As a former drum major of the Blue Knights and an instructor for multiple Colorado marching bands, I have seen my fair share of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to summer marching band camps. As we begin the season, I’d like to share three tips I’ve found helpful from my perspective as both a member and an instructor.
1. Water Breaks
Being in “the box,” it’s easy to get wrapped up in putting more of your show on the field or repping a section until it’s polished because that’s the logistical goal of the camp! However, inserting a routine water break between reps can boost the efficiency of your rehearsal.
When you break up the drill and kill of repping a chunk of the show with a water break, members are often more engaged and focused when they return. It may be handy to set an alarm every 20 minutes for a water break – or as we called it, the “water clock” – so that members are both keeping themselves hydrated while on the field and allowing themselves to re-focus when they get back. Though a seemingly small task, it can have a hugely positive impact if this responsibility of keeping a “water clock” is assigned to a member of the band, especially if they are aspiring to or are already in a leadership role.
Keep in mind that water breaks don’t have to be a 5 minute, hang-out, goof-off, type of thing. I’ve found it to be very effective to make the water break a kind of game: The water clock would go off, then at the end of that rep, a drum major would give the command, “Equipment down, water up!” The whole band would set their instruments down in whatever set they were in, run off the field to drink some water, and whichever section was back in that set in the standby position would earn a point. At the end of the rehearsal, whichever section had the most points didn’t have to do their section task (pick up tape off the field, move scaffolding, etc.).
This made water breaks efficient for rehearsal, healthy for the members, and fun for the whole band.
2. Building Community Through Fun
Bands often grow stronger when students get to know members of their own section just as well as members in other sections.
Though it is important for the production to have each section work as a tightly knit group on the field, it’s also important to avoid the “section cliques.” I know that may sound like an oxymoron, but when the heat is on, tensions are running high, and nothing seems to be going right, the last thing you want is a band where members in one section are isolated from members in another section. The better everyone knows members of other sections, the easier it is for everyone to come together in both difficult and celebratory times. And having a membership that is “tight” can produce many positive results for your program both on and off the field.
Now, this isn’t to say that if all of the trumpets eat lunch together or if the clarinets organize their own section running block is a bad thing – on the contrary – it’s to say that I have seen success in programs that have a culture where members aren’t “afraid” to interact with other members just because they play a different instrument.
Part of what makes that culture possible goes beyond having personable leadership and icebreakers, it’s taking the time to have fun together which is as crucial for a successful program as the rehearsal itself. Having your leadership plan what would be fun your ensemble is definitely the best way to go, but here’s a couple activities that I’ve seen help us band geeks get to know each other in a fun atmosphere.
Setting up woodwinds and percussion against brass and color guard in a game of capture the flag, having a good ol’ fashioned march off with the whole band and have the eliminated cheer on the ones still marching, and my personal favorite, creating “ensembles” that have one member from each section in them and have them sing through their show music for the band using only the names of the members in their ensemble as the singing syllables. There are countless activities that you and your band can do, but regardless, the only surefire way to build a positive community is by taking the time to have fun.
3. “Flip the Switch”
Coming off the note of “fun,” it can be difficult for members on the field, especially new ones, to know when it’s okay to have fun and be a bit more lax, and when it’s time to put their nose to the grindstone and get down to business.
In my experience, every day has it’s own set of challenges and requires different approaches to getting the same task done. That said, before membership can expect consistent results, they need to create an environment where members are confident they will see consistent behavior from their instructors.
For example, we used this phrase “Flip the Switch.” This was our way of changing our mindset (flipping the switch) from the silly to the serious. Rarely did we ever use it the other way around, but it was that command that helped focus in the rehearsal whenever things started getting a little loose. This leads to a more bigger picture of consistency, both rehearsing on the field and with expectations off the field, but I digress. Flipping the switch, and having a solid/consistent expectation of what that means can be very helpful, again, for new members especially, but the ensemble as a whole.
So put on that sunscreen, fill up those water jugs, and take these tips along with everything in your 8 to 5 stride as we all gear up for the next marching band season! May the .1ths be forever in your favor.
CJ Garcia is an engraver and quality assurance technician at MakeMusic, where he helps create and edit content for the SmartMusic library.
CJ earned a B.M. in composition from the Lamont School of Music, and was a drum major for the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps from 2012-2014.
When he isn’t writing music or absorbing the Colorado scenery, CJ enjoys losing himself in the land of Hyrule while playing the Legend of Zelda series.