come with a strap that you put on, so it’s easy to carry this multiple-part instrument.
Next on our list is the glockenspiel, also known as the bell lyres, which is part of a group of percussion instruments. With this instrument, you can see there are metal bars on it that create high-pitched tones. The term is a German name and when translated essentially means “chimes” or “set of bells,” so it makes sense given what this instrument looks like and will sound like.
There is a strap that goes onto the shoulders of the person in the marching band that has to be worn with the glockenspiel. You’re going to need to use the strap for your shoulder since this instrument is rather heavy. It has metal bars and will produce various tones depending on which section you strike. Those used in marching bands will be upright, which allows them to be played easier and carry a little easier than the traditional type of glockenspiel.
Lastly, you should know about woodblock, which is simply a piece of wood that is shaped like a block or bar. It is similar in shape to the glockenspiel but a lot lighter and will have a more vibrant and energetic sound. The woodblock and glockenspiel are oftentimes used together in the marching band.
As one of the percussion instruments, the woodblock can be used to keep the tempo for the marching band. It is very fun to use in a marching band and can be used just as an experiment to create interesting or unique notes within a composition. It’s not a required instrument, so you may not see any woodblocks at all.
From the time she was little, Florence loved listening to music and quickly learned how music can make you happy and feel fulfilled. One of her favorite memories is being in the garage with her dad working on classic cars with the local rock station blaring in the background. Ever since Florence was 3, she loved grunge music and spent hours listening to bands such as Alice in Chains, Mad Season, Soul Asylum, and Soundgarden.
She also enjoys classic rock, modern rock, nu metal, alternative rock, and old 90’s R&B. Her love of music grew as she got older, and used music to help her get through tough times in her life. More often than not, you’ll see Florence with earbuds in while she’s writing, cooking, cleaning, and doing other tasks. She also loves to debate music with her friends such as which lead singer is the best vocalist, the most iconic guitar solos in music, and what songs are really the best of the decade.