Music directors and band directors are constantly looking for ways to help their programs and marching bands grow, improve and thrive. Whether you are new to your role or have been doing it for decades, the drive to get better, musically and otherwise, is always inside you. Your education and experience have prepared you for teaching your students when it comes to musical theory, good practice routines, marching techniques and more. But what are some other habits or success factors that will help you build a successful marching program? Here are 10 tips you can put into practice right away.
You know your students and their abilities better than anyone. Play to their strengths. When selecting band music or writing drill, showcase your stronger players without leaving your weaker or younger players behind. Don’t hesitate to rewrite music or drills to make it work for your group. The audience will never know – they’ll just be wowed by how great you sound. Focusing on strengths allows your highly-skilled students to thrive while letting the developing players learn without feeling frustrated, which ultimately leads to success for all players.
Teach the Importance of Preparation
A huge key to success is preparation, both for you as a director and for your students. Preparation can mean many things: getting the equipment ready for the season, determining your goals for the year, planning for unforeseen events (what if the buses don’t show up on time? What if the weather isn’t what you expected?), physically preparing for the grueling heat and humidity of band camp and early season performances, and so on. Whatever the case may be, taking the time to plan can save huge amounts of time, frustration and physical discomfort down the line. Help your students understand how preparing in advance can be beneficial for your program and for life in general.
Build a Supportive Base
Make sure your students, the band parents, the administration and the greater school community know of you, understand how important the program is and are excited to support you. Offer ways for people to get involved (and not just financially!). Hold a contest to let the community select one piece of music for the band to perform, host free summer concerts so everyone can get to know you in a more intimate setting, get together with administrative officials for informal coffee breaks so you can interact on a personal level. All of these will bond your program and your community.
Concentrate on Quality over Quantity
Don’t ever stop focusing on the fundamentals. It’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of exciting new music software, technology, musical pieces, new drill steps and more. And there is certainly a place for all of those things. But don’t sacrifice quality. Make sure your students stick to excellent practice routines, maintain the right tempo and have good technique and form. Work in new elements as they make sense. As mentioned above, wow your audience with how great you sound. They’ll never know that you’re not playing the most complicated piece or incorporating some brand-new step or using some fancy technology.
Bring a Positive Attitude Every Day
Setbacks and mistakes are inevitable. View them as challenges to be conquered. Budget cuts, damaged or worn out equipment, scheduling problems and bad practices happen to everyone. Rise above your frustration and bring a positive attitude to each and every practice and performance. Your students will feed off of your positivity.
Don’t Forget Team-Building
A team that works well together is more efficient and successful, generally happier and more fun to be around! Team building isn’t just for the corporate world and there are many team building activities that can bring your students closer together amongst themselves and with you and your staff. Anything from hosting a board game night in the cafeteria to having a field-day style event to a skit day can help bond your program and get them laughing and having fun together.
Help Your Students Become Great Leaders
Chances are there are a handful of your students who already exhibit great leadership skills. But you’re in a position to be able to help bring out leadership skills in the rest of your students. Practice leadership by nominating a new student each day to lead an activity. Ask a community leader to come speak to your students and talk about how a mentor taught them how to be successful. Watch a TED talk as a group. There are lots of fun ways to incorporate leadership.
In a marching program, every person is accountable to him or herself as well as every other member of the band. Teach students that every action, from learning their parts to maintaining the program’s equipment to showing up on time matters and affects every single person. Help them understand that they’ll be letting their peers down if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. In being held accountable for their own responsibilities, students will become independent, reliable and responsible members of the band and of society.
Teach Students to Respect and Learn from Others
Students should respect you and your staff, the instruments and equipment, their peers and community and even rival programs. No matter how great your program is, you and your musicians can always learn from other bands. Take the time to watch performances and discuss what they were good at and where they can improve. Take ideas that your students enjoy and apply them to your own program.
Stock Your Program with High-Quality Instruments and Equipment
It goes without saying that using high-quality instruments and equipment will lead to greater success for your program. It will build excitement in your students and encourage them to care for and maintain it. Several of the tips we discussed here can be taught using your equipment – accountability, positivity, preparation, strength – they are all embodied in the instruments and equipment that are the true base of your program. Your marching brass, marching percussion, accessories, software and everything else your band uses should be the best quality you can afford.
There are endless ways to improve and grow your program. Even reading articles like this show that you care about your students and your school. Personal development and ongoing learning are some of the best ways to cultivate your program. We hope you are enjoying your summer break while finding ways to be productive and that these tips help you on your path to success!