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What Are the Different Types of Brass Band Music?

By Peter Hann
Updated May 23, 2024
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The brass band movement grew up in England in the 19th century, when the bands were often associated with organizations such as factories, mines, trade unions or religious movements. The repertoire of the earliest brass bands would often be based on adaptations of popular songs or hymns but, in the 20th century, composers such as Gustav Holst, Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Malcolm Arnold wrote original works for the brass band. Distinctive styles of brass band music have developed, elsewhere including the New Orleans style brass band, which blends European style brass band music with African folk music traditions. Balkan brass band music uses a fast rhythm based on the interpretation of folk music by military bands, and some Pacific islands have developed their own distinctive style.

British style brass bands consist of cornets, horns, baritones, trombones, tubas, euphoniums and percussion. Many religious brass bands have varied in size and instrumentation, owing to the need to adapt to the available local musicians. British brass bands perform at commemorative events, formal concerts or as marching bands in military, religious or political processions. British style bands also are found on continental Europe and in English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. One of the best known American composers for the brass band is John Philip Sousa, who composed Washington Post March, Semper Fidelis, Stars and Stripes Forever March and Liberty Bell March.

Since the late 19th century, the New Orleans brass band tradition has introduced various new forms of brass band music. The New Orleans bands use a greater variety of instrumentation than traditional British bands, including the use of the sousaphone. The music includes influences from African folk music and European brass band music. Since the second half of the 20th century, New Orleans brass bands have expanded their range of music by incorporating the influences of genres such as hip hop and funk.

Other types of brass band music include the style of the Balkan brass bands, which originated when military bands took up themes from folk music. The music is played to a fast rhythm and can sometimes be accompanied by singing. This type of brass band music has been popularized by its use in films and at festivals and, since the late 20th century, it has been appreciated worldwide. Brass band traditions with local characteristics also have arisen in Pacific islands such as Samoa and Tonga and are gaining wider audiences through recordings and concert tours.

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Discussion Comments
By KaBoom — On Sep 25, 2011

@Monika - A piano and a brass band sound much different, I'll give you that. I'm sure Sousa sounds fine on the piano though.

I like brass bands myself. They just sound so festive. I remember seeing a few old movies that featured brass bands and I thought they were just so cool!

By Monika — On Sep 24, 2011

I love John Sousa! His music is just so much fun! In fact, I even learned to play a few of his pieces on the piano when I took piano lessons.

However, I heard a few recordings of his songs being played by a brass band. I must admit, they sound a lot better played by the band than by the piano. I kind of lost my zest for playing Sousa on the piano after that.

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