What’s the point of a band in the military?


What do they do for the military? Do they fight? Do they get paid? Are they outsourced musicians or are they actually part of the military? Also, why?

In: 6368

Yes, they are part of the military. Yes they get paid. The position is largely cerimonial nowadays but, drummers and such used to help keep cadence for large formations. (during the american revolution, etc)

They’re ceremonial now, but historically drums (and trumpets and flags and such) were how you gave orders during a battle.

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Edit v2.0: Shoutout to all the commenters for elaborating on my brief response. Made for some interesting reading

They are part of the military and go through basic training like other soldiers, or at least used to be. Source: my dad played drums for the Army band.

Edit for another fun fact: there are also Army artists! Or at least used to be. After my dad played in the band, he drew illustrations for Army manuals. Obviously this was way pre-digital era.

Originally a band was a way for armies to march in even formation during battle. Music was also used to give orders over the loud cacophony of battle. Different songs signified different mass movements. As we stopped fighting in ranks the role became largely a tradition reserved for ceremonial occasions.

In the US, military band members go through the same training as everyone else in their respective branch. Though often times the physical standards are relaxed and the strictness of the training personell isn’t as rigid. Often times the band member will cross train on some other job. In the US Army specifically, band members actually become auxiliary MPs by policy; performing guard duties and monitoring enemy prisoners of war if deployed to a combat zone.

In warfare history, up to 80 years ago, you can’t radio anything quickly and even if, your radio would be intercepted.

The only way to give orders was a trumpet and drums, so was for centuries. The enemy could simply copy your trumpet and give false orders to your troops. So you bring a giant flag close to the trumpet and your soldier would obey only to orders coming from the trumpet below the big flag.

Army business is mostly marching, and less than 1% fighting. So now you have big flags and drums and trumpets, someone may say: let’s use them to cheer up the troops while walking thousand miles with 30-50kg backpacks.

Then why not, let’s use that on parades and cerimonial events. “If we show we have a great band and shiny flags, we are intrinsically showing we know how to do military stuff properly”

This being done for thousands of years, so it stick to the army culture.

If you have to show you are good, show you can play the music better than everyone else while you march at god speed, carry a fantastic huge flag for extra points.


I have an ex-boyfriend who is musician (playes the bassoon) in a military orchestra in the German military. They are all professional musicians.

One of their purposes is to entertain the troops. They were sent to troops abroad quite regularly. And you won’t believe how much appreciated they are there.

Also ceremonial stuff is on their schedule.

Also they are playing a lot of concerts for the public like “civil orchestras” also do. And they are really good. I listened to complete Bach concerts by them and if you wouldn’t have seen them wearing uniforms you would’ve believed to listen to a big famous philharmonic orchestra.

The positions in military orchestras are rare and highly desirable because for professional musicians it’s one of the few jobs with a good regular income.

Ft Benning has brought back the [tradition](https://www.army.mil/article/160873/bugle_calls_part_of_army_tradition). When I was at basic training and jump back in the 80s I remember hearing like 8 different trumpet calls throughout the day with Taps playing as late as 11:00.

As a Turkish infantry officer I think I’m the person to answer this question. Ottoman military band Mehteran was world’s first military band after all.

We know that militaries used drums to coordinate as late as 2500 years ago since Sun Tzu talks about that in Art of War. Ottomans used Mehteran for the same reason, different marches used to convey orders like attack, retreat etc. It’s also used to boost morale for your soldiers and decrease it for your enemy. Ottomans are known to siege a city and let the Mehteran play day and night for months to annoy them.

Today a military band is mostly ceremonial. Militaries depend on tradition like nowhere else. It was a tradition to march with a band, so we still march with a band. They have a very importnant function though : They organize formations. If there’s one of those big drums in the band your every single left step should match every single DUMM that big drum plays. So everyone walks the same speed and same step at the same time. It just looks and sounds better.

And yes. They are regular part of the military, I haven’t seen any band member on the front lines, they get paid and have ranks, authority etc. just like everyone else.

EDIT : Oh I remembered another function, social. We send our bands all around the world to play in different social functions. Since they are all professional musicians (at least in Turkish military) they can play a huge variety of songs and not just marches. I’ve seen the Air Force Band play jazz and stuff.

I’m sure today it’s purely for cultural reasons but back in the past, before we had things that posed a huge threat like nuclear deterrents and warplanes, they would’ve been used for all manners of things including but not limited to:

Intimidation: drums are naturally loud and ominous. If you heard about some army that used a particular beat and rhythm then hearing that beat and rhythm would be intimidating. Somewhat similar to a war cry.

Morale: having a beat to march to reinforces the uniform nature of the military. It would improve organisation because of having a timing for your march and also would give the soldiers something to soothe and encourage them.

Communication: a specific beat and rhythm could also confirm who an unidentified unit fought for, and whilst most examples I’ve given have been war drums, you can’t overlook the symbolic cavalry bugle. That’s still iconic today and they haven’t been used in ages.

Bagpipe bands in the military of the UK and other crown countries may still go into battle with the troops. They went everywhere in WWII. Nothing says let’s kick some ass more than the pipes.

I was in military band in the 2000s. In addition to ceremonial, they act as a public relations mechanism. I played in their concert band, jazz big band, and rock band, we were touring/playing shows to general public the majority of year. Great times

It is actually extremely competitive to get into any of the military bands. I have worked with a few of the musicians. Their military job is being in the band, so they don’t “fight” in the sense that someone in the infantry would.

They are generally very experienced musicians – often with college or higher music education backgrounds, or past competitive or professional experience as musicians.

They do go through basic training, have to meet the physical fitness standards, and do all the regular military tasks (like pass weapons qualification).

There are several Army bands and it is competitive for which one you get into and your position in the band. It is extremely high stress. The “highest” level band is the one you might seeing playing at the white house or big events.

Ok, so I have spent 13 years as an oboist in the US Army bands. In addition to ceremonies and troop entertainment that has already been mentioned, we are often used for “soft diplomacy.” We can go places where regular troops couldn’t. My unit had played in Red Square (before I got there.) We were supposed to go to Moscow again, then Russia invaded Crimea, so we couldn’t. But our replacement mission was Latvia. We were able to be a military presence to our allies near Russia, let them know the US hadn’t forgotten about them, but in a way that wouldn’t trigger Russia.

Also background music during state dinners, recruitment, parades, “friendship” concerts in foreign countries, etc. The military is actually the largest employer of musicians in the US.

We do go through basic training, with the exception of The Presidents Own. When deployed, often used as gate guards and the like. I have also done such fun tasks as clean a moat and sandbag a fort for a hurricane. We have to keep our physical fitness up and qualify on the rifle twice a year. Depending on the service depends on how much musician to how much soldier you are. Air Force is more musician than Airmen. Marines are mainly Marines that sometimes get to play their instruments.

A friend of mine is in the military band. Another enlisted once made the mistake of taunting her for being in the band and was overheard by her CO. His response went something like, “Do you know the difference between you and her, Private? The difference Is both of you can do your job, but you can’t do hers. But since you think you can, I’ll give you both 100 push-ups and you can do hers, too.”

So 1) they’re real soldiers, and 2) don’t get caught by their CO implying they’re not.

The flame throwing guitar player intimidates the enemy as they fight for gasoline and water.

One of the weirdest experiences from my childhood in the 80s was when an Air Force band visited my school. Except not a marching band, but a rock band. This was in 6th grade. They herded us into the gym and five people in Air Force uniforms proceeded to melt our pre-pubescent faces. At the end there was a brief spiel about how awesome the air force was.

Here’s in interesting article by the former general of the US Army in Europe where he says a military’s band can be seen as an indicator of their strength and capabilities, since training and fielding a competent and talented band is similar to fielding a competent combat force.


I was in the Army Band for 12 years, the most fun job I ever had.

We have to go through basic training, and all the same qualifications that any other soldier would. Qualify on rifle once a year, common task testing, all that fun stuff.

The musical missions were of many different kinds: ceremonial music for military ceremonies like graduations and change of commands; concerts for important events like the post Fourth of July; and parades and concerts in the civilian community to spread awareness and good will. A lot depended on where the band is located too. For example, I did two years in Germany where we played jazz and popular music at small town festivals almost every weekend. At a training post in the US, I did 2-4 graduation ceremonies every week.

When not playing music, we were responsible for everything else that goes on in a company sized unit. Where most units have a supply sergeant and admin people, bands don’t – the band members do all that as well. I’ve been a supply sergeant for a band, and the unit IT specialist, and leaned all about personnel administration.

When there’s a war, if the band is part of a Division, the band’s primary mission is division headquarters security, and POW processing. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we also did a lot of morale music, sending small music units out to play for soldiers in other areas.

Retired Military Bandsman here,
(Army Active Duty)

1. We perform during ceremonies to help bring a sense of professionalism, history and pride to the units we support.

We also perform for civilians regularly to help bridge the divide between the military and civilian populations— we need the civilian population to have a generally good opinion of the military and a band is far more approachable in general.

2. Every soldier is trained on how to use their weapons effectively, if we are in a position where we are being attacked you damn well better believe we will be shooting back. Yes we do deploy, yes we take our weapons with us.

3. We get paid the same rate as any other soldier of our grade (rank) does. Though we come in at a higher rank (Specialist, E4) because you simply can’t train someone to play an instrument in 6 months—therefore everyone auditions to come in and knows how to perform before hand.

4. No, we are not outsourced musicians we are full time Soldiers (in the active component).

5. Why? Because morale is a thing, traditions are a thing, respect for history and being able to interface effectively with the public both at home and abroad are incredibly important. We are not the only solution to these things, but we all have a role to play—go figure, the military has people for everything.

(US Army Clarinetist 2002-2006) Army musicians are like any other soldier’s job in the Army. There are “special” Army bands, but there also Division and Corps bands as well, (I was a member of the 1st Armored Division band from 2003-2005, for example). The mission on an Army bandsman is ceremonial (funerals, promotion ceremonies, patriotic holidays), and morale (rock bands, Christmas concerts, parades). While I was with 1AD we were deployed to Iraq for over a year, we did all the same things we would do above, as well as work guard duty, run convoys, and basically any other jobs that needed to be done. Soldier first, bandman second. I went to Basic Training and Advanced Training at the School of Music, before going to my first band. I had to qualify on my weapon, and do any other training that was required by the unit. This is is pretty much the same as any Army job.