The primary purpose of a DCI corps is to provide a life changing experience for youth through the art of marching music performance. Their competitive summer tour, consisting of DCI-sanctioned competitions (known as the Summer Music Games) throughout the United States and Canada, culminating in August with the week-long DCI World Championships, is what these organizations build toward all summer long, to achieve the highest level of marching and music as well as color guard performance. Many other drum corps associations around the world are based upon DCI. It continues a tradition of exceptionally high-quality drum corps, with membership in the top corps highly sought after and extremely competitive, attracting the interest of potential members from many countries.
DCI splits corps into 3 classes. Corps from all classes often compete together at smaller shows, but are still judged and ranked separately.
|Open Class||Division I||World Class|
|Class A||Division II||Open Class|
|Class A-60||Division III|
For members of all World Class corps and the most-competitive Open Class corps, the activity is a full-time summer commitment. Members are on the road performing in competitions and parades across North America virtually non-stop until the DCI Championship week in mid-August. Corps travel by coach buses in convoy with tractor trailers holding equipment and field kitchens. Once on the road, members generally sleep on the buses as the corps travels at night, and in sleeping bags on school gym floors once the next destination is reached. They practice their show for as long as schedule allows during the day, and then load up for the evening competition nearby. After the show is over, the cycle repeats.
Some smaller Open Class corps do not have the finances or member commitment to tour the entire summer. Such corps are called weekend-only corps. In late April or early May, they typically increase the frequency of camps from monthly to bi-weekly or weekly. A few weeks before DCI Championships, members will typically move-in for an abbreviated tour. However, some corps—especially feeder corps associated with a World Class organization or relatively new corps—will not travel to championships at far away locations, only attending local competitions.
The DCI Championships, first contested in 1972, are the epitome of the drum corps activity in North America. They are held the first or second week of August. Championships have been held at a variable location each year, but beginning in 2009, they will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis until at least 2018, with the exception of 2014. The Championships last for the better part of a week. Division I quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are held at a professional or large college football stadium. The DCI World Championships, which had previously aired on PBS since 1975, began broadcasting on ESPN2 in 2005. However, the 2008 Finals will not be nationally televised. In 2004, DCI started screening the quarterfinals live to select movie theaters across the United States.
During championships week, there is also an Individual & Ensemble (I&E) competition, which is typically held at a nearby indoor facility such as a convention center. Members of all attending corps are welcome to compete, but it is optional. Participating members often use what little free time they have throughout the season readying their I&E routine. There are categories, called captions, for every individual brass and percussion instrument, individual auxiliary members, brass ensembles, percussion ensembles, auxiliary ensembles, and mixed ensembles. In the 2005 season, I&E included woodwind instruments for the first time. The first woodwinds at I&E were two saxophonists from The Cavaliers, a flautist from Pioneer, and an oboist from the Oregon Crusaders.