A marching band is, in the broadest terms, a group of performers that consist of instrumental musicians and sometimes dance teams / color guard who generally perform outdoors and incorporate some type of marching (and possibly other movements) with their musical performance. Instrumentation typically includes brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. Most marching bands use some kind of uniform (often of a military style) that include the school or organization's name or symbol, shakos, pith helmets, feather plumes, gloves, and sometimes gauntlets, sashes, and/or capes.
Marching bands are generally categorized by function and by the style of show they perform. In addition to traditional parade performances, many marching bands also perform field shows at special events (such as football games) or at competitions. Increasingly, marching bands are performing indoor concerts (in addition to any "pep band" duties) that implement many of the songs, traditions, and flair from outside performances.
The marching band originated with traveling musicians who performed together at festivals and celebrations throughout the ancient world. It evolved and became more structured within the armies of the early city-states, becoming the basis for the military band, from which the modern marching band emerged. As musicians became less important in directing the movement of troops on the battlefield, the bands moved into increasingly ceremonial roles - an intermediate stage which provided some of the instrumentation and music for marching bands was the modern brass band, which also evolved out of the military tradition.
Many military traditions survive in modern marching band. Bands that march in formation will often be ordered to "dress their ranks" and "cover down their files". They may be called to "attention", and given orders such as "about face" and "forward march". Uniforms of many marching bands still resemble military uniforms.
Outside of police and military organizations, modern marching band is most commonly associated with American football, specifically the halftime show. Many U.S. universities had bands before the twentieth century. The first modern halftime show by a marching band at a football game was by the University of Illinois Marching Illini in 1907 at a game against the University of Chicago.
Another innovation that appeared at roughly the same time as the field show and marching in formations was the fight song. University fight songs are often closely associated with a university's band. Many of the more recognizable and popular fight songs are widely utilized by high schools across the country. Three university fight songs commonly used by high schools are the University of Michigan's "The Victors", the University of Notre Dame's "Victory March", and the United States Naval Academy's "Anchors Aweigh".
Other changes in marching band have been:
Since the inception of Drum Corps International in the 1970s, many marching bands that perform field shows have adopted changes to the activity that parallel developments with modern drum and bugle corps. These bands are said to be corps-style bands. Changes adopted from drum corps include:
Military bands and Corps of Drums were historically the first marching bands. Instrumentation varies, but generally contains brass, percussion, and woodwinds. Given their original purpose, military marching bands typically march in a forward direction with straight lines. Music is performed at a constant tempo to facilitate the steady marching of the entire military group with which the band is playing.
Active duty military marching bands often perform in parades with other military units and march in the same manner as other military personnel. Due to a lack of competition venues, military personnel, and interest, almost all military marching bands have disappeared from schools in the United States; three notable exceptions are the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band from Texas A&M University, the Highty-Tighties of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and the Cadets of Norwich University Military College of Vermont, the oldest collegiate band in the United States and the nations first private military academy. There is also a pocket of about 80 high school military marching bands in East Texas, influenced by the Aggie Band in nearby College Station. They have formed the National Association of Military Marching Bands in order to preserve the tradition of military marching.
Bugle bands are a subset of military bands that use non-valved instruments, typically B flat bugles. Some bugle bands, such as the Burgess Hill Marching Youth, extend their range by using instruments like the jaghorn. In the UK, traditional youth bands compete on the Traditional Youth Marching Bands Association (TYMBA) circuit. TYMBA was established in the 1980s to cater specifically to youth bands executing military-style drill and music.
Carnival bands are a UK variant of show bands. Carnival bands typically march in time to the music, and may also participate in parades and competitions. They contain brass and percussion, but may or may not use woodwinds. The main competition body for carnival bands is the Carnival Band Secretaries League.
A marching band is typically led by one or more drum majors, who are called field commanders in some ensembles. Other student leaders may include field lieutenants and captains of sections such as brass, drumline, and woodwinds. The drum major often conducts the band, sometimes using a large baton or mace. In many school bands, the drum major is the student leader of the band, followed by students within the band that lead a section, squad, letter, row, etc. Sometimes there is more than one drum major; one may be the head drum major who runs rehearsals and who stands on the 50-yard line while conducting, the other often directs from convenient angles (should the marching block not be facing forward) and/or functions as an apprentice of sorts. Bands may also be led by a more traditional conductor, especially during field shows, where a stationary conductor on a ladder or platform may be visible throughout the performance. Aural commands – such as vocal orders, clapping, or a whistle – may be used to issue commands as well.
American marching bands vary considerably in their instrumentation. Some bands omit some or all woodwinds, but it is not uncommon to see piccolos, flutes, clarinets, alto saxophones, and tenor saxophones. Bass clarinets, alto clarinets and baritone saxophones are more likely to be found in a high school marching band. Bassoons and oboes are very seldom found on a field, due to their "exotic" sound, risk of incidental damage, the impracticality of marching with an exposed double reed, and high sensitivity to weather.
The brass section usually includes trumpets or cornets, mellophones and/or alto horns (instead of French horns), B♭ tenor trombones, euphoniums or marching baritones, and tubas or sousaphones (configured so that they can be carried over the shoulder with the bell facing forward, named after John Phillip Sousa). Some upright tubas can also be converted, with a moveable lead pipe which allows the player to face the bell towards the box or crowd. These are normally carried over the shoulder and do not wrap around the player as the original Sousaphone did. E♭ soprano cornets are sometimes used to supplement or replace the high woodwinds. Some especially large bands use flugelhorns and bass trombones.
Marching percussion (often referred to as the drumline, battery, or back battery) typically includes snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums, and cymbals and are responsible for keeping tempo for the band, which ultimately is the center snare's feet or the bottom bass drummer's beat. The drum major derives his/her title from his/her role in visually representing their tempo. All of these instruments have been adapted for mobile, outdoor use. Marching versions of the glockenspiel (orchestra bells), xylophone, and marimba are also used by some ensembles. Historically, the percussion section also employed mounted timpani that featured manual controls.
For bands that include a front ensemble (also known as the pit or auxiliary), stationary instrumentation may include orchestral percussion such as timpani, tambourines, maracas, cowbells, congas, wood blocks, marimbas, xylophones, bongos, vibraphones, congas, timbales, claves, rubboards, and tubular bells, gongs, as well as a multitude of auxiliary percussion equipment. Drum sets, purpose-built drum racks, and other mounted instruments are also placed here. Until the advent of the pit in the early 1980s, many of these instruments were actually carried on the field by marching percussionists by hand or on mounting brackets. Some bands also include electronic instruments such as synthesizers, electric guitars, and bass guitar, along with the requisite amplification. If double-reed or string instruments are used, they are usually placed here, but even this usage is very rare due to their relative fragility. Unusual percussive instruments are sometimes used, including brake drums, empty propane tanks, trashcans, railroad ties, stomping rigs, and other interesting sounds.
Auxiliaries may perform as independent groups. In the early 1970s, color guards began to hold their own competitions in the winter (after the American football season, and before the beginning of the summer drum and bugle corps season). These became known as winter guard. There are also numerous dance competitions in the off-season.
The color guard of a marching band or drum and bugle corps may contain sabers, mock rifles, and tall flags. In modern bands, other props are often used: flags of all sizes, horizontal banners, vertical banners, streamers, pom-poms, even tires and hula hoops or custom built props. The color guard may also employ stage dressing such as backdrops, portable flats, or other structures. These can be used simply as static scenery or moved to emphasize block drill, and are often used to create a "backstage" area to store equipment and hide personnel.
While military color guards were typically male, band color guards tend to be primarily female, though it is becoming more common for males to join as well. A few independent units are all-male. Guards most often have a special uniform or costume that is distinctive from that of band, and may or may not match each other.
Large bands also require a number of support staff who can move equipment, repair instruments and uniforms, create and manipulate props used in performances, and provide food, water and medical assistance. Additional staff may be utilized when the band hosts functions such as competitions and reviews. In high school bands, these activities are usually performed by volunteers, typically parents of band members or the band members of the lower grades. These people are often referred to as "runners" or "boosters". Significant support staff for college bands and independent corps are typically paid by the university or the corps organization, respectively.
The traditional music of the marching band is the military march, but since show bands also evolved from the concert and brass band traditions, music has always been varied. Often, music from other genres is adapted for the specific instrumentation of a marching band.
Commercial arrangements that are tailored for the "average" band instrumentation are also available. Military and university bands typically have a repertoire of "traditional" music associated with the organization they serve. Many competitive bands will choose to use an arrangement of popular music varied for marching band, as well as music from a movie or other such theme.
Music may be memorized, or it may be carried on flip folders that clip onto the instruments, called lyres. Having music memorized is usually considered an advantage for competitive bands, and there is usually a penalty for the use of the sheet music on the field written into the scoring rubric. Practically, memorization prevents obstruction of vision caused by the folders.
Many bands use some variation of the glide step, also known as the roll step. This step involves bringing the heel gently to the ground with the toe pointed up, and then rolling forward onto the toes before lifting the foot (or walking on the ball of the foot with heel elevated when backwards marching). This style is a direct imitation of drum and bugle corps. It gives the drill a fluid and smooth appearance, and allows for better control of the difficult formations and various styles of music played by those bands which roll step. The roll step also creates the illusion of uniformity, as if every person of the band is marching the same distance with each step, whereas at a regular walk a taller person would take longer distanced steps than a person of shorter height.
In addition, roll stepping allows for a much broader range of tempos to be performed; the proper execution of a roll step will give a player marching at 40 beats per minute the same smooth tone as a player who is marching at 180. The roll step allow for much better control of the upper body, and better control of the air support needed for playing. The proper form prevents the wind player from bouncing and moving around unnecessarily, thus producing an unstable tone. Marching percussionists generally use a roll step exclusively, as drum harnesses (especially in the case of marching snare and tenor drums) make a high step impossible.
The high step is used by many colleges and universities such as The Ohio State University Marching Band, the University of California- Berkeley Cal Band, the University of Southern California Spirit of Troy, and The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band, as well as most Historically Black Colleges or Universities. Some secondary schools that have deep tradition in their marching band also utilize a high step. And some bands, such as the Auburn University Marching Band and the Kansas State University Marching Band use both high step and glide step, depending on the situation.
The most important part of this style of marching is known as "stop action", which means all movement ceases momentarily at the apex of each step. This requires a band to have a great deal of stamina, but is effective visually. This style is common among most marching bands of the Big Ten Conference (e.g., Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan).
Some bands mark time by bringing their feet all the way up to their knee, this is also known as high-mark time. Some bands practice marking time during concert arch with the toes coming off of the ground in order to give the marcher a greater sense of marching while actually standing still. The heel should hit the ground on the beat. Some bands forgo marking time and instead come to a complete halt when not marching. Traditionally, the drumline would put their feet in a V-shape and lift their feet fully off the ground a few inches. This is to avoid hitting the drums.
When certain band members need to change the direction in which they are marching (sometimes called the "line of march") while facing the new direction, a "flank" is used. Flanks have their history in military maneuvers and are executed so that the entire body will face the new direction. This provides a definite sense of change rather than the more fluid slides.
When the band and percussion are not playing, rhythm may be maintained in a variety of ways: a drummer may play clicks or rim shots, the drum major may clap or use a wood block, a drum major or band member may vocalize a sharp syllable like "hit", "hut", or "dhut" (the latter is usually characteristic of the drum line, and often said before playing in the rhythm; dhut, dhut, dhut-dhut-dhut-dhut [one, three, one two three four] ), or band members may chant the military call of "Left, left, left right left". Band members may count the steps of the move out loud so as to keep the entire band together. Typically most moves consist of a number of steps that are a multiple of four. This is because most marching band music is in the time signature of 4/4. Even-numbered time signatures like 4/4 aid in staying in step because they assign odd-numbered counts to the left foot, and even-numbered counts to the right foot, respectively.
Band members also try to keep a constant pace or step size while marching in parade. This usually varies between 22 and 30 inches (56–76 cm) per stride. A step size of 22.5 inches is called 8-to-5 because the marcher covers five yards (about 4.6 m) in eight steps. A step size of 30 inches is called 6-to-5 because five yards are covered in six steps. Because yard lines on an American football field are five yards apart, exact 8-to-5 and 6-to-5 steps are most useful for field shows.
A drum cadence (sometimes called a walkbeat or street beat) is usually played when the band is marching, sometimes alternating with a song. This is how the band keeps time. Alternately, a drum click or rim shot may be given on the odd beats to keep the band in step. Between songs and cadences, a roll is usually given to indicate what beat in the measure the band is at. Cadence tempo varies from group to group, but is generally between 112 and 144 beats per minute.
While playing music during a field show, the band makes a series of formations on the field, which may be pictures, geometric shapes, curvilinear designs, or blocks of players, although sometimes it may be pure abstract designs using no specific form. These maneuvers are collectively called drill.
Typically, each band member has an assigned position in each formation. In many show bands and most drum corps, these positions are illustrated in a handheld booklet called a drill book. Drill books, or drill charts, show where each person stands during each set of the show. The drill charts include yard lines and hashes as they would be on an actual football field, which shows the band members where to stand in relation to the yard lines and hashes. There are many ways of getting from one formation to the next:
Many bands use a combination of the above techniques, sometimes adding dance choreography that is done in place or while marching. Players may point the bells of their instruments in the direction they are moving, or slide (also called traverse) with all the bells facing in the same direction. Bands that march in time with the music typically also synchronize the direction of individuals' turns, and try to maintain even spacing between individuals in formations (called intervals). Sometimes bands will specifically have wind players turn their instruments away from the audience in order to emphasize the dynamics of the music.
Auxiliaries can also add to the visual effect. Backdrops and props ("scrims") may be used on the field that fit the theme of the show or the music being performed. In comedic shows, particularly for university bands, an announcer may read jokes or a funny script between songs; formations that are words or pictures (or the songs themselves) may serve as punch lines.
Aside from field show and parade, competitions among secondary school can also have the "drill down" (or "concentration block"). This event involves all participants on the field following the commands of a drill sergeant. If a participant makes a mistake, either by execution or wrong timing, then the participant will fall out of the field. A winner is crowned when there is only one participant left on the field.
Phasing is a subjective effect, due to the finite speed of sound; some areas may not hear any phasing problems while other areas may hear a half second variation in timing. Even if all members of a band are playing at once, the sound from their instruments may reach listeners at different times.
For example, if two musicians, one standing on the front sideline of the football field and one on the back sideline, begin playing exactly when they see the beat of the conductor's baton, the sound produced by the musician on the front sideline will reach listeners in the stand before the sound played by the back musician. This is because the speed of sound is significantly slower than the speed of light. Sound may also echo off parts of the stadium or nearby buildings.
Phasing can be reduced in several ways, including:
Nearly all marching bands use some kind of uniform. Military-style uniforms are most common, but there are bands that use everything from matching T-shirts and shorts to formal wear. Capes, rank cords, and other embellishments are common. Sometimes uniforms have substantially different colors on the front and back, so if band members turn suddenly (flank) the audience will see a striking change of color. Many Ivy League band members wear a jacket and tie while performing. The Southern Methodist University band will wear a different combination of jackets, vests, ties, shirts, and pants for each half of each game, (changing before halftime) such that no combination is repeated all year.
Rather than a traditional helmet, the USC Spirit of Troy Marching Band and Troy University's Sound of the South Marching Band wear traditional Trojan helmets. The Alma College Kiltie Marching Band is famous for wearing formal Scottish outfits including the official Alma College tartan. Drum Majors, the field conducters and leaders, often wear more formal outfits or costumes that match the theme of the music, or their own design of uniform, based on personal preferences, which is at the discretion of the director. Many use an all-white version of the regular band uniform, with some (especially at the college level) still employing the tall wool-lined shako (often derisively referred to as a "Q-Tip hat").
Common design elements include hats (typically shakos, pith helmets, combination hats or other styles of helmets) with feather plumes, capes, gloves, and the school or organization's name or symbol. Sousaphone players often wear a military-style beret, as other hats may be in the way of the bell. It is also common for band uniforms to have a stripe down the leg and light-colored shoes (or spats over dark shoes) to emphasize the movement of the legs while marching. However, competitive bands may opt for matching pants and shoes (usually white or black) to hide the visual effect of members who are out of step as seen from a distance.
Some auxiliary groups use uniforms that resemble gymnastics outfits: Often, these uniforms are themed, drawing inspiration from the music. Many groups change the outfits they use from season to season based on the needs of the band, although many that do also have a "base" uniform for occasions such as parades or other ceremonies.
Occasionally, a band will forgo traditional uniforms in favor of costumes that fit the theme of its field show. The costumes may or may not be uniform throughout the band. This kind of specialized uniform change is usually confined to competitive marching bands.
In some states within the United States, such as Texas, there are actually laws that prohibit high school bands from practicing too much, in order to avoid injuring or overworking students. Texas has an 'Eight Hour Rule' which states that no competitive part of a marching band can spend more than 8 hours per week, including full band rehearsals, sectionals, and time before competitions, rehearsing. The things that do not count towards the 8 hours are competitions, parades, football games, and rehearsals during the scheduled school day.
Music for parade and show bands is typically learned separately, in a concert band setting. It may even be memorized before any of the marching steps are learned. When rehearsing drill, positions and maneuvers are usually learned without playing the music simultaneously – a common technique for learning drill is to have members sing their parts or march to a recording produced during a music rehearsal. Many bands learn drill one picture or form at a time, and later combine these and add music.
Rehearsals may also include physical warm-up (stretching, jumping jacks, etc.), music warm-up (generally consisting of breathing exercises, scales, technical exercises, chorales, and tuning), basics (simple marching in a block to practice proper technique), and sectionals (in which either staff or band members designated section leaders rehearse individual sections).
When learning positions for drill, an American football field may be divided into a 5-yard grid, with the yard lines serving as one set of guides. The locations where the perpendicular grid lines cross the yard lines, sometimes called zero points, may be marked on a practice field. Alternately, band members may only use field markings – yard lines, the center line, hash marks, and yard numbers – as guides (but note that different leagues put these markings in different places).
In order for members to learn their positions more quickly, they may be given drill charts, which map their locations relative to the grid or field markings for each formation. In other groups, spray chalk or colored markers are used to mark the location of each person after each set of drill, with a different color and, sometimes, shape for each move.
Some bands use small notebooks, also known as a dot book, which they hang about their necks, and within contain 'drill charts' taped in, which list coordinates that band members use to find 'pages' or 'sets' on the field, which are normally set off the front sideline and front and back hashes, along with the number of '8-5 steps off of the yardline listed on each page. Some bands are even using small plastic pouches that hang about their neck on an adjustable strap, which has a zipper pocket for holding drill, flags to mark sets, and a pencil. There is also a clear plastic window in front to display the current part of drill being worked on at that point in time.
Members may also group into squads, ranks, sections, or (especially with scramble bands that primarily form words) letters. Instead of each member having an individual move, moves are then learned on a squad-by-squad (rank-by-rank, etc.) basis.
March steps and traditional music and drill that are unique to an organization are often taught at a band camp, a time set aside for intense rehearsal before the performance season begins. Many U.S. university bands meet for a week of band camp prior to the beginning of the autumn semester. Other band camps exist for individual band members, drum majors, and auxiliaries to practice their skills and learn generic techniques in the off-season. For many bands, band camp is actually camp: the groups board at a campground for a period of time. Other groups simply hold band camp at their typical rehearsal facilities. Many bands have an initiation night at the end of the camp to help build a greater bond between the musicians. More often than not, initiation is focused at the newcomers to marching, for example, freshman in high school/college.
MACBDA is currently host to more than 20 actively competing, summer-only field show bands from the US (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan) and Canada (Saskatchewan and Alberta). The circuit sponsors fourteen field show competitions each summer and the circuit championships move on a three-year-rotation from Calgary, AB, Canada, to Traverse City, MI, to the Southern Wisconsin / Northern Illinois area.
The Honda Battle of the Bands is an annual marching band exhibition which features performances by HBCU bands. Seemingly contradictory to the name, Honda's "battle" is not a competition in the traditional sense; that is, no winner is crowned during the event. Rather, the bands compete for the favor of the audience, each other, and the greater community.
In order to make competitions fair, bands are normally split up into different classes based on certain factors. One popular classification system uses the size of the school to split up the competing bands. This system is used by Bands of America which uses the population of a school's 10th-12th grades :
Another classification system simply uses the amount of performers (or just wind players) to break up the bands into categories. Sometimes, bands are permitted to "petition" up a class to challenge themselves but usually may not move down.
The Sudler Trophy and Sudler Shields are awards bestowed each year by the John Philip Sousa Foundation on one university marching band and one high school marching band, respectively. The awards do not represent the winner of any championship, but rather a band surrounded by great tradition that has become respected nationally. No school may be honored with either award twice while under the same director.