Armed Forces Musician

The Job and What's Involved

Armed Forces musicians are members of the army, the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Royal Marines. They play at a wide variety of events and their work involves:

  • Playing one or more musical instruments to the highest professional standards.
  • Providing music for occasions ranging from military parades and tattoos, to sporting events, concerts, regimental dinners, and state occasions - such as visits from overseas dignitaries and royal weddings and funerals.
  • Playing a wide variety of musical styles, including marching music, classical music, jazz, folk, dance music, rock and pop.
  • Travelling throughout the UK and overseas, playing to military and civilian audiences.
  • Making recordings and sometimes performing for radio and TV broadcasts.

Armed Forces musicians are also trained to take on active military roles when necessary.

Physical fitness and teamwork are essential for all service personnel. Armed Forces musicians spend part of their time playing team sports and in adventure training, which may involve pursuits like skiing, sailing or climbing.

The work involves long, irregular hours, often in the evening or at weekends. Time off may be granted for work outside normal hours. Musicians can also spend a considerable amount of time travelling to and from engagements.

Armed Forces musicians are usually based in the UK, but travel all over the world, playing in indoor and outdoor venues, including concert halls, parade grounds, streets, airports, ballrooms and recording studios. Outdoor performances may take place in hot, cold, windy or wet weather. A great deal of time is spent in practice rooms and rehearsal halls.

Instruments, uniforms, subsidised food and accommodation are supplied. Band members playing at some civilian engagements may receive extra pay for these performances.

Starting salaries may be between £13,000 and £21,500 a year, depending on the service.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 900 professional musicians in the army. The RAF employs 177 professional musicians. The Royal Marines Band Service (RMBS) is the professional music service of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines and employs about 350 people.

People who join the Armed Forces commit to a minimum period of service. This is four years in the army and nine years in the RAF. In the RMBS, it is two years and six months on completion of training, with a one-year notice period.

People interested in joining the Armed Forces as a musician should visit their local Armed Forces careers information office.

Education and Training


The minimum age to join the army is 16. No formal qualifications are required to join as a musician, and entrants range from school leavers to postgraduates. Applicants should be competent performers on any wind, percussion, contemporary or stringed instrument, and they will be assessed by audition at the Royal Military School of Music.

Bursaries of £1,500 a year for three (or in some cases four) years may be available to students studying for a nationally recognised diploma or degree in music, which has an emphasis on performance. These are offered by The Armed Forces Music Bursary Scheme.


The minimum age for entry is 17. Candidates should hold at least a Grade 8 qualification from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

The RAF does not have a school of music as such, so all of its recruits are required to be at a professional standard before joining. Most entrants are graduates from the UK's music colleges.

Royal Marines Band Service

The minimum age for entry is 16. No formal qualifications are required, although some GCSE's/S grades, or the equivalent, may be helpful when seeking promotion.

Candidates who pass the Royal Naval Recruitment Test will be invited to attend five days of auditions, interviews and tests at the Royal Marines School of Music in Portsmouth. The assessments are designed to test musical ability and potential, as well as strength, stamina, determination and character.

The RMBS also recruits buglers. No formal qualifications are required, but many buglers have already played in a marching band.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Academic requirements and age limits vary greatly from course to course and one should check with the individual course provider before applying.


The maximum age for entry is 36 years and 11 months.


The maximum age for entry is 29. Musicians with professional qualifications or experience may have an advantage.


The maximum age for entry is 33.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An Armed Forces musician should:

  • Be a talented musician with a love for music.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time practising and rehearsing.
  • Be a good teamworker.
  • Have leadership potential.
  • Have strength, stamina and determination.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Enjoy outdoor sports and activities.
  • Have good co-ordination to be able to march while playing.
  • Be well-groomed and have a smart appearance.
  • Be prepared to carry out a military role when required
  • Be able to accept the discipline of the Armed Forces.

Your Long Term Prospects

Armed Forces musicians do not usually spend their entire service careers in the same band. They may transfer to other bands as opportunities arise.

There is a clearly defined promotion structure in the Armed Forces. Candidates for promotion are assessed on musical qualifications, management and leadership skills, and suitability for life in the forces. There are specific training courses for musicians to gain the relevant qualifications for promotion to non-commissioned officer and officer roles.

Get Further Information

Corps of Army Music, HQ Directorate,
Kneller Hall, Kneller Hall Road, Twickenham TW2 7DU
Tel: 020 8744 8608

Royal Air Force Music,
Headquarters Music Services, RAF, Uxbridge UB10 0RZ
Tel: 01895 815286

Royal Marines Bands, HQ Band Service Royal Marines,
Eastney Block, HMS Nelson, Queen Street, Portsmouth PO1 3HH
Tel: 023 9272 6167

Contact details for local Armed Forces careers information offices can be found in the telephone directory.

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