Musical Training in the UK’s Armed Services

This weeks article is a second feature taking a look into Armed services music training, kindly provided by our observer of Military Music, Cyril Foster.

“In this era of instability and intolerance we need to promote better understanding through the power of music.”

UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon

Soft Power

Through music, UK’s Service Bands sustain and develop the moral component of fighting power, support State Ceremonial, and achieve influence in order to further Defence and National interests. Soft Power is the buzzword for sharing expertise to Commonwealth countries, Presidential Bands, Government Police Force Bands, et al, that desire assistance in bringing about excellence within their own Forces. The Contribution of Military Music to Soft Power is now recognized as significant. It is often said that our Military Bands are second to none. How do they achieve these world class standards?

How do UK Service Bands train their personnel?

On recruitment, each service requires basic Military Training before musical training commences that is currently individualistic as follows:-

Buglers playing on deck, Armed services music training

Royal Marines:- Longest initial musical training period with career enhancement course(s) at a later stage.

Musicians and Buglers join the Royal Marines School of Music (RMSoM) age 16+ and after the initial 15 weeks military training, start specialist qualification study. This is 2 years and 8 months for Musicians and 2 years for Buglers. There are also Higher Training Courses at RMSoM. These are the Musician 1, a 12 week course for qualification to Band Sergeant, and the Bandmasters’ Course, a year’s intensive study, which for RM Musicians following the degree study, would gain them an externally validated Mmus. 

Musicians playing at Kneller Hall, Armed services music training

Army:- Initial musical training is 1/3rd the length of the RMs. Career enhancement courses reflect a similar pattern with varying course lengths.

After Phase 1 Mil Trg, Musical training is undertaken at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. The length of this Phase 2  varies according to the standard of musicianship on entry, running from 11 to 44 weeks. It is designed to allow musicians to fulfill their potential early with a view to passing mandatory tests for assignment to a band as soon as possible. Phase 3 Training (Music Direction Course) lasts for 46 weeks; tuition on Music Direction (conducting), Orchestration, Harmony, Music History and Analysis, Teacher Training and Military Band Studies.

Royal Air Force :- Shortest initial training followed by Continuing Professional Development.

To join the RAF as a musician you will need to have a minimum playing standard of ABRSM Grade 8. … entry level is also determined at an initial audition; either part-qualified (the minimum standard acceptable), or qualified (typically at college graduate standard.) Part – qualified musicians, should expect to spend a minimum of three months in the training cell. Having successfully completed this period of familiarization training at Headquarters Music Services (HQMS) you will qualify as a musician, whereby you will be posted to one of the bands and move to a higher pay scale. If qualified, you should expect to spend about a month at HQMS prior to being posted to a band, with the rank of senior aircraftman/woman (SAC). All Royal Air Force Musicians are eligible to participate in the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training program, which offers a modular system comprising instrumental tuition, conducting, musical theory and composition. External civilian qualifications such as Dip ABRSM, LLCM, LTCL and LRSM can also be obtained. Additionally, there is funding available for other areas of personal development, for example, working towards NVQs or study with the Open University.

Many a true word?

Readers might remember this snippet from ‘Yes Prime Minister’. Jim Hacker was having his Party speech written and he demanded that cuts/savings, must feature. His speechwriter immediately quipped that music in the three Services was taught in their own separate Schools. ‘Surely learning a Bassoon is the same wherever it’s taught? Why not amalgamate them? That would be a saving!’


Each of the Music Services believe totally in what they do; each are convinced that they do it better than any other. Every Defence Review questions the individuality of the three training practices (not just musical) that some day may, once again, be put to the test.

Cyril Foster


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