The brass band movement dates back to the early nineteenth century and England's Industrial Revolution. With increasing urbanization, employers began to organize bands in order to counter the increase in political activity, which had begun to preoccupy blue collar workers during their leisure time. Originally, the bands were funded by collieries, mills and other manufacturers, and many retain corporate sponsorship today.

By 1860, there were over 750 brass bands in England alone. The instrumentation of these bands varied considerably until the second half of the nineteenth century when it became more or less standardized, developing into the present day complement of Eb and Bb cornets, flugelhorn, tenor horns, baritones, trombones, euphoniums, BBb and EEb basses and percussion. Brass bands in Great Britain presently number in the thousands with many of the bands having origins prior to 1900.

Although brass bands were an important part of life in nineteenth-century America, they were superseded by larger concert and marching bands. During the course of the 20th century, it was primarily the Salvation Army that kept the brass band tradition alive, and it has been only in the last twenty-five years that brass bands have enjoyed a resurgence of interest in North America. The formation of the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) has been crucial and influential in this renaissance. There are presently several hundred brass bands in North America.