The Dos and Don’ts of University Brass Bands

Calling all brass players! (And maybe the odd percussionist…) Now you know for sure which uni you’re heading to come the Autumn, we’re sure that you’ll be bombarded with all sorts of information and guides to university life. Don’t worry, it’ll all become clear when you arrive! We would, however, like to make the case to save some boot space for that most important of items: your brass instrument. Whether cornet/trumpet, euphonium, horn or bass, youth bander or novice your uni brass band needs YOU! And here’s why…

Why should I join a brass band?


  • Concerts! Banding gives you the chance to perform to flatmates, coursemates, family and the local community and show off what you can do – or even take on a solo if you’re feeling particularly brave!
  • Rehearsals! Before performing you’ll have to put in the time to practice as a group, generally for a couple of hours once a week. But the good thing about band society meetings being a bit less ad hoc is that you’ll see the same people on a weekly basis, and will get to know each other all the more quickly as a result.
  • Friends! Societies are an essential part of the uni experience, and you’d be hard pushed to find any more inclusive and welcoming than brass band. Plus, you get to join together with all your brass friends across the country every February at UniBrass! But more on that later.
  • Committees! OK, not the most exciting thing on paper, but stay with me: bands offer a great opportunity to get involved in society management, selecting music, conduction, arranging socials and much more. It’s a great chance to give something back to the band as you progress through uni, and looks great on your CV too!

Convinced? Read on to find out the essential dos and don’ts of being a uni bander, and make sure to keep an eye out for your band at freshers’ fair!

“The band is student-run and prides itself on its work with the local community. In 2015/2016 we won the Student Union’s Community Award for our outstanding contribution to the local community! We do this by playing in concerts, raising money through busking and so forth. This is a fantastic band of varying skill levels and yet we can still play some quality music!”

Bangor University Brass Band

Do start using “band” as a verb
I band. You band. We are banding. It’s all fine.

Don’t think you have to be a music student
Uni bands will take all levels and all standards of playing; you don’t have to have been playing the cornet since you were 2 years old and have a diploma in every brass instrument under the sun. Your typical band includes mathematicians, chemists, linguists, physicists, historians, medics and any other degree you can think of (and maybe some alumni hangers-on to boot). Music students are of course more than welcome too – someone’s got to play the hard bits!

“We love band socials, and these normally result in band curry at our favourite curry house in Manchester. They’re quite used to us now… It’s a great way to get to know the whole band and they’re always well attended. We perform on average three or four concerts a year, and last year we went on a hugely successful tour to Edinburgh. We are also looking into working with the immediate community in Manchester, and trying to inspire young people to play brass instruments.”

University of Manchester Brass Band

Do learn all of Brassed Off
Oh aye, you can knock out a bloody good tune. But what does that matter if you’ve never seen Brassed Off? Essential viewing for all banders, it’ll give you a tour around some great brass band standards, get you clued into the cultural history of the movement and offer a fair idea of Thatcherite Britain to boot. It’s almost guaranteed that someone in the band will have a copy to hand, so what are you waiting for? It’s a bloody euphonium, and so on.

Don’t make plans for after rehearsal
If you can avoid it, anyway. The first few weeks of uni are always daunting because there’s what seems to be a billion new faces and people to meet and learn about, but post-rehearsal pub is a must to experience the full brilliance of the brass band and get to know people across all years and subjects. And if you’re worried about being the newbie, don’t be! Not only are your fellow freshers in the same position, all uni bands are used to regular new faces; you’ll be part of the furniture in no time if you get involved. Your flatmates will soon get used to the default “sorry, band” excuse message. Also – despite the reputation some bad pennies (ahem) cultivate, drinking is not compulsory. Some bands even go in for a cheeky late night curry now and again. It’s all good.

An extensive variety of socials are packed into the band’s calendar, all planned by our two social secretaries. There is always something to look forward to, including some socials that make an appearance every year, and that will cater to everyone. Of particular note are the three-legged bar crawl, where members are tied together and follow a route around campus and a trip to the seaside after exams. We also occasionally go to the races, have games nights, go to the cinema and take part in a quiz. UYBB also annually travels out to Skegness to the Butlins Mineworkers Championships. The band stays the weekend, listens to some of the top bands the country has to offer and has great fun trying out all of the attractions on offer.”

University of York Brass Band

Do learn to walk
Banding at its purest means marches, in all probability on Remembrance Sunday and Whit Friday. For the uninitiated, Whit Friday is what we call the marching contests that take place in villages around Manchester in May/June time (9th June next year, calendar fans), and it’s awesome. It’s also in Brassed Off (see above). Unfortunately it’s a tall order for those far afield, and it can clash with university exam season, but you can join another band that is going and even as a spectator it’s more than worthwhile. If you get the chance, head along! Now, which foot do you start with again?

“Our yearly schedule is very busy to ensure each member of the band gets as much out of DUBB as possible. We start the year with a masterclass and concert with some of the highest quality bands in the UK, as well as an annual Remembrance Sunday march and service before our busy Christmas period, and second term is no quieter with preparation for both TriUni (which we look forward to hosting in 2017) and UniBrass getting well underway. Our final term is more relaxed throughout the exam period – but once exams are over we are straight back into a long list of engagements including a concert in the magnificent Durham Cathedral, the Durham Pride March, Durham Regatta, our own summer concert and the infamous DUBBBBQ.”

Durham University Brass Band

Don’t pay attention to the basses
Don’t get me wrong, we love basses. We’re also sure they’re doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing. It’s just probably off the beat and will throw you off if you listen to it too much. There’s a conductor right there in front of you, and they crave attention. Follow them.
NB By “basses”, we mean “tubas”. Get used to that too.

Do come to UniBrass


This is where we come in. The UniBrass Championships have run annually since 2011, and in February 2017 are being held at the University of York for the first time. UniBrass is run by students for students, and is a chance to bring bands from across the UK together to share their love of banding and meet up with friends old and new. The evening social. The contest itself is professionally adjudicated and will give your band some great feedback as well as the chance to show us what you can do. It’s a real highlight of the year, and we can’t wait to welcome you!

“Contesting is a big part of our schedule for the year, with us taking part in three contests throughout the year. In term 1 we compete at the LBBA contest and in term 2 we perform at UniBrass and the Midlands area contest. We are the only university band to compete in the National Championships and in 2016 we were placed fourth in the fourth section, motivating us for the contesting season ahead!”

University of Warwick Brass Society

Don’t be shy!
So remember, when packing up your life into a selection of cases, boxes and bags for life, take your instrument, sign up for brass band at freshers’ fair and keep making music for the next three years and beyond!

For updates on all things UniBrass throughout the year, search “UniBrass” on Google, Facebook or Twitter – let us know you’re on your way with #BringYourBrass

By Will Stanford Abbiss and Kathryn Hill