A brass band is a musical group consisting entirely of brass instruments with a percussion section. Sections within a brass band include cornets, horns, baritones, trombones, euphoniums, basses and percussion – all skillfully lead by musical directors normally referred to as conductors.
Musical Director / Conductor
The musical director (or conductor) of a brass band provides the musical leadership to help players realise their individual and group potential. The MD is responsible for all musical elements of the band including: choosing what music to play, allocating players to positions, conducting rehearsals and presenting the band at concerts and contests.
The cornet section are to a brass band what violins are to an orchestra; they are often the highest sounding voices and frequently carry the tune.
The soprano cornet provides a similar role to that of a flute in an orchestra whilst the repiano cornet plays a solo part underneath the solo cornets (similar to what you may find in a clarinet part).The backrow cornets (2nd & 3rds) often have trumpet type parts and add a vital colour to the unique brass band sound.
The principal cornet player leads the section and is involved in all decisions about how the section operate.
The horn section is normally made up of three tenor horns in Eb and one flugel horn in Bb.
The flugel and solo horn combine with the back row cornets to provide the alto voice of the brass band. The 1st and 2nd horn at times support the melodic lines (in unison or harmony) and at other times provide a more rhythmical function.
The sound of the horn section when combined with baritones are what give the brass band it’s unique identity.
Euphoniums and Baritones
The euphoniums and baritones combine with the lower horns to provide the tenor and baritone sounds of the brass band. The euphonium often carries the tune (similar to the function of the cello in an orchestra) and as the name suggests has a beautiful sound that can be heard above the band even at loud dynamics.
The baritones often have an independent line which provides both melodic and rhythmical function at the baritone pitch. The sound of the baritone section when combined with horns are what give the brass band its unique identity.
The trombone section provide a very similar role in a brass band that they do in an orchestra. Two tenor trombones play the higher notes (often in the same pitch range as backrow cornets or horns) whilst the bass trombone plays the lower notes (often at the same pitch range as the Eb basses).
Brass bands normally have four players in the bass section – two players specialising in the higher part (Eb bass) and two players specialising in the lower parts (Bb bass). The basses normally play the lowest sounding notes in a brass band but now and again they have melodic contributions.
The percussion section are another team that are shared between brass bands and orchestras. Normally, one player will specialise in the ‘tuned’ instruments (xylophone, glockenspiel, timpani) whilst another player will focus on ‘kit’ parts (snare, cymbals, bass drum, tom toms etc). In practice though, most percussionist will be multi-talented and able to play tuned or kit parts. Some pieces do call for a third (or even more!) percussion player. The section is led by the lead percussionist.