In a regular orchestra the violin takes an important role. Why is it that in marching bands there are no strings usually? To give some context I'm working on a march composition and I like strings because they add a nice cinematic effect but I'm a bit iffy since a regular marching band doesn't have it. Maybe in compositions there are no rules though?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dom Jun 22 '19 at 2:48
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    Not to rain on your parade, but ... trombones are a bt more water resistant than violins. – Brian Drummond Jun 22 '19 at 17:35

Marching bands are about volume, projection, and power. A violin can't possibly match the projection of a brass instrument, and thus why they aren't included.

That said, some bands have employed amplified string instruments, like electric bass, particularly for jazz and rock pieces.

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    Marching bands usually have woodwinds. Flutes aren't particularly loud. – Barmar Jun 20 '19 at 15:47
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    @Barmar: Sitting/marching next to flutes, I tend to disagree with you... – arc_lupus Jun 20 '19 at 16:15
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    It was not oncommon in the early 20th century for marching bands to have banjos, one of the few string instruments loud enough. – Lee Daniel Crocker Jun 20 '19 at 17:07
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    In an orchestra, you normally have dozens of violins to 1 or 2 trumpets. Those violins are not going to be heard at all in a field. – Nelson Jun 20 '19 at 17:11
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    This makes me wonder if electric violins could be practical in a marching band, and it's just a chicken-and-egg problem of no one bothering to write a decent piece including them since no one uses them. – rococo Jun 20 '19 at 21:15

Actual marching bands don't have strings - I'm sure you could extend this list of reasons:

  1. Where would string players put sheet music?
  2. String instruments are expensive and fragile. Whilst you can buy a professional trumpet for a couple of grand, that doesn't buy you a professional quality violin. And although you can repair a dented trumpet, a snapped neck or crushed cello body is much more serious.
  3. Volume - you'd need lots of strings to match the volume of the wind instruments.
  4. The bumps and so on of marching would put the strings out of tune.
  5. Brass instruments are waterproof. Violins aren't.

...and so on.

So although you could write for Marching Band and strings you're unlikely ever to get it performed by actual people.

Instead I'd suggest writing an orchestral march, to be performed by a seated orchestra in a concert hall. There are lots of marches or march-influenced pieces in the orchestral repertoire that you could plunder for orchestration colours.

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    Real marching bands don't carry sheet music - it's all memorized. (Yeah, I know,... few and far between) – Carl Witthoft Jun 20 '19 at 13:48
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    Where to put the charts? On the end of the instruments, like most others! Probably wouldn't use a Strad out marching, but any old fiddle would do! Can't see how bumps would untune a violin. Wouldn't really want a clarinet out in the rain - they may/may not be waterproof. Wouldn't want to do the test! True, violins probably are not waterproof... What's the so ons? – Tim Jun 20 '19 at 15:02
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    @CarlWitthoft Maybe it doesn't count as "real", but when I was in my high school marching band (playing trombone) we used sheet music. There were little music holders that clamped onto the instruments, and tiny versions of the sheet music that fit into it. – Barmar Jun 20 '19 at 15:50
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    @Barmar I marched 3 years iin high school & 4 in college, so I know about all those music holders. My point, which was supposed to be sarcastic, is that some top-level bands do in fact memorized there charts and don't need the clip/clamp/screw-on music holders. – Carl Witthoft Jun 20 '19 at 17:18
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    @JimCullen Chillax, bro. My comment was merely intended as a humorous parody of all the "real $GROUP don't ..." cliches out there. – Carl Witthoft Jun 21 '19 at 12:56

As Brian Thomas pointed out, there's a huge difference between a marching band and a musical composition called a "march."
Marching bands are called that because, well, they march. Or in the case of Yale Univ., gyrate madly around the field. You won't find string instruments (mostly), double-reeds, and a few other oddball instruments in a fielded band.
A composition that's a "march" may well feature percussion, keep a strict binary beat (i.e. no 3/4 or 5/4 unless you have mutants with extra legs), and generally evoke pageantry.

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    OP is aware that there are no strings in marching bands - wants to know why. – Tim Jun 20 '19 at 15:05

Because stringed instruments are fragile and not very loud. And, traditionally, just because they don't. In the same way that brass bands don't have woodwinds and string quartets don't have trombones.

If marching bands wanted strings, they'd find a way. Either some harness contrivance, or they'd put them in the 'pit' with the heavy percussion.

And there's nothing to stop you writing for a non-marching concert band plus strings.

But you're right, if you're writing for a particular MARCHING band, it would be sensible to omit strings.

(Anyway, there are, sometimes)


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    Heavy percussion goes on the rolling cart with the keyboards and the amp for the cello, said cello being worn by the cellist in a modified percussion harness. Music folder for the cello is clipped into a harmonica holder worn around the neck. – shoover Jun 20 '19 at 15:52
  • @shoover about music clipped in a harmonica holder I'd object! However, you could always use some augmented-reality glasses. – leftaroundabout Jun 20 '19 at 20:19
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    @leftaroundabout My comment was based on experience. I'd link to a picture, but I can't find any at the moment. Also, I forgot to mention the Posture Pegs. – shoover Jun 20 '19 at 20:33
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    @shoover - Here's an image from the Internet Archive – William Price Jul 3 '19 at 19:23