Difference Between Band and Orchestra

By Marcus McReynolds - Oct 22 , 2018

This blog will tell you all about the differences between bands and orchestras. From the types of instruments used to the settings that these musical ensembles perform at, bands and orchestras have a lot of differences. Among all the differences, there is one large commonality. Bands and orchestras both need individuals with music lesson experience in order to be successful.

Looking at two different groups of musicians, would you be able to tell which was a band and which was an orchestra? For someone that hasn’t been involved in either band or orchestra, or any kind of music lessons before, you may not be able to spot the difference. However, for those that are involved in the world of music, they know that there are actually quite a few things that distinguish a band from an orchestra. Though there are a lot of differences between bands and orchestras, we are only going to touch on the top 5 differences that are especially glaring. 


The first and maybe most obvious difference between band and orchestra is the instruments played in both ensembles. Normally, bands play instruments that include brass, percussion, and woodwinds. Examples of specific instruments that are found in bands can be anything from trumpets to drums to flutes. Whereas, in an orchestra, string instruments are the most consistent instrument used; string instruments include violins, cellos, and basses. Some orchestras also have keyboards to accompany the string instruments. One thing both bands and orchestras have in common when it comes to instruments is the necessity for musical instrument lessonsHaving members of these bands and orchestras that really know how to play their instruments is the best way to create an impressive ensemble.  


The sizes of bands and orchestras are also a great indicator of what type of ensemble they are. In general, bands are smaller than orchestras. Bands can range in size from a one-man-band to a band of 50. For example, high school marching bands are usually average around 50 members. Orchestras, on the other hand, tend to be a lot bigger than these bands. They tend to range in size on average between 75-100 members. However, there are things called chamber orchestras that are smaller versions of orchestras. These groups can be as small as just a few people. Depending on whether you want to be in a band or an orchestra, you can take different music courses to prepare you to play with the different masses of musicians. 


Another way you can distinguish the difference between a band and an orchestra is by the type of music they play. When it comes to the type of music bands typically play, it tends to be more wide ranged than an orchestra. Orchestras play strictly symphonic or classical music. Bands play everything from symphonies to jazz, and pop songs to theme-music in movies. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced musician, it does not take long for bands to learn how to play songs incorporate the latest popular song in a band-style. While it is common for orchestras to play classical music, they also are able to play some modern songs, and composers continue to create new classical-style songs.


Where you see a band or orchestra perform can also be an indicator of which ensemble it is. Typically, orchestras tend to perform solely in concert settings. This usually happens in rather large concert halls. Oppositely, bands can play in a variety of settings; bands will play at private concerts, parades, concert halls, on the street, or school auditoriums—there really isn’t much of a restriction on where a band will play. The type of setting they perform at can also be based on their skill level. This is one of the reasons it is important to stay enrolled in music courses; the more you learn, the bigger the venue you will be able to perform at. There are specific techniques for different kinds of settings, for example, playing in a concert hall requires different instruction than playing in a parade. With the appropriate amount of practice, your instructor will be able to prepare you for any kind of setting.

Other Differences

There are a few other minor things that are differences between bands and orchestras. First of all, orchestras have been around for a really long time, whereas bands are a newer musical ensemble in comparison. Another difference is that all orchestras have conductors that lead the music at rehearsals and at the performances. Bands do sometimes have these conductors at practices and performances, but sometimes they do not. In these moments, the leader or conductor of a band is actually a band member, and they play  with the band. This never happens in a classical orchestra. 

From the different kinds of instruments to the setting that these musical ensembles perform at, bands and orchestras definitely have a handful of differences. Though they have a lot of differences, one thing remains the same across the board—the importance of taking musical instrument lessons. To have any level of success in a band or an orchestra, high levels of instrumental skills are necessary. There are a lot of other specific skills you may need to learn based on whether you join a band or an orchestra, but either way, the differences between how bands and orchestras work make their specific ensemble unique.