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What Are the Different Instruments in a Brass Band?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

A brass band is composed primarily or entirely of musicians playing brass instruments, such as trumpets, horns, cornets, and trombones. Many brass bands also include percussion instruments, and a few even include woodwind instruments, such as clarinets and saxophones, but must instruments in a brass band are brass instruments. While different bands can vary in many ways, most tend to keep a specific number of each of the types of instruments in a brass band. The particular distribution of different instruments in a brass band tends to vary based on the band's musical style and on the availability and skill of players.

The bass line in brass bands is generally played by tubas tuned to E flat or B flat, or a mix of each. The nature of the bass line varies based on the music style, but it is common for tubas in brass bands to play "walking bass lines," as in jazz. Musicians use such instruments in a brass band to replace the bass instruments, such as bass guitar or bass drums, that would be used in more traditional concert or jazz bands. These instruments are usually used to provide the basic beat that sets the tempo that the rest of the band follows.

Trumpets are perhaps the most essential instrument in a brass band.
Trumpets are perhaps the most essential instrument in a brass band.

Instruments such as trumpets, cornets, and other types of horns play the melody and harmonies over the bass line provided by the tubas. In many brass bands, there is a "principal" or "first" cornet or trumpet that plays the main melody while the others play harmonies. These instruments are often used for improvisation, particularly in brass bands with a jazz-based style. In such cases, the bass line generally remains to provide rhythm while a solo cornet, trumpet, or trombone player improvises a solo. The lengths of such improvised segments vary, but they often come somewhere in the middle of a musical piece, and the melody resumes when the improvised section finishes.

Brass bands usually include several different kinds of horns, as well as trombones.
Brass bands usually include several different kinds of horns, as well as trombones.

There are many other instruments in a brass band that are used to add balance and richness to those primarily involved in rhythm and melody. Many brass bands actually include percussion sections to contribute to the rhythm sections. Other common brass instruments in a brass band include the flugelhorn, baritone, euphonium, and tenor horn. Some of these instruments are used to add to the melody, others provide harmonies, and still others are used to "blend" the sounds of more prominent instruments with drastically differing sounds.

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Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - You're very right about the drum and bugle corps. I have known a couple people in them, and it definitely takes a lot of dedication to stick with it. Unfortunately for me, I always played the saxophone, so I haven't got a lot of chances to play in bands that are predominantly for brass instruments.

There was a time, though, when a brass band my friend was in needed a saxophone to step in for a couple songs, so that was a fun experience. Basically, it wasn't much different than playing in a jazz band, but it was a slightly different feel knowing that I was the only saxophone. It really took a different mindset playing, because you wanted to keep the tone of the saxophone while at the same time blending it in with the brass instruments. In a jazz band, it is usually preferred for the saxophone sound to be pronounced.


Has anyone here ever gotten the chance to see a drum and bugle corps perform? It is a great time watching them.

Basically, the band is made up of nothing but brass instruments as well as a pretty large percussion section. They perform marching routines on football fields and have competitions all over the US. The neat thing is that they are independent of colleges and universities, so a lot of the bands represent large regions, and there is a lot of competition between the groups.

In my opinion, listening to some of the drum and bugle corps is better than seeing full marching bands. I think some of it is just because all the people there are excellent musicians and really want to be doing what they are doing. After all, a lot of them dedicate their whole summers to practicing and performing.


@andee - I think playing in college really just depends on the school you go to. I think almost every college has at least some type of extracurricular music activities, but the size and scope might be limited.

I went to a Big Ten school with a pretty well recognized music program, and there were tons of bands you could join. About half of them were restricted to music majors, but that still left 8 or 9 bands for other students interested in music.

The types of bands ranged from wind symphonies to jazz bands and chamber orchestras. One of them was even a British brass band that played a lot of music from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The other option is to try to find a local city band that isn't associated with a university. That is what I do know that I'm not longer in college, and it is a lot of fun.


@andee - If your son already plays the tuba, it shouldn't be hard at all to pick up one of the other instruments with a little bit of practice.

There is a lot of confusion over what the difference between a euphonium and baritone is, and to be honest, I'm not sure I know the true difference. What I do know, is that if you can play one, you can play the other. A lot of times, euphonium music is in bass clef, so there shouldn't be an issue there. I would also assume that both instruments are in the same key, so it would just be a matter of getting used to the new mouthpiece and pitches. The fingerings should be the same.

Even if you went with something in treble clef, it would just be a matter of getting used to the new notation.

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about the tenor horn, since, as you probably know, that's an instrument more common to Europe.


Most people have heard of the common types of brass instruments like the trumpet, trombone and tuba.

If someone was interested in learning one of the brass instruments that isn't as common such as the euphonium or tenor horn, where is the best place to learn?

My son is interested in learning to play one of these instruments. We live in a small town with a very small band, and there is nobody else in the band that plays one of these.

Right now we don't even have a tuba player, although my son does know how to play the tuba. Since he is musically talented, he may be able to teach himself, but it would be nice if there was some other way for him to learn.

Are there more opportunities to play instruments like this in college? His high school is pretty limited, and I want him to be able to use his talent and explore other opportunities after high school.


I have always loved jazz music and once when I was visiting New Orleans I got to hear the Dirty Dozen brass band in person.

This was a real treat and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even though they are known for their jazz music, they can play most any genre of music and sound good.

They have quite a long history in this area, and the city of New Orleans even has a Dirty Dozen Brass Band Day.

Even though they have become a famous band, they will still play in local bars around the city. This is how they got their start, and they like to continue on with the tradition.

Their tuba sousaphonist player is simply amazing, and the best I have ever heard.


The brass instruments have always fascinated me. This is probably because the only instrument I played when growing up was the clarinet. I never really enjoyed playing this much, and would much rather have play a brass instrument than a wind instrument.

I didn't like playing a reed instrument, and because of this really never applied myself. My parents didn't have much money to spend on instruments, so this was a hand me down from another family, and it wasn't in the best of shape.

Now anytime I see a band play, I always watch those in the brass section. If I could choose one instrument to learn I think it would be the trumpet.

This instrument has such a clear sound that I find very exhilarating. I have always been impressed at the number of notes that can be played from just three valves.

It also looks like it would be light and easy to hold. I am not a very tall person and think something like the tuba would be much too heavy and big for me.


One of my friends has worked at a music store for many years. He knows how to play and repair just about any kind of musical instrument.

The brass instruments are his favorite though, and he is equally trained in the trumpet, tuba, trombone and french horn.

Every Christmas he plays in a small brass band that goes around playing Christmas songs at malls and social gatherings. He loves playing in this band because he gets paid to do something he enjoys and is very good at.

Since he is so versatile in the instruments he can play, if one member of the band can't make it, he can fill it wherever they need him most.


There is a band called drums and tuba that is a pretty straight forward rock trio expect they have a tuba player instead of a bass player. If someone doesn't tell you it's a tuba you probably wouldn't know, it blends in that well.

But once you know it's a tuba it makes it even richer because the tuba can play a greater range of notes and it has that rich resonant sound. I'm surprised more bands haven't tried this. The tuba is a rhythm beast. It has a place outside of the orchestra and the brass band.


I play the cornet but I am not in a brass band or any band for that matter. Its frustrating but it's hard to find people to play with, especially around where I live. I would love to get something started though.

I love to see those New Orleans brass bands that are everywhere and seem to come out of nowhere. Those guys really appreciate what they are doing and some of them are incredible players. I wish I could play like that, anywhere, all the time. But Minnesota is a long way from New Orleans so no brass band for me.


I played the trombone in a professional brass band for a while. We would play at parades and parties and lots and lots of nursing homes. It was a good gig though. We had to play some pretty sleepy songs but I was getting paid to play music which was always my dream.

Once though we were able to play at a rally where Barack Obama later spoke. He was just a candidate at the time but it was still an incredible honor. And the energy in the room was electric. People didn't usually respond to our music that much but they couldn't help themselves that night.

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    • Trumpets are perhaps the most essential instrument in a brass band.
      By: albanili
      Trumpets are perhaps the most essential instrument in a brass band.
    • Brass bands usually include several different kinds of horns, as well as trombones.
      By: bepsphoto
      Brass bands usually include several different kinds of horns, as well as trombones.