Band vs. Orchestra

Band vs. Orchestra

Band or Orchestra?

The question music students have been debating for ages. Which one is better? Ask any band student, and he will say that band is better. Ask any orchestra student, and he will say that orchestra is better. Some might say that orchestra members are more serious about their music, but band members are more fun.

Guess what? There is no right answer! There are great orchestras. There are great bands. But because they are different, you can’t really say one is “better” than the other. Just different.

So how are they different?

Do you know the difference between a band and an orchestra? If not, read on. To be as simple as possible, an orchestra has string instruments. A band does not.


Chamber Orchestra

A chamber orchestra has only string instruments – violins, violas, cellos, basses. Chamber orchestras typically have 40-50 members.

Full Orchestra

A full orchestra, or a symphonic orchestra, is usually a much larger group of musicians. A full orchestra has all the string instruments, but also includes a representation of all the band instruments, including percussion. A symphony orchestra can have as many as 100 members, with probably 25 or so belonging to the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections.


Concert Band

A concert band is a group of woodwind, brass, and percussion players with several musicians playing each part. It might have 6 or 7 first flutes, 6 or 7 second flutes, 6 or 7 first clarinets, and so on.

Wind Ensemble

A smaller group, but similar to a concert band, is the wind ensemble. This group has the same instruments represented as the concert band, but on a smaller scale. A wind ensemble usually has only 1 or 2 players on each part. 

Marching Band

A marching band is a band that plays while marching. This could be at the halftime show of a football game or at a parade.  I recently watched the Rose Bowl Parade, and many of the marching bands there had between 150-200 members!

Jazz Band

Jazz bands are another member of the band family. Instrumentation for jazz bands varies a lot – depending on the venue, the music, the style. Most have much smaller ensembles than the other bands mentioned, but usually include percussion, a couple different saxophones, possibly a clarinet or a trumpet, a bass, and trombone.

And which one came first?

Good question. And no easy answer! It depends on your definition of band and orchestra. Flutes are the earliest instruments archaeologists have discovered, dating back many thousands of years. Trumpet-like instruments have been around since at least 1500 B.C. (Score for band.) And the Bible speaks of King David being skilled with a harp. He lived around 1000 B.C. (Score for orchestra.) Also, if you believe the Bible, Genesis 4:21 speaks of a man named Jubal who was the “father of all such that handle to harp and organ.” (Score for both.)

Early Orchestras

In Medieval and early Renaissance times, an orchestra referred to any group of musicians playing together. “Modern” string orchestras started to form in the mid-1500’s. These had instruments similar to our current violins, violas, cellos, and basses. In the early 1600’s composers began to specify which instruments they wanted to play which parts. By the mid-1600’s orchestras used strings with some wind or percussion instruments.

Modern Orchestras

Modern string instruments were developed earlier than the modern woodwind and brass instruments.  As our modern wind and brass instruments were developed, they were added to the orchestra. By the middle of the 1800’s orchestras often had the same instrumentation that orchestras have today.

Your Opinion?

So, which came first? Bands or orchestras? Which is better? Band or orchestra? Your answer may be based on definition. And it may be based on personal preference! Which one do you like better? Which one do you think is better? I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave your ideas in the comments.

Band vs. Orchestra
Band vs. Orchestra
Band vs. Orchestra - Which one is Better?
Band vs. Orchestra

13 thoughts on “Band vs. Orchestra”

    1. The music for orchestras is certainly more diverse, and there is also much more symphonic orchestra music than straight band music. But there is some interesting band music out there. I like some of Frank Ticheli’s compositions for band, the occasional Sousa march, Ralph Vaughan Williams has some nice band music. I think great band music is available, just not as much as for orchestra. So a director must look harder and longer to find great music for band.

  1. You’re right when you said that any orchestra student would say that orchestra is much superior, I know a bunch of people that brag to the band students. Although, I think that both are needed for a variety of music like the other comments.

    1. I am with you in that I’ve performed in both. And I have kids who have been in both. It’s a matter of preference. Maybe there’s more drama with orchestras? Hard to say. They each serve a purpose and have a unique sound. Variety is a good thing!

    1. You are right – they are string instruments. I guess I was thinking more strictly along the lines of traditional band and orchestral instruments. There are some great guitar concertos, for sure. I will have to think more broadly in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  2. stan kenton ,woody herman ,duke ellington,and other big swing outfits where always refered to as orchestras but largly did,nt have strings

    1. That is true, although some similar groups may have been referred to as “swing bands.” My focus was more along the line of the “classical” definitions. But thanks for reading and commenting.

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