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