To March or Not To March, That is the Question!

November 16, 2010 at 7:33 am | Posted in Random, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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For those of you who clicked on this blog post looking for some suave literary reference beyond the title have been rickrolled. The title is actually quite succint. We’re talking about marching band here folks!

Wait, hold on! Don’t close that browser window just yet. I am not going to be writing a blog post about the latest marching band results at BOA. My topic is one much more philosophical, and at times, very volatile between music educators. As the title suggests, to march or not to march? That is, should a school spend the time and resources on marching bands or spend it elsewhere?

Now, before I go any further let me make a few statements of my own background regarding marching band. When I was in high school, I was a member of a large (200+ member) non-competitive marching band. Our band director was an amazing teacher, and put on a quality product every year. However, we did only one competition (district), some marching band festival-type invites, and of course the home football games. That was is it! I never marched drum corps, and there was no marching band at my undergrad university. Throughout my college studies, though, I was involved in several competitive marching band programs too. Some were very competitive (all way to BOA) and some were merely involved at the state level, advancing to regionals, semi-state, etc. So while I have not myself marched competitively, I have been involved both with programs that did and some that did not.

Background given, let’s continue by discussing the pros and cons of each argument:


  • Marching Band teaches students cooperation, hard-work, and leadership skills
  • Marching Band gives the general public a “face” to the band department as a whole
  • Marching Band gives the students something positive to be a part of outside the school day
  • Marching Band is a social/fun thing for the students
  • Marching Band enhances the students’  physical and playing abilities
  • Marching Band attracts students to continue in music


  • Marching Band is time consuming, expensive
  • Marching Band is not musical: it’s all the same stuff for 3-5 months
  • Marching Band teaches bad playing habits
  • Marching Band dissuades students from continuing in band

Now, these are just a few of the things off the top of my head. Marching Band clearly has elements of both good and bad. Marching Band is most importantly a face for the public. The community might not know a thing about your wind ensemble, but every person has probably seen a marching band on TV, or in a parade. It also does teach many positive things like team work, dedication. But there are also negatives for people who take it over the top: it is very time consuming, and frankly can be argued that it is very unmusical in its concept.

For me, the discussion really boils down to what your goals are for your program. As with all good things, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Does rehearsing the same music from June-November constitute a productive thing? (Given you could be working on your concert band music, talking about sound production, air flow, talking about musical form of a piece, etc) Likewise, does putting on a marching band uniform and walking out onto the field and standing and playing constitute a marching band?

Let’s look to the middle! If we in Indiana are devoted to doing marching band, do it so it isn’t overkill. Plan some good music, decent drill, and do it well. When it comes time to competitions and performances, play for the home games, and some shows. But when it comes down to it, remember that the band program’s core ensemble is the concert band. As music teachers/band directors, we need to focus on things that can enhance our players’ sense of musicality, rhythmic accuracy, intonation and other basics. We also need to focus on that core gorgeous sound, and how to produce it. If marching band can enhance your program and players’ development, use it for that vehicle. (But be sure not to drive it 100mph into a ditch!)

Please note, I am not arguing a particular case, but rather presenting arguments for discussion. So what are your thoughts on marching band, either for or against?



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  1. You scared me when you wrote “For me, the discussion really boils down to what your goals are for your program.” But you soothed my fears in the later text. The goals of a band program — any part of a band program — should be the education and betterment of the students. If your marching band program doesn’t improve the students’ musical education — or even worse, lessens it — then you need to rethink what your job is and what you’re supposed to be doing. Music competition should always be ancillary to music education.

    Just because marching band is an extracurricular — meaning “outside the curriculum” — activity doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have education as its main goal.

    And please, band directors: the worst thing you can do is require band students to be in the marching band. Especially in a time when music programs are expected to prove their worth as part of the mainstream curriculum, forcing this extracurricular activity on your band kids is bad for the kids, for music education, and for the future of music programs everywhere. Forcing your band kids to be in the marching band makes as little sense as forcing every child in a PE class to play on one of the extracurricular sports teams. The only difference is that kids can choose not to participate in the band program, and if all band kids are expected to march, they will make that choice.

  2. Andy, I agree. Step one in any educational endeavor must be to articulate the GOALS of the program. And ultimately participation is a decision made by PARENTS, based on their values and their aspirations for their children. Schools are entrusted with custody of these values and aspirations.

    If my daughter were, say, a flute player who wanted to prepare for training at Juilliard, marching band would be a complete waste of time; she should spend that time in the practice room on the flute and at the piano. But, say, she wanted to become a nurse or an accountant, why not march? Marching band does inculcate those intangible but essential human attributes like loyalty, self-discipline, and leadership. Marching band is benefical for a largely narcisistic, self-centered generation.

    I was in the band program at Purdue, including the marching band. Again, we must go back to the GOALS of the program. IU, Butler, etc. offer performance programs that train students to become performers and music educators. These programs will have inherently different objectives than the music offerings at Purdue. The musical programs at Purdue, while excellent in their own way, provide an “extra-curricular” outlet for students who enjoy music. Band, orchestra, and choir in West Lafayette provide welcome relief after memorizing eight reactions of aldehydes or vectors of force in reinforced concrete. The fact that I’m not a particularly competent player is irrelevant. Lifelong musical competency is not an objective of the Purdue musical program.

    At both the high school and college (nonprofessional) level, band programs, including marching band, help to develop positive human attributes. These may later express themselves at the accounting firm, behind the pharmacy counter, or in the elementary school classroom. The “value-added” of band programs, including marching band, cannot be measured in a strictly scientific manner. But they do contribute immeasureably to the betterment of society.

  3. After a couple of years away from my kids’ program, I am able to offer an observation.

    Marching Band, for students with even mild learning disabilities should be carefully considered before starting participation.

    In my two students cases, core course performance suffered in the marching band semester…sometimes as much as a full point of GPA.

    In the case of ADHD and ADD where medication is needed, Marching Band interferes significantly with study hours.

    Band directors should openly discuss these issues during the recruitment seasons, most parents are unaware of the massive time commitments that Marching Band requires and pulling back after signing up for Marching Band is a social disaster for the student, especially if they wish to participate in music, but not Marching Band.

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