A typical school band or concert band is made up of three types of musical instruments: brass, woodwind and percussion. Each category is comprised of many different instruments. Given the limited scope of most school bands, some instruments are more common than others, but in the professional field, there are dozens of instruments to choose from.
The brass section of the band is made up of instruments such as trumpets, trombones, tubas and occasionally the French horn. All of these instruments are played using lip vibration in conjunction with either valves or a slide.
The typical band will have many trumpets, supported by trombones, and only a handful of tubas and French horns.
By contrast, woodwind instruments are played by vibrating a reed on the instrument with the mouth. In terms of concert bands, this includes clarinets, flutes, saxophones and, less often, oboes and piccolos.
Most concert bands have a large number of clarinets and flutes, especially because flutes are a low volume instrument on their own.
The final piece of the concert band puzzle is percussion. Most percussion players actually become familiar with playing multiple instruments because this category is comprised of so many different options and each musical number uses a different combination of instruments.
Snare drums, bass drums, cymbals, xylophones and even chimes are part of this group.
Putting It All Together
The combination of all three classifications of instruments is used to create a versatile range of musical qualities. Most students begin by taking up one of the common instruments in the first years of band participation and some graduate to more challenging instruments as they grow into more advanced music and bands.
For instance, the flute player may choose to take up the piccolo if the band already has plenty of flute players and needs more dynamic range. Since both instruments are similar in nature, the transition is easy to make and fills a need.
While there is no exact formula for how many of each instrument type will be included in a band, most are made up of a roughly equal number of brass and woodwind players, with a much smaller number of percussionists.
At Schmitt Music, we recommend speaking to your school’s band director to find out which instruments are most needed in their band while also taking into account the instruments that your student is most interested in.