15 Musical Instruments In A Marching Band You Should Know

Avatar photo
Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Have you ever heard of a mellophone? How about a sousaphone? If the answer is no, don’t worry – you’re not alone. While most people recognize instruments like the trumpet or clarinet, there are a number of more obscure instruments used in marching bands that you might not have seen.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to 12 different instruments used in a marching band, so next time you’re at a parade, you’ll know what’s what. So put on your marching band uniform and get ready to learn!

Brass Instruments

The brass section of a marching band is one of the most recognizable sections. From trumpets to trombones, these weapons of musical mayhem can add a lot of excitement to any performance.


The Trumpet is one of the most iconic and easily recognizable instruments in a marching band.

They have a strong, bright sound that can cut through the sound of other instruments, making them perfect for leading the band and playing the melody.

Trumpeters are also known for their high-energy attitude and outgoing personality, which helps to keep the band morale high.

Marching bands typically feature multiple trumpets and you’ll usually see between 6 and 8. But some bands can have a lot more!

In addition, trumpets are relatively lightweight and easy to carry, making them a popular choice for marching band members. As a result, it is no surprise that trumpets are one of the most essential instruments in a marching band.


The Cornet is very similar to the trumpet, and in fact, the two instruments share a lot of history.

But, Cornets have a slightly different shape and a mellower sound. Some people say that the cornet sounds like a “sweet” trumpet, while the trumpet sounds more “brassy.”

The mellower sound of the cornet can be attributed to its conical bore, which is wider than that of a trumpet. This allows for more air to vibrate inside the instrument, resulting in a softer sound.

And like the trumpet, cornets are relatively lightweight, making them easy to carry while marching and more suitable for young children.


Next up, we have the Trombone, which is another brass instrument that is widely used in marching bands.

The trombone is unique in that it uses a slide to change the pitch of the notes instead of using valves like other brass instruments.

This makes the trombone one of the most expressive brass instruments, as the player can slide the slide in and out to create different sounds.

The trombone also has a very unique shape, which can make it difficult to carry while marching. But, the trombone’s distinctive sound is well worth the extra effort!

Marching bands typically feature multiple trombones, and you’ll usually see anywhere from 2 or 3 all the way up to more than 15!


Another brass instrument you’ll see is the Mellophone which takes up the middle register in the brass section.

It looks like a cross between a french horn and a trumpet and is essentially a french horn with a bell that faces forward. This makes it much more appropriate to play in a marching band, and it’s sometimes called the marching French Horn as a result.

Although they look very similar to trumpets, they have a much larger bell, which gives them a mellower sound – hence the name.


Representing the bass section of the brass instruments is the Tuba, which is one of the largest and most important instruments in a marching band.

The tuba is often considered the “backbone” of the band as it provides the foundation for the other instruments to build upon.

With its large size and weight, the tuba can be quite difficult to carry while marching. But, the tuba player is typically one of the strongest members of the band, so they’re up for the challenge!

Marching bands typically feature multiple tubas, and you’ll usually see 3 or 4. But some bands can have a lot more!


The Sousaphone is a type of tuba that is specifically designed for marching bands.

It has a much larger bell that faces forward, making it easier to hear and see while marching.

Additionally, the sousaphone’s coil wrap design makes it easier to carry while marching, as it distributes the weight more evenly.

As a result, the sousaphone has become the bass brass instrument of choice for most marching bands.

Wind Instruments

Now that we’ve covered brass, it’s time to look at some of the wind instruments in a marching band.

Flute and Piccolo

The Flute is a popular choice for marching band members as it is relatively lightweight and easy to carry.

It has a very high-pitched sound, which makes it perfect for playing melodies as it can cut through the rest of the band.

You’ll typically see 2 or 3 flutes in a marching band, but some bands can have a lot more!

You also have the smaller cousin on the flute, the Piccolo. The Piccolo is tuned an octave higher than the flute and, therefore, can play even higher notes.

Due to its small size, it is very easy to carry around and is a perfect choice for marching bands.


Next, we have the Clarinet, which is another staple of a marching band’s instrumentation.

Lightweight and easy to carry, it doesn’t take up a lot of space either, so it’s perfect for marching bands.

The clarinet has a very distinctive sound that is easy to recognize, and you’ll usually see quite a few of them in a marching band.

They’ll often play in unison along with flutes and the saxophones, with the clarinet filling out the sound and bringing color to the melodies.


One of the most recognizable wind instruments, the Saxophone is an essential part of any marching band.

The saxophone comes in a variety of sizes that play at different ranges, but the most common type you’ll see in a marching band is the alto saxophone.

That’s because it’s lighter and has a higher pitch than the tenor saxophone.

Percussion Instruments

And the last section of the marching band we will talk about today is the Percussion Section.

This is made up of Drums – known as the Drumline or Battery, Cymbals and sometimes tuned percussion like the Glockenspiel.

Let’s take a look at each of them

Snare Drum

The Snare Drum is probably the most essential percussion instrument in the marching band. It is a small, cylindrical drum that is played with two sticks.

The snare drum is used to keep the beat of the music and also to add accents and special effects like drum rolls.

They get their name by the snares that are attached to the underside of the drum.

Usually made out of metal, these are strips of wire or gut that vibrate when the drum is hit, giving it a unique rattling sound.

Bass Drum

Next, we have the Bass Drum is the largest drum in the marching band and is used to keep time.

It is played with a mallet by striking the large cylindrical drum head on either side. Because of its size, it makes a loud, low booming sound that can be heard over the rest of the band.

Because of its size, it’s carried using big shoulder straps, and so the musician needs to be strong! They can weigh up to 40 pounds!

Tenor Drums 

Next we have the Tenor Drum or Quad Drums as they’re sometimes known, which get their name from the fact that these drums are pitched lower than the snare drum and higher than the bass drum in the tenor range.

Rather than being a single drum however, tenor drums in marching bands usually come in sets of 4-6 drums, which are then mounted onto a frame and played by one person.

This allows the musician to play multiple drums at the same time, adding a lot of rhythm and complexity to the music.

But as a result that they are quite heavy and require a lot of strength to carry and can weigh up to 45lbs.


And last but not least, we have the Cymbals. These are two metal plates that are hit together to create a loud crash sound.

Marching performers usually use the “Garfield grip,” which involves placing the palm through the straps and twisting it such that the hand rests on top of the bell. 

They’re then hit together instead of hit with a mallet, like a traditional drum kit.

Glockenspiel (Bell Lyre)

And finally, we have the Glockenspiel, a tuned percussion instrument found in a marching band.

They are played with a hard mallet that strikes metal bars tuned to different notes. They have a very high pitch and are often used to play melodies.

Unlike traditional glockenspiel, those found in marching bands look a bit different and are called Marching Glockenspiel or Bell Lyres. They are held upright which makes them easier to play while marching.

Summing Up Our List Of Marching Band Instruments

Whether you’re a fan of marching bands or not, it’s hard to deny their importance in American culture.

The next time you see a parade or watch a football game, take a moment to appreciate the unique sound of these instruments and watch how each section works together to not only make not only a great sound, but a visually impressive on too!

Photo of author

Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.