Graham Nasby's Online Resources


Concert Band Instrumentation

Play in a community or concert band? Have you ever wondered what a full- concert band, with all the instruments, is supposed to be like? This page will give you an idea.

Instruments in a Concert Band

There are many different instruments and sections that make up a concert band.

Flutes & Piccolos

You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of piccolo] Piccolo (and also the Db Piccolo)
The piccolo is a special kind of flute that is pitched one octive higher. The musicians who play piccolo usually also play flute. Most pieces call for only one piccolo player, but we have encountered music that calls for two piccolos. The piccolo is extremely difficult to play, and hard to keep in tune while playing...which explains so many jokes about piccolo players.

Db Piccolo
Another special kind of piccolo, called a Db Piccolo (aka Military Piccolo), is sometimes used instead of the regular piccolo. Rarely used nowadays, the Db piccolo was commonly used in the first half of the 20th century. The Db piccolo is pitched a semi-tone higher than a regular piccolo. It used for some pieces that are played in keys with a lot of sharps or flats. The Db Piccolo is pitched in the key of Db (unlike the regular Piccolo which is in "concert pitch") which makes these pieces eaisier to play. One well known piece where this is the case is the Amercian march "The Stars and Stripes Forever", which we don't play very often because we are Canadians.

[picture of flute] Flute
The flute has a very clear and flowing sound to it. Most music has 2 or 3 flute parts. The flute alone cannot produce very much volume, so a lot of players are required in the flute section. A full-sized band will usually have 8-12 flute players.

The word flute covers a wide range of woodwind instruments, in which sound is produced by directing air across the edge of a hole. Along with the flute which is pictured here the family includes the piccolo, the fife, and panpipes. Most flutes are made of metal, usually silver; modern flutes are only occasionally made of wood. The flute is used in orchestras, wind bands, and jazz bands to give a bright, silvery sound. It is played by blowing across the blowhole. Apart from the piccolo, the flute is the only instrument in the orchestra that is played in this way. The pitch range is three octaves, it is keyed in concert-pitch, and it measures approximately 26 inches long and just under 1 inch in diameter. There are other larger flutes called the alto flute and the bass flute, but they are very seldom used in concert bands, and are rarely used in orchestras.

Eb Flute
At one time there was another kind of flute pitched in Eb, called the Eb Flute, that was often used in bands. However, the use of this instrument fell out of favour by about the 1930s. Pitched between the piccolo and the flute, it was sometimes used instead of the piccolo in band arrangments where the high range of the piccolo was not needed. If an an older piece of music has a part for Eb Flute it would exist as a "Eb Flute/Eb Clarinet" part which meant it could be played by either instrument. Eb Flutes are now long-gone and no longer used, but Eb clarinets are still part modern band.

Fact: The flute's haunting sound has long been linked with magical properties, as in Mozart's opera, "The Magic Flute", or in the Pied-Piper legend.

Double Reeds

You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of oboe] Oboe
The oboe has a piercing sound that cuts across the entire band and has many beautiful solos in many pieces. The band usually has both a first and a second oboe player. The pitch of the oboe is usually used to tune the band.

The oboe consists of a conical keyed tube played with a double reed. The piercing sound, characteristic of oboe-type instruments, is particularly suitable for outdoor use. The oboe is the smallest of the orchestral, double reed instruments. Its expressive sound is often used to play sad or emotional melodies. Because air is forced at high pressure into the tiny reed, stale air can gather in the lungs, making you feel faint if the air is not expelled quickly. Because of this, it is often said to be a very difficult instrument to play. The pitch range of the oboe is two-and-a-half octaves, and it is made of wood. The oboe plays in concert-pitch. The oboe is just under 24 inches long.

Fact: The oboe was one of the first woodwind instruments to have a regular place in the classical orchestra. When the modern concert band began to develop, bands inherited the oboe as part of their instrumentation. Because its pitch does not vary much with temperature, the oboe sounds the concert-A note, to which all other instruments in the orchestra or band adjust their tuning.

[picture of an english horn] English Horn (aka Cor Anglais) - rare and we don't have access to one
The english horn is an incredibly strange and mysterious sounding instrument. It has a very haunting and mello tone, and sort of looks like a big oboe with a pear-shaped bulb on the end. The English horn is pitched in F, which is lower than the oboe. The english horn is usually played by an oboe player that happens to own and play both instruments.
[picture of bassoon] Bassoon
The bassoon plays an important part as one of the inner voices of the band. Falling in between the upper-woodwinds and the bass section, the bassoon usually has intricate harmony parts and the odd exposed section where the unique timbre of the bassoon sound can be easily heard. Most music has both a first and a second bassoon part. It always seems to be a constant struggle to find bassoonists to play in the band - there simply aren't many of them around.

Bassoons are the largest commonly used double-reed instruments in the band. They have double reeds and consist of several sections or joints of wood. Playing the bassoon involves great effort to overcome its considerable weight, and agility to control its awkward keywork system. Thre are actually two complete different types of bassoons, which differ by their kework-systems: there is the German (or "heckel") key system, and what is known as the French (or "ring") key system. Heckel System (aka German keywork) bassoons are the the ones used in the band. In North America, the Heckel system bassoon is the most common kind. The pitch range of the bassoon is three-and-a-half octaves; it is usually made of maple or rosewood, with a metal bocal. The bassoon plays in concert-pitch. The size is 4 ft. 4 in. long; total length of unwound tube is 8 ft. 3 in.

Fact: The Italians call the bassoon a "fagotto", meaning "bunch of firewood". The poet, Sacheverell Sitwell likened the bassoon's deep, dark tones to the sound of "a sea-god speaking."

[picture of a contrabassoon] Contrabassoon - very rare and very seldom used
Sometimes called the Double-Bassoon, contrabassoons are huge. They are twice as big as a bassoon and sound an octave lower. They are very rare and hidieously expensive. In the hands of the best musicians, the contrabassoon organlike tone rings through the orchestra, adding richness and weight to chords. Contrabassoons are almost never found in bands, but can sometimes be heard in symphony orchestras. The bassoon's tubular body is divided into four sections, and doubles back on itself to make it more manageable to play.

Some very old orchestral-transcriptions will have a part for one; and modern repertoire only very rarely calls for one and even then it is "optional". For the most part in modern band music , the role the contrabassoon played is now handled by the contrabass clarinet. If we encounter a piece of music with a contrabassoon part, we will often leave it unplayed or have our contrabass clarinet player play the part. Even in the symphony orchestra, which is where they originated from, contrabassoons are not called for very often.

[picture of a contrabassoon]
Contrabass Sarrusophone - very, very rare and almost unheard of
Now this is a strange instrument! The contrabass sarrusophone is a huge double-reed instrument constructed out of metal. It has a sound somewhat between that of a bass saxophone and a bassoon. It covers the same range as the contrabassoon. Contrabass sarrusphone parts do not exist in band music, but the instrument is sometimes used instead of a contrabassoon. Many say it actually sounds much nicer than a contrabassoon. However, there is only one concert band that I know of in North America that actually has one of these - it is played by a fellow named Grant Green in the San Jose Wind Symphony. Rumour has it that the Indianapolis Concert Band has one as well. Apparently, sarrusophones are still quite popular in military bands in Italy. In Italy, you will also sometimes see the other members of the sarrusphone family: the soprano, alto, tenor and various embodiments of the bass sarrusphone. The sarrusophone was developed by Gautrot in the mid 1800s to compete with the saxophone; it fell out of favour by about the late 1920s. It is named after the famous French bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813-1876).


You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of Eb clarinet] Eb Clarinet
The Eb clarinet is a funny little solo instrument sometimes used in band music. The melody played by this instrument is usally a higher version of the main melody or a completely different counter-melody. It's high range gives the clarinet section of the full sound. There is usually only ever one Eb clarinet, if there is one at all, for a piece. Some older music will sometimes call for two Eb clarinets, but we usually have someone transpose the 2nd Eb part onto regular clarinet. The Eb clarinet has the same range as a regular clarinet but is pitched in the higher key of Eb. Very few bands have an Eb clarinet, and for good reason! Eb clarinets are very hard to play in tune - a bad Eb clarinet player can make even the best band sound positively dreadful. But played properly and in tune it is a gem!
[picture of Bb clarinet] Bb Clarinet (aka Regular Clarinet)
The Bb clarinet is is one of the mainstays of the concert band. Performing the same role that the string section would in an orchestra, clarinets provide much of the body of sound in the band. There are usually at least three Bb clarinet parts and a solo part spread amongst 10-15 clarinetists. If there is no oboe, the pitch of a clarinet will be used to tune the band.

The clarinet consists of a cylindrical tube whose mouthpiece has a single, vibrating reed. One of the best known is the Bb clarinet with French standard Boehm fingering system. (There are also a number of different key/fingering systems such as the Oehler, Albert, German and other variations but they are seldom, if ever, used in North America.) The clarinet is one of the most versatile of all modern instruments. It has a very wide range of notes (three-and-a-half octaves), and you can hear its pure, clear sound in orchestras, military bands, and jazz groups. Construction is usually of African blackwood or moulded plastic, and it is just over 26 inches long. The clarinet family also includes the little Eb clarinet, bass clarinet and the rare contrabass clarinet, along with many others. It has a breathy, almost hollow tone - popular with jazz saxophone players who often use it as a second instrument.

Fact: Until the 19th century, the clarinet was played with the mouthpiece the opposite way up to the way it is played today.

[picture of alto clarinet] Alto Clarinet
The alto clarinet is an Eb clarinet pitched between the regular Bb clarinet and bass clarinet. It bridges the tonal gap between the 3rd clarinet and the bass clarinet. The alto clarinet has the same range as regular clarinet except that plays in the key of Eb, and will ofen have an extra low Eb key. The alto clarinet is relatively rare in most North American concert bands: there are always parts for the instrument but alto clarinet players are generally hard to find.
[picture of bass clarinet] Bass Clarinet
The bass clarinet has a dark sound that usually accompanies the bass section but often can be heard by itself with a counter melody. The bass clarinet has the same range as regular clarinet but plays in the key of Bb one octive lower. Bass clarinets usually have an extra low Eb key. Some bass clarinets will have their range extended down to a low C by way of extra keys and being much longer, however these instruments are extremely expensive and quite rare. The band will usually have one or two bass clarinets.
[picture of contra-alto clarinet] Contra-Alto Clarinet (aka Eb Contrabass Clarinet)
A really big clarinet that is pitched below the bass clarinet, that plays very low bass parts. The contra-alto clarinet is pitched one octave below the alto clarinet, and thus plays in the key of EEb. Another name for the contra-alto clarinet is the Eb Contrabass Clarinet, and both terms are used interchangably. Contra-alto clarinets are usually contructed of either wood or resonite, and are sometimes made of metal. Most contra-alto clarinets are a straight tube that measures a little over 4 feet high, but looped ("paperclip") instruments are also occasionally constructed of metal. This EEb clarinet also has the unique property of being able to read and sight-transpose BBb tuba parts very easily: by reading the bass cleff as if it was treble clef and adding 3 sharps.
[picture of contra-bass clarinet] Contrabass Clarinet - rare and we don't have access to one
A very, very big clarinet. It often doubles the tuba/string-bass parts or has its own unique variation on those parts. The one pictured on the left is a looped ("paperclip") model constructed out of nickel-silver. Contra basses, like the contra-alto are so big that the tubing has to "loop back on itself". These instruments can be constructed as big long straight body section or in looped form (as in the picture). Contra bass clarinets are pitched in BBb, two octaves below the regular Bb clarinet, and often have an extended low range down to Eb, D or C. Contrabass clarinets are also sometimes called Pedal Clarinets, term that is sometimes used in England and other European countries. The name Pedal Clarinet, comes from the fact they play so low they can be used to emmulate the deep "pedal notes" you would play on a pipe organ using your feet. To get an idea how big this instrument is, the straight model in the picture link can be played from the standing position.


You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of soprano sax] Soprano Sax
The highest pitched of the conventional saxophones. It either has its own melody part or doubles the tenor sax part. The soprano sax is pitched in Bb and has a regular range of approxmately two and a half octaves. Not a lot of concert band music uses one.
[picture of alto sax] Alto Sax
The first and second alto sax parts carry the melody when the sax section is playing. They are used extensively when the band is playing jazz, movie music and swing. The alto sax is pitched in Eb and has a range of approximately two and a half octaves. There are usually two to four players on alto sax.
[picture of tenor sax] Tenor Sax
The tenor sax adds body to the sound of the sax section by filling in the inner voices. It also plays many harmonies and melodies in more jazzy and showy tunes. The tenor is pitched lower than the alto, in the key of Bb and has the same two and half octave range. There is usually just one tenor part and it is is often doubled or tripled.
[picture of baritone sax] Baritone Sax
The baritone sax is usually the largest sax that plays in the band. It plays the bass line for the sax section and often gets a solo or two in jazz tunes. The baritone sax is pitched in EEb, has a range two and a half octaves, and will sometimes have an extra key to allow it to play down to a low A instead of just a Bb.
[picture of baritone sax] Bass Sax - rare and seldom used
The bass sax is an extremely rare saxophone. Some old band music has parts for it. It usually strengthens tuba lines. Modern band music almost never calls for a bass sax.

However, a lot of the classic band repertoire from the first part of the 20th century will often have a part for bass saxophone. Composers that liked to score for bass sax include: Holst, Vaughn-Williams, Grainger, Gershwin, and many others. Very little music scored after the 1950 includes a bass sax part. Since most bands don't have a bass sax, they usually leave the part unplayed since it will often be doubled by another instrument as well. The bass sax is pitched in BBb, has a range two and a half octaves. The bass saxophone is an instrument that is huge, heavy, costly and to not to mention extremely rare. Bass saxes measure almost five feet high (and the tubing usally loops back on itself as well!).


You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of trumpet] Trumpet
The trumpet is one of the lead instruments in the band. Melody is is carried chiefly by the 1st trumpet, with the 2nd and 3rd trumpet parts establising the section's thick brassy sound. The trumpet has a very cylindrical bore that gives it a very bright sound. A band usally will have 6 or more trumpets.

A trumpet consists of a narrow tube with a cup-shaped mouthpiece at one end and a flared bell at the other. The trumpet is used to play all kinds of music ranging from South American ballads to flashy fanfares to classical orchestral pieces. Blazing fanfares and moody mellowness are all characteristic trumpet sounds. The pitch range of the trumpet is two-and-three-quarter octaves, and it is usually made of brass and covered with lacquer. Trumpets pitched in Bb are used in the band. It is about 18 inches long;   total length of unwound tube is 4 ft. 6 in.

Fact: Trumpets are at least 3,500 years old:  silver and bronze trumpets were among the objects found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen in Egypt.

[picture of cornet] Cornet
The cornet is very similar to the trumpet, except that is has a more conical bore that gives it a softer sound. Most pieces have a combination of trumpet and cornet parts. All of our the trumpet and cornet players can play both trumpet or cornet. Cornets are also pitched in Bb and have a usual range of two-and-three-quarter octaves.
picture of flugel horn] Flugel Horn - seldom used
A flugel horn is sort of like a very large bore version of the trumpet. Due to its shape, the flugel horn has its own very mello sound that is very well suited for jazz solos. It is not used very often in the band and, when it is used, it is only for a solo in a show or jazz tune. The flugel horn is also pitched in Bb and has the same range as a trumpet.
[picture of trombone] Trombone
The trombones are a large instrument that features a slide instead of valves. The cylindrical shape of the tubing gives them a very bright tone. They are used for low brassy sections of music and help with the inner voices and bass section of the band. There are usually 3 or 4 trombone parts that are often doubled. The trombone used in the band is actually the "tenor trombone"; there are actually other different sized trombones in the trombone family but these others (except for the bass trombone) are never used in concert bands and are quite rare.

Trombones are brass instruments with long, cylindrical tubes, flared bells, and cup-shaped mouthpieces. Most trombones have a slide that the player uses to alter the length of the tube and change the pitch, but some have valves. Some trombones will also have some rotary valves in addition to the slide, to make the instrument more flexible. In the orchestras, it often represents the voice of doom and danger with its loud, deep, bass sound that can slide menacingly from one note to the next. The trombone can also play softly: its warm tone often features in jazz bands and brass groups. The pitch range is two-and-a-half octaves, plays in concert-pitch and the tube length is usually 9 feet.

Fact: In the 17th and 18th century, trombones were used in operas for supernatural scenes. In Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni", the trombone is used to accompany the statue of the dead Commendatore. Also, Glen Miller, of big band fame, was a trombone player.

[picture of trombone] Bass Trombone
What a bass trombone exactly is, is up for debate, as there is no consensus on what exactly a bass trombone is. However one thing that people seem to be able to agree upon is that a bass trombone is very large trombone with one or more triggers (valves). The large bore and big bell gives the bass trombone a deeper sound than regular trombone and is usually used on the 3rd and/or 4th trombone part. It also plays in concert-pitch. A band will usually have one or two bass trombones.


You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of horn] French Horn
The french horn has a rich full sound that is used for melodic passages as well for providing accompaniment to other sections of the band. There are usually 3 or 4 differnt horn parts that are usally played with one-on-a-part.

A horn is an instrument consisting of a mouthpiece and a long tube that widens out to the bell. Along with the French horn pictured here the horn family includes such oddities as the Wagner Tuba and the Shofar (which you would never see in a concert band). The French horn is a brass instrument built in a circle, with a large bell that is held down by the player's side. It is also the only brass instrument in which the valves are operated with the left hand -- all other brass instruments are operated with the right hand. Its rich, velvety sound is heard mostly in orchestras and bands.  The French horn first came into the orchestra in pairs to portray the sound of hunting horns but is now used in music of all sorts.  The pitch range is three-and-a-half octaves, and its length is variable. The total length of unwound tube is between 9 and 12 feet. French horns are tranposing instruments and usually play in the key of F.

Fact: Did you know that because it is difficult for a player to be able to master both the extreme high and the extreme low notes, professional players often specialize in one or other range?

Bass Brass

You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of euphonium] Euphonium (aka Baritone)
The Euphonium is like a small tuba, but is considered the solo instrument of the bass section. You can easily hear the euphonium quite clearly in most marches and military music. The euphonium can either play as a Bb instrument or as a bass clef concert-pitch instrument.

The instrument pictured on the left is actually a baritone. There is a difference between a baritone and a euphonium. Both are pitched the same and have the range, but a baritone has a very narrow bell with cylindrical tubing, while a euphonium has a large bell with conical tubing. The result is that while a baritone has a very bright sound, a euphonium will have a more mello dark timbre. Technicaly, for a concert band we should only use euphoniums and not baritones. Good bands try, if at all possible, to only use euphoniums, but sometimes the only instrument a player owns in a baritone.

[picture of an Eb tuba] Eb Tuba - rare but the band owns one, we'd like someone to come and play it
The Eb tuba is more of an odd-ball these days, than a common instrument. Still sometimes heard in brass bands, the Eb tuba has fell out of favour in North America in the last 50 years or so. Eb Tubas are still fequently used in europe, as it is actually a flexible instrument than the usual BBb tuba. Originally quite common around the turn of the century up until WWII, the Eb tuba is a small tuba pitched mid-way between the euphonium and the regular (BBb) tuba. It usually plays the same line as the tuba, but often an octave higher instead. Most Eb tubas only have 3 valves, but some have 4 valves which allow the to play just as low as a regular BBb tuba. (The 4th valve allows the player make the instrument as long as a regular tuba for those really low notes.) As with all bass brass, parts for Eb tuba are written in concert pitch and the player must sight-tranpsose themselves as they play--this is the contributes to one of the major reasons the Eb tuba fell out of favour. Most tuba players learn on a BBb tuba, and are hestitant to have to learn the different tranposition needed for the Eb tuba.
[picture of tuba] Tuba
The giant tuba is the primary instrument that makes up the bass section of the band. Its deep sounding low notes provide the foundation for the band's sound.

The tuba is the largest and deepest member of the brass family. It consists of a huge brass tube that bends or folds around, beginning at the mouthpiece and ending in a large flared bell. Other bass instruments in the brass family are the sousaphone and euphonium. The tuba is actually a gigantic bugle which is held upright. Even though it is bulky and plays in a low register, you can play very fast notes or light and airy tunes on the tuba. Tubas play in concert bands, are often used in orchestras and are popular in marching bands. The tube of the pitched in the key of BBb, measures over 18 feet when uncoiled.

Fact:The tuba player in Canada's famous brass ensemble, the "The Canadian Brass", is such a nimble player that he can play "The Flight of the Bumblebee" at full speed on the tuba without even breaking a sweat.

String Bass

You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of string bass] String Bass
The string bass, also called the double bass, is one of the bass instruments for band. It will often play pizzicato in lightly scored musical passages, for a very light effect.

The double bass is the largest member of the violin family. Its deep pitch can be heard playing the bass line in orchestras, jazz bands, and folk music ensembles all over the world. To produce music, the double bass can be bowed or plucked. When used in jazz, it is mostly plucked. The double bass has a pitch range of more than two-and-a-half octaves; it is made of wood with steel strings.  The double bass is usually over 6 ft. high. Like most members of the violin family it is pitched in concert-pitch.

Fact: The standard double bass is already one of the biggest instruments, but the largest one that ever existed was almost 16 ft. tall.  It was constructed by Paul de Wit as part of the celebrations for the Cincinnati Music Festival in 1889.

[picture of string bass] Electric Bass
The string bass player will sometimes play electric bass instead of the string bass, for some jazzier numbers.


You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of drum set] Drum Set
One of the most versitile of the percussion instruments. A drum set usually consists of a bass drum, snare drum, 2 toms, a floor tom, a ride cymbal, a crash cymbal and a hi-hat (which is a pedal operated device consisting of two small cymbals on a stand that is also hit with a stick). It is used for almost all of our pieces of music and, especially if the number of avaiable percussionists is minimal because it can emulate the sounds of most of the other percussion instruments. The drum set is almost always used when playing jazz, latin, pop and rock music.
[picture of snare drum] Snare Drum
This shallow, cylindrical drum produces a sound that is very distinctive to the drum (higher in pitch than the bass drum). The snares, which are bands of metal wires, are pulled across the bottom head of the drum. This produces a buzzing or snapping sound when the drum is struck using a variety of techniques.
[picture of cymbals] Cymbals
Cymbals are metal disks that are clashed together a sound.  They come in a variety of sizes:  from the delicate, eastern finger cymbals, to the large and deafening orchestral cymbals.  Cymbals are actually thin bronze disks, held at the centre so that the edges are free to vibrate.  Cymbals can produce a surprising range of effects:  some soft and delicate, others loud and harsh.  They are used in almost every type of music, from formal orchestral music to heavy rock, where they form part of a drum kit. When played singlely or as part of a drum kit they are mounted on a stand and can be struck, scraped or rolled with mallets to produec a multitude of effects. Diameters usually range from 12 to 26 inches. There are many different shapes and sizes of cymbals, but all of them resemble a thin brass disk that is held/attached in the middle. Pictured on the left are a pair of Crash Cymbals, are played by grasping one in each hand and then hitting the cymbals together.

Fact: Did you know that if air is trapped between the crash cymbals as they are "clashed", the sound will be choked.

suspended cymbal ? Suspended Cymbal
The suspended cymbal is a large cymbal mounted on a stand which is played by rolling using two soft yarn mallets. The result is a shimmering brassy sound that is used to emphasize and add body to musical passages.
[picture of bells] Bells (aka Orchestra Bells)
The orchestra bells are a series of metal bars that are struck with a mallet. They have a very high and pure sound. The bells are considered part of the melodic percussion since a melody can be played on them.
[picture of xylophone] Xylophone
The xylophone consists of two rows of wooden bars, arranged like a piano keyboard. When you strike the bars with hard beaters, the xylophone gives a bright and penetrating sound; soft beaters make the sound more mellow. The xylophone's ringing notes make it a colourful addition to the percussion section of a band or orchestra, but it can also sound eerie and chilling. The pitch range of the xylophone is from three-and-a-half to four octaves. Its size is variable ( around 6 ft. long and 3 ft. tall ).

Fact: The great Romantic German composer Felix Mendelssohn stated that the xylophone was "the most perfect instrument".

[picture of vibraphone Vibraphone
The vibraphone has a very airy and vibrato-like sound due to a mechanic set of rotors that affect how the resonance tubes below the bars carry the sound.
[picture of marimba Marimba
The marimba is similar in construction to the xylophone, but it has larger bars and larger resonance tubes on the bottom. As a result the marimba has a much warmer and resonate tone than the xylophone. Marimbas usually span a pitch range of 4-1/3 octaves, and 5 octave "grande marimbas" are often used. The marimba is not used very often in concert band music, but when it is used it has a wonderful effect on the overall sound of the band.
[picture of instruments] "Toys" and other Auxilliary Percussion
Percussion instruments include anything that you hit, scrap or tap to accompany the band. These instruments include claves, tamboreen, bongo drums, cabbassa, wood block, cow bell, guiro, maracas, wood block, etc.. Also included are "Toys" such as slide whistle, duck call, shaker-balls and even an air-raid siren sometimes.
[picture of a triangle] Triangle
The sound of the triangle is the soft "ding" that you will sometimes here during some passages.
[picture of temple blocks]
Temple Blocks
The temple blocks have their own unique "popping" sound that is often used in Asian-inspired music.
[picture of timbales]
Timbales are a set of metal-bodied drums with a skin on one side, usually measuring 13" and 14" in diameter. They are only used in Latin-style music and thus are not often used in the band.

Timbales are percussion instruments from Latin America that consist of a pair of shallow, single-headed cylindrical drums tuned to different pitches and played with thin sticks. Hitting the metal shell with a steady beat is a common technique. In relation to other Latin American drums, the timbales sound higher than congas, but lower than bongos.

[picture of conga drums]
Conga Drums (aka Congas)
The conga drums are a large pair of drums that are played used one's hands. They are usually mounted on a stand and each measure about 13" in diameter and about 3 feet high. They are only used for latin-style music, as well as some more modern band repertoire, and are thus seldom used.
[picture of chimes] Chimes (aka Tubular Bells)
Designed to emmulate the sounds of church bells, the chimes give ringing tones that can be heard over the entire ensemble. They are often used during slow lyrical passages in chorals and in rythmically complex movements where the band is working towards a finale. Our set of chimes is over 7 feet tall and are played using a pair of small hammers.
[picture of a gong]   Gong
The gong is very similar to the Tam-Tam, except that it has a large bump in the middle that gives is a rounder, cooler sound.
[picture of tam tam] Tam-Tam
The tam-tam is a huge metal percussion instrument which makes an unforgettable booming sound.  It is a type of gong, but it is made of thinner metal than most gongs and has no raised boss in the centre. When you strike the tam-tam, the sound gets louder and louder, building up to a shimmering climax before fading away.   It is usually made of bronze (a mixture of copper and tin), and is more than 30 in. in diameter.
[picture of bass drum] Bass Drum
The bass drum helps keep the band together in many pieces and forms a percussive foundation on which the melody can rest. Our bass drum is nowhere near as nice as the one pictured (or the picture that it links to). Our old tiny drum is actually in serious need of replacement.
[picture of tympani] Tympani
There large tuned drums add "bottom-end" to the sound of the band. A tympani roll is often used to build up suspense or accelerate the band towards a crescendo.

Tympani or kettledrums are usually played in pairs, each with a single drum head stretched over a pot or vessel. Tympani are the most important orchestral percussion instruments apart from the piano. Two or more drums, arranged in a group, are played at any one time. Tympani can be tuned to play particular notes using the pedal. Great skill is needed to strike the drums well, and to change the pitch quickly and quietly during performances. A set of 5 orchestral timpani span a pitch range from low bass-D to B-flat, almost two octaves higher. In the band our tympani player usually uses between two and four tympani when playing. They are made of copper or fiberglass bowl with a plastic or calf-skin drum head. The drum heads range from 19 - 32 inches in diameter.

Fact: Timpanists carry many pairs of beaters to produce different tone qualities.

Other Instruments for special performances

You can click on the images to see a bigger picture of each instrument.
[picture of grand piano] Piano
The piano is rarely used in concert band music. It is usually used as a solo instrument, such as in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. However, we have used a piano for some adaptations of southern-USA Gospel music. If we do use a piano, we will often use an electric piano because the logistics of moving one of those are much easier that than of a full-size regular piano.

In grand piano, and the more common upright piano, the sound is produced by hammers striking the strings. You could also include the piano in the keyboard family of instruments which would include the harpsichord (where the strings are plucked), the organ (where the keys control how air is forced through organ pipes), and the synthesizer (where the keys act as sophisticated electronic switches hooked up to oscilators). The piano contains a series of strings spanning seven-and-a-half octaves (88 notes), which are struck by hammers operated from a keyboard. The grand piano is designed to give a fuller, richer sound than the upright piano. It is used as both a solo and accompanying instrument in a wide range of different kinds of music, from jazz through to orchestral music. The construction of a grand piano is made up of a wooden case and soundboard, iron frame, and steel strings, and can be up to 9 ft. long.

Fact: There are three main sizes of grand piano: baby grand, boudoir grand, and concert grand.

[picture of synthesizer] Synthesizer
The synthesizer is sometimes used in jazz music for that early electric-organ-type sound, but can produce a wide variety of sounds and tonal colours. We also use it for some more modern music to create unorthodox sounds like wind-rushing through trees.
[picture of harp] Harp
The orchestral pedal harp is occasionallyy used in concert band music. It is usually used for decoration of passages by way of large "broken chords" and arpeggios.

The harp is one of the oldest instruments dating back to around 1200 B.C. The modern double-action or concert harp, with seven pedals, was invented in 1810. This is one of the earliest examples, but very few changes have been made since then. The harp is a regular member of the symphony orchestra and opera orchestra, and is sometimes used to great effect in chamber music. The pitch range of the concert harp is six-and-a-half octaves.  The harp is made of wood, with gut strings, and it is usually 5 ft. 6 in. tall. It plays in concert-pitch.

Fact: The tension exerted by the strings on the frame of a double-action, or concert harp, can be as much as 1500 lbs.

The Conductor & Artistic Director

[picture of a conductor] Conductor
Last, but not least, is the conductor. The conductor is the person who has the job of coordinating all of these instruments and musicians so that they all come together and sound like a band. The conductor does a lot more than just stand in front of the and wave their hands around. Conductors are generally well respected and work hard, and hence they often develop "egos".

I had this material online somewhere else from October 2000 - September 2001. I have reposted it here as of January 19, 2005.
Last updated: January 19, 2005
Minor corrections: October 30, 2005