Orchestra vs. Band (What’s The Difference?)

You will learn the differences between an orchestra and a band.

If you are like most people, you are familiar with the different types of bands that exist in today’s musical scene.

However, if you do a comparison of orchestras and bands, what kind of things do you discover?

The first thing you discover is that there are several key differences between an orchestra and a band. They are as follows.

Table of Contents

Main Differences

Number of Members

The first major difference between an orchestra and a band is the number of musicians in each group.

An orchestra contains at least 100 permanent members while most bands include far fewer members.

A notable exception is the marching band, which may exceed 400 members.

An orchestra also is led by a conductor or music director whereas a band is a group of musicians playing music together without a conductor.

One exception to this rule may be a school band which sometimes uses a conductor.


When considering the types of orchestras and bands, an orchestra can have two main types: chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra.

Chamber orchestras are smaller ensembles that play in a room whereas symphony orchestras play in full-size concert halls.

When it comes to bands, however, there are several different types including concert, jazz, marching, Christian, cover bands, heavy metal, rock, pop, country, swing, and so on.

Instruments Used

Another difference between them is that an orchestra uses four main instruments: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

A band uses all of the main instruments an orchestra does except string instruments.

Some bands such as rock and marching bands deviate from this description, but generally, they do not include string instruments.

Music Played

An orchestra plays mostly western classical music or opera and a band plays several different types of music. They include jazz, rock, pop, heavy metal, R&B, and soul to name a few.


The origins are traced back to ancient Greece for orchestras and to the 15th Century in Germany for bands.

Although the orchestra began first in Greece, the modern-day orchestra did not form until the 17th Century.

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The orchestra was formed to accompany plays in theaters.

During the Renaissance Era, the early orchestra was developed and by the 18th century had moved into the modern-day symphonic orchestras that we are familiar with today.

Bands that began in Germany, were initially formed by people using oboes, & bassoons.

From Germany in the 15th-century bands developed into groups in Turkey in the 17th century playing not only woodwind instruments but expanded to cymbals, drums, and keyboards.

Another early use of bands occurred during the Revolutionary War in the United States when fifes, drums, and bugles accompanied soldiers marching into battle.

These bands were the forerunners of today’s marching bands.

Which One Is Easier?

It may seem obvious to most that playing in an orchestra is more difficult than playing in a band.

One of the major reasons why it’s harder to play in an orchestra is the use of stringed instruments.

Band members typically do not need to learn any stringed instruments which may be one of the reasons it might be easier to be a musician in a band.

A marching band is known for its difficulty in simultaneously marching and playing music with precision and uniformity.

How the band is presented is another key element as to the difficulty of playing in this type of band.

Band competitions across the United States are very competitive and schools regularly compete for top honors.

Another reason is the lack of a conductor and all the training that goes into learning to follow the conductor’s interpretation of the musical piece being played.

If you prefer to have direction, then playing with a conductor in an orchestra would be good for you.

Bands usually have no conductor to direct their instruments and were formed to provide a way for people to get together and play music.

An orchestra requires a member to read music and play complicated musical pieces from some well-known and lesser-known composers.

A symphony orchestra member who is adept at playing an instrument may be required to play lengthy compositions that may go on for up to 60 minutes apiece in duration.

In comparison, the easier genre to play is most likely the band.

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Although marching bands have some drawbacks in terms of difficulty in performing while marching, most jazz, rock, pop, Christian, and other bands are mainly formed to make music and have a good time.

The entertainment factor in playing most types of modern music without complicated composition and instrumentation makes playing in a band a bit simpler and easier than playing in an orchestra.

Best Pick For An Undecided Student

One of the main reasons why people would choose to play in an orchestra vs a band may be for auditory reasons, Many people prefer the soft, elegant sound of classical music or opera.

Others like louder music and lengthy guitar licks, or, they like blowing into tubas and walking in parades.

Also, if you prefer not sitting in a concert hall or can’t quite get into stringed instruments then perhaps a band is your best choice.

If playing with a larger number of people all in harmony with one another is your cup of tea, then maybe what you want is a seat playing in an orchestra.

You’ll have plenty of company since members in an orchestra range from 15 in a small chamber orchestra to 100+ for a symphony orchestra.

Large numbers of people playing instruments and making beautiful music together may appeal to you.

A marching band is the only band where membership is higher than the membership in a symphony orchestra.

Lack of strings in a marching band doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference and most members agree that being in a band is a memorable experience.

A marching band in high school or college is a great way to spur your winning team on during halftime football games.

Another type of band, the modern rock n roll, and pop bands have the potential to make large sums of money if successful.

If you have a talent in terms of voice and instrument ability then perhaps joining a rock or jazz or soul or pop music band would be a good move for you.

Instrumental and classical music is a great draw for some people.

Loud music does not interest them and they like the softer, subtle sounds of a well played symphony orchestra.

Bach, Mozart and Chopin turn them on and help them decompress and wind down after a long stressful week.

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A conductor (coach) leading a well practiced orchestra (team) is a thumbs up for a lot of people.

If any of this appeals to you then perhaps being in an orchestra would be your best bet.

Different Instruments Used

Orchestra Instruments

The instruments used in an orchestra are as follows: Woodwinds, Percussion, Strings, and Brass.

  • Among the woodwind group you will find clarinets, oboes, bassoons, flutes, piccolos, English horns, Bass clarinet, contrabassoon and saxophone.
  • Among the percussion group you will find snare drum, kettle drum, triangle, bass drum, cymbal, piano, gong and tambourine.
  • Among the strings group you will find violins, viola, cello and double bass.
  • Among the brass you will find trumpets, trombones, French Horn and tuba.

Band Instruments

The most common instruments used in a band are as follows: Woodwinds, Percussion, and Brass.

  • Among the woodwind group you will find clarinets, flutes, saxophone
  • Among the percussion group you will find drums, cymbals, bass,
  • Among the brass group you will find bugles, trumpets, French horns, tubas, trombones, cornets.

There are exceptions to some of the commonly known instruments used in bands such as rock bands, jazz bands, school bands, etc.

  • First, is the jazz band which relies heavily on bass, trumpet, trombone and saxophone.
  • A rock band introduces the electric and bass guitar, and usually the piano or other keyboard, and a string instrument, usually the violin.
  • Some school bands use conductors much like orchestras to lead the band.
  • School bands rely heavily on the brass group with the flute and clarinet thrown in to artfully master whatever melody is being performed.

The orchestra has a larger amount of instruments. Your basic band will typically have no stringed instruments and be limited to around 10 separate instruments at a time.

With 100+ members in an orchestra at one time, the number of instruments used is significantly higher.

Rock orchestras, also known as symphonic rock, use woodwinds, brass, and percussion as well as a rhythm section to denote their rock orchestra sound.

Electric guitar, bass, and drum kit (usually several separate types of each) are found in these rock orchestras.

Examples of some of the modern-day rock orchestras are Genesis, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), and King Crimson.

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