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Marching Band
Drill Design Philosophy

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I think that too often, as marching band directors, we forget our role as music educators.  Very few of us willfully sacrifice our concert bands to the marching season, but it seems to happen to many of us anyway.

I love drum corps.  I marched in one of the best, and have served on the board of directors for our local drum corps show.

But a band isn't a drum corps, it's a band.

When you see a drum corps on TV, you need to realize that that group of kids has spent at least four hours a day, seven days a week for the past four or five months just on the marching show.  That's upwards of three thousand hours of marching rehearsal concentrated into one summer.

Most directors see their marching band between five and ten hours a week.  At ten hours a week, you have about 120 hours of total rehearsal time during August, September and October.  If you add a week of band camp, and you rehearse 10 hours a day, you get an additonal sixty hours, for a total of 180 hours.  This time must be spent on music, on drill, and on business.  If you spend half your time on drill, you'll have 90 hours total.

The ratio of band rehearsal time to drumcorps rehearsal time is something like 90/3000.   Expressed as a percentage, it's 3%.

Band's only have 3% the rehearsal times the big corps use.

Here's a scenario, adapted from a lecture by Timothy Salzman, a member of the DCI hall of fame.

Too often a band director looks at a video of a drum corps doing an exciting move, and thinks, "WOW, I've got to have my kids do that! AND THAT!"  So he watches the video a hundred times, gets all the counts, and charts it for his band, or sends a link to the drill designer and says, "I want exactly this and nothing else."  The next thing you know, Susie the sophomore, a third clarinet, is flying around the field, whiplashed on the end of a line, because that's where the clarinets usually end up.  She's marching six to fives while trying to play arpeggios across the break. Susie gets frustrated and says, "This is too hard, I can't do it."  And the band director says, "Just squat down a little and you can make it. I know you can."

Well she can't, because she doesn't have enough time in rehearsal to learn it.  She doesn't have half the time it would take. In fact, she only has 3% of the time she really needs.  The director COULD sacrifice the musical aspect to teach the drill, but that's no good either.  And the next year Susie's not in band.  Concert season comes, and there never seems to be enough clarinet players.  That's my gripe, and it's a common one.  Band shouldn't inspire fear in the performer, but too often it does.

There's an easy solution.

Right now, during the summer, figure out how much marching band rehearsal time you're going to have.  Break it down.  You'll need to spend time on music ensemble, music sectionals, marching, and marching with music.  Leave enough time at the end of each rehearsal for at least one run through of the program, and time to talk about business.

Now, out of the marching time, you need to allocate some for basic technique, some for blocking new drill, and some for cleaning the drill the kids know.  How much blocking time do you have?  How will you spend it?

A really good band and competent set of instructors can learn and teach one page about every ten minutes, with time for review and runthroughs.  If you're teaching alone, or with limited help, you need to plan on accomplishing less. It may be wise to plan on half of that - one page every twenty minutes, or three an hour.  If you're good, you might teach four pages an hour.

From there the math is easy.  If you plan to learn the show during band camp, and you've allocated two hours a day for learning the marching part of the show, your presentation should have between thirty and forty pages of drill.  Unless you boost the rehearsal time, any more than that might not be fair to the kids or to the music.

I use an easy form to work this all out.  You're welcome (encouraged) to use it, even if you don't get your marching band drill designed here.

In one show, the Cavaliers, a world class drum corps,  marched nintey-six pages of drill in their opener.  I don't know the total for the whole show, but it could be as high as two or three hundred.  The Cavaliers also have a student to instructor ratio that is something like ten to one.  You probably don't.  And they have lots more time to rehearse than you do.  You shouldn't march a drum corps show.  If you do, it will probably be at the eventual expense of your concert quality.  It's regrettable when that happens.

I write drill that is exciting to watch, and fun to march. My drill has helped bands place first in 17 states.  In 2014, bands marching my drill won state championships in their size class in four states.   My drill has been seen on Monday Night Football and on locally and nationally televised college games. The University of Utah has  framed samples of my drill as decorations in their band room.  Search for BYU marching band on youtube and you find my drill.  I have been to hundreds of drum corps shows over the last thirty years.  I marched with one of the finest drum corps.  I know the moves and the tricks.  I am a very good drill writer in the drum corps tradition and style.

But I am also, before all that, a music teacher and a band director.  I never sacrifice music to motion.

Victor Neves

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To order a show or just to ask questions,
send email to or call 801-763-9915