Playing in a marching band is a unique and fun band experience. You get to be a huge part of the football games, travel to away games, and even go to marching band competitions. When you’re deciding to join the marching band, choose your instrument wisely. Many newcomers wonder, “what marching band instrument should I play?” Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each marching band instrument to help you decide.
What Marching Band Instrument Should I Play?
Usually referred to as the drumline of the marching band, percussion instruments are essential for that classic marching band sound, and it is what keeps all other instruments in time and in step.
The largest percussion instruments are the bass drum and tenor drums (also called quads). They are both worn on the front of the body, over the shoulders. They can be quite heavy, so think about whether you will be comfortable with carrying the weight during practice, games, and parades. Bass drum parts are usually relatively simple, while tenor drum parts can be complex and require playing several different drums.
The snare drum is also worn on the front of the body, but it is considerably lighter in weight. The snare drum supplies much of the rhythm for the marching band, so as a snare drum player the band will look to you for tempo and timing.
Cymbals are another fun percussion instrument and are not worn on the body, but instead one is held in each hand, so these can be great for percussionists who don’t want to strap their instrument on.
Glockenspiel and woodblock (similar to a xylophone) are sometimes omitted from a marching band, but when they are part of the band they really shine in the drumline. They can play more melodically than other percussion instruments. They can be worn on the body or may be stationary on a stand.
Brass instruments are what give a marching band its rich tone and intensity. They are some of the loudest marching band instruments.
The trumpet is one of the most iconic instruments in a marching band and has its origins in the military. It is a versatile instrument that plays both melody and harmony. It is very lightweight, so it is easy to march with. Similar to the trumpet is the cornet. This instrument is slightly smaller and more mellow than the trumpet and tends to play more supportive parts in the instrumentation.
Trombones are another brass marching band instrument. They have a slide that may have a fun sleeve on it that shows off your school spirit and makes the trombone movements more dramatic. It does require more arm movement and could be challenging for some players to play and march at the same time.
For the low end of the brass section, the sousaphone is essentially the tube of the marching band. It is quite large and is worn around the body over one shoulder, with the other arm going through the opening to use the valves. The bell opens up overhead to project the low, rhythmic sounds.
Other brass instruments that may be part of larger or more advanced marching bands include the mellophone, french horn, and euphonium.
Woodwind instruments are what give a marching band that sparkle and variety. They often take on the melody or countermelody. These instruments are smaller and more lightweight than brass or percussion instruments, so they can be great for players who are smaller in stature.
The piccolo is the highest-pitched instrument and the smallest in the marching band, and they typically march at the front of the formation. Flutes are the second-highest and smallest instrument and usually march beside or behind the piccolos. Both instruments take on the melody and may have to play faster or more complex parts.
The clarinet is a reeded instrument that adds a lovely timbre to the ensemble. It is also lightweight, but players will need to be sure to protect their reed from being damaged or keep a spare in the pocket of their uniform.
The saxophone is another woodwind instrument. Even though it is made of brass it uses a reeded mouthpiece, so it is considered a woodwind. The saxophone is worn around the neck with a strap or harness and comes in a few different sizes, including (from smallest to largest) the alto sax, tenor sax, and baritone sax. Soprano saxophones are technically the smallest of this instrument but aren’t often used in marching band. The baritone saxophone is quite large and heavy, so players who are taller may be able to comfortably march with it.
Choosing Your Marching Band Instrument
Being part of a marching band is an exciting experience, especially if you have chosen an instrument that you like and that is easy for you to march with. Many who join marching band for the first time will have the opportunity to try out different instruments and see which one is the best fit. If you aren’t sure which instrument you will like best, you can rent an instrument to try out first.
Instrument Rentals from CIOMIT
CIOMIT offers rentals for marching band instruments so you can try them out before you commit to one. Visit us in Castle Rock, CO at one of our Rental Nights and we can help students determine what instrument is right for them. With the CIOMIT Instrument Rental + Program student can earn credits to apply to our services. You get tons of benefits like maintenance, ownership credit, instrument swaps, and size exchanges. CIOMIT’s ‘Music on Mission’ is here to Support Music Students with our Test Play Events.