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What Is a Marching Brass Band?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
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  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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A marching brass band is a band made up primarily of instruments in the brass family. Members routinely perform while taking steps together in a coordinated way. These bands usually perform out of doors due to the volume brass instruments have, and because of the number of members.

Marching brass bands usually include instruments such as the trumpet or cornet, mellophone, trombone and the sousaphone, as well as marching versions of the french horn, baritone, euphonium and tuba. Unlike other marching bands, a marching brass band typically doesn't use flutes, although some permit the use of the clarinet despite the fact clarinets are not in the brass family. The saxophone is the only woodwind instrument truly in the brass family people play in marching brass bands as a matter of standard, typically playing along with and in a range similar to the marching french horns. These instruments allow the brass band to have a full range of pitch and tonal color.

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Players in a marching brass band rely on percussion players to provide rhythmic constancy and occasional flourishes. When players in the band are momentarily resting from playing as they march, the percussion players are responsible for keeping a basic beat pattern that enables the members to stay in step with each other. As a section, the percussion players may develop complex cadences, or rhythmic sequences, to play between pieces, too. At a minimum, marching brass bands have at least one bass and snare drum, but these types of bands also use other percussion instruments like cymbals, tenor drums or toms and bells or xylophones.

In terms of size, marching brass bands may be as small as just a few players, with a single player per part. A common size is between 25 and 75 players. A large marching brass band may have as many as 100 to 200 musicians, although the smaller bands are used at smaller events such as award ceremonies, while the larger bands are used at sports events and parades, often playing at half-time shows and during timeouts.

Musicians who perform in a marching brass band usually play songs with moderate to fast tempos, or beat speeds. The players can easily march naturally at these speeds. Players also may play slower songs, however, when they are able to play without marking time or marching, such as when they are seated in the stands at a sports event. Bands traditionally play songs like the marches of John Phillip Sousa, but they also play arrangements of contemporary popular works in order to get the audience "pepped up," or excited. Some music selections may have specific connotations for the event, such as playing Freddie Mercury's "We Are the Champions" at a sports competition or James Sanderson's "Hail to the Chief" for a presidential visit, so the selection of music is critical in setting the atmosphere and tone.

Showmanship is a major consideration for some marching brass bands. This means that the band plays careful attention to the form and synchronization of each marching step, and that members go out of the way to create acoustical and visual effects. Some marching brass bands even have songs professionally choreographed. Many bands take this seriously enough that they participate in formal marching competitions, with the best bands competing at the national or international level.

Even when a marching brass band isn't as concerned with being "showy," members still often wear some kind of uniform in order to distinguish players as members of the group. For an informal marching brass band, such as one made up of community volunteers, the uniform may be something as simple as the same color shirt and style of pants. In a formal marching brass band, members wear long pants, heavy and often ornately decorated coats that sometimes have cape attachments, gloves and hats that sometimes have plumes. In marching brass bands formed in the military, members often wear a uniform that adheres to the regulations for the particular military branch to which band members belong. Some bands have multiple uniforms so that players can be comfortable in both warm and cold weather, but in bands where funds are tight, players often have to wear the standard uniform, designed for cooler weather, even in the summer.

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