Marching Band Instruments You Need To Know

A band and their marching band instruments.

Imagine the sound of 100 instruments, synchronized together to create a symphony of vibrations.

We’ve all come to love marching bands livening up parades, sports events, and race tracks, with their flamboyant uniforms, cohesive music, and of course, the acrobats and dancers. 

Marching bands are a group of musicians, playing their instruments while parading. Astonishingly, a marching band can have over 300 instruments.

The official marching band of the University of Michigan has over 340 instruments, including 106 woodwinds, 34 percussions, and 202 brass instruments.

Now, as unfathomable as it may seem, the performance of a marching band improves as the number of marching band instruments grows. With added instruments, the group can ring more tunes and add more grain and vibrancy.

A marching band can be as small as 20-30 musicians, to as large as 340 (maybe more), depending on the budget and availability of musicians. Almost all instruments featured are portable, but some bands have large immovable instruments such as an organ or a keyboard.

The Ohio State University Marching Band Performs their Hollywood Blockbuster Show.

Since marching bands perform live in crowded areas, they need a solid percussion setup to hold the rhythm. The brass section balances the music while the woodwinds add tunes, more like playing the part of a vocalist.

Over the past couple of years, marching bands have added more to their performances by using twirlers or majorettes, to demonstrate baton twirling skills alongside the music.

While the musicians harmonize together, the majorettes and acrobats/dancers play a more interactive role with the audience. The entire group is usually headed by a drum major who maintains the rhythm and gives marching directions.

While there is no limitation to how many marching band instruments you can have, there are some instruments that a marching band can’t do without. 

Marching Band Instruments List

Percussion Instruments

Drums carry the rhythm and tempo in any band. If you notice a typical 4-5 man rock band, the drum notes are quite clear. Any mistake in the rhythm of the drums can be easily noticed.

This scenario is because the instrument is very loud, and bands onstage usually lower the volume of the microphones used around a drum set so that other devices can be heard.

Marching band instruments percussion section.

Over the past couple of decades, drummers have been experimenting with almost anything they could find. They wanted to create a variety of sounds. However, in a marching band, the basics of a percussion setup include the following.

Snare, Tenor, and Bass

Snares are a single unit drum piece, used to create isolated drum beats to outline the tune of the marching band. It is one of the most commonly used drum pieces and has a chain attached to the bottom skin that vibrates with every stroke. The instrument is dynamic and can be used to play solos and drum rolls.

Tenor drums are a snare’s sidekick. The drum adds vibrancy to the composition and accents the beat. Also known as quads, tenors consist of four or six drum pieces: four bass drums and two accents. All six parts are attached and can be mounted on the body using straps.

The bass is the most significant drum piece, with not a lot of playing dynamics. The massive part needs leather straps to attach it to the player’s shoulders, and the sound is an underlying hum that adds depth and a base for the entire composition.

Marching bands use mallets similar to that of a “kick pedal” in a regular drum set. The sound can be tuned to a specific note.

Cymbals

The cymbals in a regular drum set up are different from that of a marching band. Since a marching band can’t have stands, they usually don’t use a single cymbal.

Marching bands have a pair of metallic, round-shaped plates with holders at the center-back. The players crash the cymbals with one another to create a high-pitched sound. The force of the crash can be decreased to create a much less vibrant sound.

Glockenspiel

The bars in a glockenspiel are metallic and produce high notes. The mechanism is similar to that of the treble clef in a traditional piano. The reasonably large instrument is strapped on the shoulders with leather straps.

Wood Blocks

This device is a straightforward instrument, more experimental than anything else. But it can be used to add an exciting beat to the composition.

The Brass lineup

The brass section features the most attractive marching band instruments. These shiny instruments produce rich tones and give a distinct shape to the musical composition.

The brass section of a marching band.

First off, there is the Trumpet

Trumpets are used to play the melody. The instrument has a blowhole, and valves that can be opened or closed to play musical notes.

The Cornet and the Trombone

Cornets are much smaller and mellower than trumpets. Trombones, on the other hand, are similar, with the difference of a sliding pipe that can be adjusted to play different notes.

The French Horn

French horns have a deeper tone. However, because of the convenience of the shape, marching bands use Mellophones to achieve a much more intensified sound. 

The Sousaphone Tuba 

Sousaphones are much easier to carry and act as a base layer of music. The sound is quite low compared to other marching band instruments but plays a vital role in maintaining the rhythm and gluing of the different instruments together.

The Woodwinds 

Woodwinds are the voice of a marching band. They can be easily distinguished even when all the instruments are played at once.

The flute is a common marching band instrument.

Let’s talk about the Flute first

Flutes are very common in the world of music and can be used to do solo performances. The reedless instrument can create high-pitched tones to create an exceptional melody.

The Clarinet and the Piccolo

Clarinets are different in the sense that they are a cylindrical instrument with reeds. Piccolos are much smaller in size and can be great instruments to solo with as well.

Finally, the Saxophone 

Saxophones are widely used in jazz music for their deep, bass tone. This instrument, surprisingly, can be used to play solos. It is an instrument with reeds and uses a blowhole. 

Alto saxophones are multipurpose instruments, fit for almost any genre of music. Tenors can be used to produce a much heavier sound.

Interested in learning more about the instruments used in jazz music? Check out my article of the top jazz instruments!

Final Thoughts On Marching Band Instruments

Witnessing a marching band in full swing is truly an incredible experience. And something I would recommend to anyone that has the opportunity!

Although I haven’t included every single one of the marching band instruments, I’ve included the most common instruments that you’ll most likely see.