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The Difference Between
Marching Band and Drum Corps
(according to me)
marching band
                                                    drill design

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I spent three great years in one of the worlds best drum and bugle corps, The Phantom Regiment. As part of that group I had the opportunity to perform on national television, and in front of huge audiences.  Imagine playing for a crowd of 40,000 screaming fans who all came just to see the show.  It was fantastic.

As great as that was, it wasn't centered on music or education.  It was about competition. Drum corps spend at least eight hours a day practicing a ten minute show.  They work the music by rote, and spend hours and hours refining and memorizing very subtle nuances in a competitive effort.  It is not and cannot be an exercise in spontaneous creativity or ongoing education, not if the corps wants to win.

Bands read new music and play lots of tunes, they practice scales.  When they play a phrase they follow a conductor.  Bands teach tone, intonation, blend, balance, rhythm, style and interpretation as elements of musical performance.  When Corps teach those things it's as they apply to raising the score at the next competition.

Band should be, about forming young musicians into expressive artists.

Drum Corps is usually about working a three year plan to win DCI.

As much as I love drum corps, I prefer band.

Update 2001

In the three or four years since I first wrote the above statements, I've received a lot of mail from passionate drum corps veterans who insist that their personal experience in DCI corps was different.  They've told me how marching band is great, but that corps, or at least the one they marched in, focused on teaching concepts of music for music's sake.

I enjoyed reading the letters, and was glad to hear that some corps, like the marching bands that surround them, are more concerned with music than with winning.  I should point out, however, that none of those letters came from people who had marched in corps that consistently place in DCI's top five.  It's sad but true.  But that's why band is nine months and corps is three months.  Lets not throw out the baby with the bath water.  I'm not anti corps.

I also get letters from a people who say that DCI is destroying the drum corps movement.  I have a strong opinion about that too.  To  read about that, click here.

Let me reiterate what I was trying to say back then.  Please, please, please, don't try to model your marching band shows after the drum corps you see on TV.  It can't work in the long run because in your band's limited rehearsal time, with its smaller instructional staff, it isn't fun for the kids in the short run.  Make your marching band a place where you foster of love of learning and a create a lifetime thirst for music.  That's what band can do best.  It's good for us, good for our students, and good for civilization.  That's a noble cause.

Update 2015

I've had a pretty good time these past 14 years.  Drum corps changed - a lot.  Band changed - but not so much, and in some pretty important and positive ways. 

Back in the day (as we old timers say)  marching bands would move a little, then stand and play, then move some more, then stand and play. Gradually over the past two decades, drum corps figured out they could do that too, IF they threw in some "body choreography."  So they march a little, then pose, and stand and play - lather rinse repeat. The Blue Devils have made an art of it.  The running joke among their rivals (who they keep beating) is that they march well and play well, but hardly ever at the same time.

I think this has been good for the activity.  More music is better.

Marching bands are doing it too, and wise directors are choosing to use limited choreography vocabularies to accomplish it.  To see an example, check out Red Lion's 2014 show.  I wrote the drill to the director's specifications, and they won the Cavalcade of Bands 4A State Championship in Pennsylvania.  Notice that they don't march as many pages as a drum corps. They also take smaller steps in general.  That's so they can play great music.  They did a great job.

Here's a link to the design animation -

And here's a link to an actual performance -
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