Military musicians are a part of the fabric of British history and tradition, not only representing the nation and instilling a sense of national pride but also performing an important role in diplomatic relations, state events and engaging the public in the Armed Forces.
Here, we answer some frequently asked questions about military musicians and present tips from military musicians themselves, across the services, on some in-the-know life hacks that would make life as a military musician a little more disciplined for anyone starting out in a military band, or anyone thinking of making it their career.
Are Military Musicians Soldiers?
Military musicians, like anyone who joins the forces, must go through basic training which means they are soldiers first, musicians second.
Do Military Musicians Get Deployed?
You can be sent all over the world working as a military musician. Not only do they perform to boost morale for the troops out serving, they also provide education to other countries’ musicians.
What Instruments Are Played In The Military?
A standard military band has brass (trumpets, bugles etc), woodwind (clarinet, saxophones etc) and percussion (bass drum, glockenspiels etc) sections.
However, there is a wide range of musical talent in the British Armed Forces.
The Corps of Army Music, for instance, which is the public face of the Army which performs around the globe, includes a wide range of musical capabilities, everything from symphonic wind bands to brass bands to rock and pop groups to string orchestras to traditional folk music groups.
Why do military musicians march as they perform?
Marching on parade is not only a display of discipline, showing precision, unity and co-ordination, but it follows a long history of drill that has evolved ever since armies banded together to fight as a unit.
There is are a particular set of skills at play in the precision and discipline of marching while playing an instrument but drill itself is for many considered the foundation of discipline in battle.
In history, not only did bands accompany soldiers into battle while maintaining the rhythm of the march but the drill itself has its roots in keeping a unit together, prepared to fight as a unified force, and that discipline and attention to orderliness under leadership is maintained today – with the added benefit of presenting a spectacular display for public audiences.
Here we present tips put forward by a range of sources from British military bands and musical corps:
1. Always carry a pencil. Music is always being altered and it depends who the conductor is at the time so the changes are never permanent.
2. That being said, sharpies come in handy for marching band music, so carry one of those as well.
3. Versatility. Military musicians don't just play one type of music - you can go from jazz to pop to classical in one concert. So practice a range of styles.
4. Always carry elastic bands. Why? Because when playing music outside it can be quite windy. The elastics will keep your music secured to the stand.
5. Keep fit and healthy. You still have to pass basic training before your musical career can start.
6. Although it is not a requirement of the job, military musicians generally play more than one instrument.
7. Get as much experience as you can playing in larger symphonic wind bands. This will help your confidence when you join a military band. The military side can be quite daunting so make sure you are happy with your music and the rest will be easy.
8. Perfect your ironing skills before basic training. Ironing is a skill that will stay with you throughout your military career.
9. Spit and polish. You'll need to use this skill a lot.
10. Practice, practice, practice! That way your musical skills will never fade.
With thanks to the Band of the Welsh Guards, RAF College Band and The Royal Marines Band Service for their pieces of advice.