What are Bands?

silhouette of brass band on sand dune
Dejan Patic Getty Images

The word "band" comes from the middle French word bande meaning "troop." The significant difference between a band and an orchestra is that musicians who play in a band play brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments. The orchestra, on the other hand, includes bowed stringed instruments.

The word "band" is also used to describe a group of people who perform together such as dance bands. It can also be used to describe a specific instrument played by a group such as brass bands.

Bands are said to have originated in Germany around the 15th century, using mainly bassoons and oboes. By the end of the 18th century, Janissary (Turkish) music became popular featuring instruments such as triangles, flutes, cymbals and large drums. Also, during this time the number of musicians who played in a band grew. In 1838, a band composing of 200 drummers and 1,000 wind instrument musicians performed for the Russian emperor in Berlin.

Band competitions were held, notable of which were those held at Alexandra Palace, London and Bell Vue, Manchester. The National Brass Band Festival was held in 1900.

In the United States, military bands emerged during the Revolutionary War. The role of bands at that time was to accompany soldiers during battles. In time the use and role of military bands were lessened; this marked the beginning of town bands. Town bands are made up of local musicians who perform during special occasions such as national holidays.

Town bands continued to flourish through the 20th century; composers and band directors like John Philip Sousa helped promote band music. Today, many educational institutions in the United States have marching bands that are composed of students. Competitions for high school and college bands help promote American bands and band music.

Notable Composers for Bands

  • Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore - "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
  • John Philip Sousa - "The Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis"
  • Karl Lawrence King - "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite"

Bands on the Web

For information and links to school bands, ensemble bands and other types of bands, Marching Band.Net has a helpful and large directory. Also, check out Indiana University's Marching Hundred.