Abstract The collective pair approximation, previously used in the description of the ground-state band in deformed nuclei, is extended to the description of the β-band. This is obtained by promoting to an excited state one of the basic pairs defining the ground-state condensate in the intrinsic frame. The microscopic structure of the excited pair is determined variationally by minimizing the energy associated with the pairing-plus-quadrupole hamiltonian with the constraint of orthogonality to the ground state. We found that while the collective pair defining the ground-state condensate was dominated by the monopole and quadrupole components and exhibited a microscopic structure smoothly varying with the number of particles, high multipole pairs are dominant in the β-pair and its structure is strongly dependent on the movement of the Fermi surface. This casts serious doubts on the nature of the excited bands obtained in the framework of the interacting boson model.