Sound Advice Note 17

Marching bands
Civilian and military marching bands

This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group specific recommendations covering marching bands.

17.1 While this advice is based on experience with military bands, it is equally applicable to all marching bands.

17.2 The singular term 'band' in this context should be understood to refer to a single body of musicians, whether from a unitary ensemble or two or more ensembles combined for a particular event (for example, massed bands performing at a major parade such as the Queen's Birthday Parade).

17.3 The table below represents typical noise levels to which members of marching bands are exposed.

Representative noise levels

Instrument dB Peak
Marching bands
Piccolo 112 130
Clarinet 119 140
Alto saxophone 113 140
Tenor saxophone 115 142
French horn 111 140
Cornet 120 142
Trombone 113 145
Euphonium 113 138
Tuba 117 146
Snare drum 113 144
Cymbals (large) 121 146
Cymbals (small) 118 146
Bass drum 122 145
Drum Major 96 132

Worst-case figures from a series of measurements taken with two professional bands at the Royal Military School of Music during September 2006.Taking the average exposure over a day all of the above would have been above the action values.

Performance types

17.4 There are two types of marching band engagement, each of which places different requirements on the band in terms of volume and so requiring a different approach to control measures. The first is a ceremonial parade, in which the band is providing musical support to marching troops; the second is a band display in which the band performs as a discrete 'act' for the entertainment of an audience, either in an arena or street procession.

Position of musicians and other performers

17.5 Certain instruments (for example, trombones, cornets and percussion) present a greater hazard than others, both to the players and those close to them, and these instruments should be carefully positioned within the marching band. The directional brass instruments should be at the front of the band, reducing the muffling effect of other performers and so requiring less volume from the players concerned to project their sound. Trombones should be in the front rank, placing no other performer directly in line with the bell of the instrument. The maximum possible free space should be left around the bass drum and cymbals to allow for natural dissipation of the sound of these instruments. See figure below for a plan of marching band.

Plan of marching band

Plan of marching band

Ceremonial parades

Parade format

17.7 Measures that will reduce the necessary volume from an individual musician within the band include:

  • placing the band at the centre of a marching column rather than at its head, reducing the distance for sound to travel to the furthest participant from the source;
  • employing more than one band if the marching column is particularly long and placing them at intervals within the column;
  • adjusting the format of a formal parade to reduce the distance between the band and marching troops.

Personal hearing protection

17.8 Where adjustments to the parade format cannot eliminate risk, personal hearing protection should be provided and used.

Band display

17.9 When a band is performing solely for the entertainment of an audience, either in an arena display or procession, excessive volume is not a necessity. The dynamic range employed within the performance should be maintained at a level to minimise the risk. It will be necessary to educate both performers and audiences, among whom there is often an expectation of excessive volume during marching displays.

17.10 The person in charge of the band(s) should assess any risk associated with the performance, including additional elements such as cannons and pyrotechnics, and employ appropriate control measures. Where the risk is beyond the immediate control of the band (for example pyrotechnics), personal hearing protection should be provided for all performers.

17.11 Personal hearing protection should be routinely available for both performers of the naturally louder instruments and those positioned close to them.


  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005SI 2005 No 1643 The Stationery Office 2005 ISBN 978 0 11 072984 8 (also available from
  • Controlling noise at work. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Guidance on Regulations L108 (Second edition) HSE Books 2005 ISBN 978 0 7176 6164 0
  • Listen while you work: Hearing conservation for the arts for performers and other workers in art and entertainment Safety & Health in Arts Production & Entertainment (SHAPE), Canada 2001 ISBN 978 0 7726 4643 9
  • Noise at work: Guidance for employers on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Leaflet INDG362(rev1) HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 10 ISBN 978 0 7176 6165 7)
  • Protect your hearing or lose it! Pocket card INDG363(rev1) HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 25 ISBN 978 0 7176 6166 4)