Do You Need To Be Grade 6 Or Above To Play In A Top Brass Band?


New Member
Just read that the Yorkshire Royal British Legion Band need players Grade 6 or above. I say this as a person who's never had time to study any Music due to my Engineering/Military service. I was taught how to play notes basically by a School Brass Band and then I taught myself valve/slide positions, how to read all Orchestral Clefs and with lots of practice went to play with Friends in a Salvation Army band as a guest. I remember being told as a youngster in South Wales I couldn't play in the Welsh School's Brass Senior band as I wasn't in a known Brass Band, therefore not a good player! I kept up practicing though and over the years I have managed to play Baritone, Tenor/Bass Trombone, EEb Bass and BBb Bass for lots of bands with no complaints on my playing skills.

Is being a high grade the normal requirement, is it this band only or do all the top bands ask for this requirement? Would people like myself be rejected by the top Musical Directors as not being a true Musician because I pursued a career outside Brass Banding? I would have thought in this day and age of shortages in Bass players most bands would be happy to see as many low Brass players as they can get hold of ;).


Well-Known Member
If you're good enough you can play for anyone, no paperwork necessary ~ Get in there !!

- Mr Wilx


Is being a high grade the normal requirement, is it this band only or do all the top bands ask for this requirement? Would people like myself be rejected by the top Musical Directors as not being a true Musician because I pursued a career outside Brass Banding?

I can't imagine any bands out there actually demand to see certificates - I hope that they would mean 'Grade 6 standard' i.e. of that level of ability but without requiring you to have actually taken the exam.

As to "top bands" asking for this requirement...I guess it rather depends on how one defines a "top" band, but I would suggest that being ABRSM Grade 6 standard would leave one very ill-equipped to tackle many top section test pieces.

Chris Lee

I comment as a reasonably incompetent E flat bass player with 2 years playing experience, and currently preparing for grade 6. To my mind ABRMS grade 6 (which implies that you also have ABRMS grade 5 Theory) mainly means that you can play the three test pieces and the required scales reasonably well. It certainly doesn't mean that you can competently sight- read a Gordon Langford (to name but one) arrangement as a full band member. In fact, in some ways ABRSM grades actually detract from your band-playing ability by diverting your focus and practice time to exam pieces rather than band pieces.

BUT what it does show is that you have the commitment, enthusiasm and staying power necessary to make a dependable band member, and that's important isn't it? Maybe that's where they are coming from in requesting grades in prospective players.

Very Best,

Chris Lee
Newbieish, Eflat Sovereign
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Grades mean sod all. Being grade 8 doesn't necessarily mean you are a good player. Grades are bad as they divert your attention away from technical exercises and focus mainly on pieces (90 out of 150 available marks). If a certain organisation is looking for good players they should audition, maybe saying grade 6 or equivalent standard may entice a few more people in.
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Active Member
I think asking for players of a certain "grade" standard is an old fashioned idea. Trying to put off players who might apply and the band/MD have the difficult task of telling someone they're not good enough to join their band! I played in and heard bands who have a "minimum standard" to join, usually they think a lot of themselves and aren't that cracking. . .


New Member
I think a BBb bass player with grade 6 might be considered to be over-qualified :biggrin:

That's me forever rejected by all bands then. BBb Bass is my preferred instrument of torture!! I've seen most comments and agree an audition or a trial play with the band would be better. The bandsmen next to the player could give their unbiased views to the MD about the player before a decision is finally made. Saying that though I would say most bands would be happy to have any Bass players at the moment looking at the number of vacancies there are in the UK.


Well-Known Member
As blue juice says, the whole concept of grades is a bit warped. They certify that a player can, on their own, get through pieces that are judged to be of a certain 'difficulty' (and there are plenty of examples of pieces that seem obviously mismatched with the other pieces on a particular grade list in terms of challenge - an informed teacher can choose the repertoire to ease the passage of a pupil through the exam). As long as they can pick up a few more marks between regurgitating scales and the aural tests, they'll pass it.

I was on the audition committee for the Oxford University Music Society for a few years, having the privilege of listening to the offerings of those brass players who wished to play in the university ensembles. The extent to which the grade system is blaggable is immediately made very clear indeed in such a situation; every year a number of players who could barely blow their noses turned up with CVs boasting wonderful passes at Grade 8. The spectacle of somebody who is clearly convinced that they are a quality player failing to even begin to attempt successfully quite a basic bit of sight-reading becomes eerily familiar after a while...

I think maybe some in the brass band world automatically respect grades rather out of proportion to their actual worth... For a couple of reasons - 1) It's like a contest! We respect contests, even though they make no sense; and 2) Many banders never did any.


Supporting Member
Is being a high grade the normal requirement, is it this band only or do all the top bands ask for this requirement?
Not in my experience, no.
The "top" bands rarely even advertise for players, and I don't think I've ever seen any Championship section band specify a grade standard. The bottom line for most bands is simply whether a player is capable of playing the music, which is best judged by actually hearing them play, and if they're going to be a "good bandsman" (and yes I know that means different things to different people!).

Grades are a good indicator of technical standard and in my experience there is some benefit to being tortured with scales and basic theory, but they really aren't the be all and end all - in my too-many-years of banding I've met way too many people with a grade 8 who actually aren't that good - poor musicianship, weak sound, not great readers etc. Conversely, some of the best players I know have never taken a grade in their lives and would struggle to pass grade1 theory. That said though, grade 6 isn't really that high a standard (imho) and I would expect the vast majority of players in any top section band to be able to easily play pieces off a grade 6 syllabus - even the basses!


Grades do not show that you can play in an ensemble situation. All they show is that you could play the required pieces to a certain standard on the day.

Some of the best players I have had the privilege to know have never taken an exam in their lives, and some players who proudly tell everyone that they have passed a certain grade are not that good in a band situation.


You may need to be at least that standard (and probably grade 8+ standard), but you don't need to have taken the exams.


No that's true, and whatever 'grade' you are on paper, I think it would be judged pretty quickly if your playing didn't in reality meet the required standard for those bands, regardless of whatever exam you've claimed to have passed.


Well-Known Member
Grades mean sod all. Being grade 8 doesn't necessarily mean you are a good player. Grades are bad as they divert your attention away from technical exercises and focus mainly on pieces (90 out of 150 available marks).

Couldn't agree more - if only the parents of many of my students could understand this.
I have taken on a number of students who have had quite impressive exam results on paper yet could hardly play anything, especially if it wasn't one of the pieces they had been taught for the exam. I really have no idea how certain teachers "teach" the way they do without losing all respect for their students (or maybe there is a clue there) nor how examiners can possibly pass students with such incredible problems as many of these students show.

In my teaching life I have had to audition a number of students (for various ensembles) and have seen a great number whose ability in the audition (or band) situation is a good 2 or 3 grades lower than they have got the pieces of paper for. Conversely I have also seen many students who only have lower grades on paper, yet if you hear them in an ensemble situation you would swear they have achieved much higher. I work with a couple at the moment who are both Grade 5 on paper - they both have the range of Grade 8 and have performed pieces in ensemble situations which are of Grade 8+ level. They thrive in the ensemble situation and they are able to raise themselves above (and beyond) many of their "better-qualified" colleagues. They also happpen to be the ones who are usually heard warming up with technical exercises, rather than just bashing scales or high notes.

I did take on a Grade 2 student a few years ago who couldn't name any note on the stave, couldn't tell me which note he was playing and whose technique was quite possibly the worst I have ever seen - yet he had apparentlly got Grade 2. I actually asked to see his certificate, not believing him. His Mum brought it to the next lesson (rather displeased). He just didn't see that reading the music was necessary - surely it was my job to teach him the pieces in parrot fashion, note by note - these lessons didn't continue for long.

The groups that I have played for (and respected) have never asked whether I have got any Grades, they have only ever been interested in my playing ability.
When I ask students whether they wish to join more advanced ensembles, I do it purely on their ability - whether they have passed an exam is completelly irrelevant to me.
If a student auditions and has a bit of paper saying they are good, I wiill expect them to live up to (and beyond) that bit of paper.

Exams are great if you (or your parents, frequently) want a bit of paper, but as a guide to ability they are a massive waste of time and money.


Only got up to my grade 5, but I play well beyond that level; I have never been asked what grade I have and have played in several champ/top bands; tbh some players that I have heard who have the qualifications, can't play to an acceptable level so can't see it really matters; it's not what you say, it's what you can do in my opinion xxx


I did ok with grade 4... I think most bands recruit by having players sit in for a blow, after all you are looking for someone to join a team. Less importantly I guess you need someone who will fit into the culture of the band.


Well-Known Member
Perhaps we could turn it around... If you play in a top brass band, then I would be very surprised if you couldn't pass the Grade 6 exam on a very small amount of dedicated practice indeed.

I passed my Grade 8 euphonium with distinction when I was 13. At the time, I played 2nd euphonium in a decent 2nd section band, and that was an appropriate seat for me. And, mind you, if I had been as confident a character then as some brass-playing kids that I've met, I could have passed that exam the same way a couple of years earlier. Grades really don't tell you a lot about a person's playing abilities. On the other hand, if you meet someone who's taken the next step, and passed a playing diploma, then you can be pretty confident that they'll have several impressive aspects to their playing - although it still only certifies solo playing (or can you take a diploma with an ensemble playing component?); I'm sure we've all met players who sound great at home, or when warming-up, but are clueless with regard to taking on the needed role in the ensemble. Trombonists who are frightened of deploying any edge are a classic example of this type.


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