Marching Music

Marching Styles Part 3: The Straight Leg!
May 30, 2008, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

I know that you’ve all been waiting for this one, so here is the final installment of my marching styles series: the straight leg!

Though I have marched in all different styles, this is the one with which I have the most experience. 

The advantage of the straight leg technique is in its sleek, polished look.  The spectator or judge does not see the jerky, distracting movements of other styles.  The legs move smoothly from point A to point B.  This smooth movement also eliminates the proverbial “ground in the sound.” 

The disadvantage of the straight leg technique is its difficulty.  Most drum corps do a technique that is some variation on the straight leg.  They also have the time and resources to get their members into shape.  This technique is more physically taxing on the legs.  The bottom line: it takes more effort.

Do not be discouraged.  I have successfully taught and used this technique with high school bands.  It works if you have a sense of pride within your band which drives the students to work hard.

How does one execute/teach the straight leg technique? 
Before we get too far, you’re going to need some vocabulary:

edge: the back part of the platform/ball of your foot
platform: the part of your foot which you would stand on if you were standing on your toes
tripod: synonym for platform: you will basically equalize weight between your big toe, big toe “knuckle” and little toe “knuckle

As with any technique, you’ll want to start with the very first step. 
Starting with and keeping your legs straight, push with the edge of your right foot until you must put your left out to catch yourself.  Catch yourself with the left heel, left toe up.  Notice that you are doing all of the work with your back leg.  This technique does not lead, but instead it pushes. 
Do this until you feel comfortable.  If you are bouncing or changing height when you catch yourself, then you are probably pushing too far past your edge.  Back off just a bit and your technique should be just perfect. 

Step 2: Train your hip flexors.  Swing your leg from front to back like a pendulum.  This is one of only two movements which your front leg will do.  The other is the dorsal flexion (toe up) of your front foot. 
Now, the trickiest part of this technique to explain is the transition from step 1 to step 2.  At the end of step one, shift your weight to the front foot, rolling down.  At the same time, bring your back foot in and begin to flex your foot for the next step.  On the “and,” which is where we are at this point, you should almost look as though you are standing still.  All of your weight should be on your left platform, your ankles should be in line and your right foot should be just barely off of the ground.  When you actually do this in context, your knee will bend SLIGHTLY.  You may want to choose not to tell this for your students for awhile so that they get used to the technique and are careful not to put too much bend in the knee.
The second half of step two is just like step one, but with half of the effort.  Push with your left edge and catch yourself with the right foot, toe up. 

At first, this is going to look extremely jerky.  With practice, it will smooth itself out.  Just remember that everything in this technique is SMOOTH.  If you are moving up and down, then you are probably doing one of three things:

1. you are pushing too far, past your edge
2. you are pointing and/or flexing your foot at the wrong time
3. you are moving your hips too much rather than using your hip flexors (remember the pendulum)

This technique takes a long time to master, but it is completely worth the effort.  Straight leg technique, if done correctly, is guaranteed to make your band look and sound much more graceful than you ever thought possible.


RE: How do I get there?
April 4, 2008, 11:09 am
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band, Percussion

I’ve deleted the previous post because some people took offense to it.

Those people completely missed the point.

I was serious when I said, “if you want to march drum corps, then DO IT!”

I’m sorry if you made excuses when you were young enough to participate.

For the rest of you, learn from their mistakes and get out there if you want to.
Don’t be that guy in thirty years who says, “thanks jerk, I COULDN’T!”
Do you think that any 15-21 year old can really afford to spend $2000 on tour fees and not work all summer?
(if you’re still wondering, the answer is “not very many”)
This post was for eligible students/individuals who have been sitting around, saying “geez, i’d like to do that”
Corps still have open spots! It’s not too late! It’s even cheaper now because you missed many of the pre-season camps!
Take your horn, sleeping bag, and a boat load of confidence (and you might want to email to make sure that the corps of your dreams still has open spots first) and go try out! You never know.

Again, I apologize to anyone I’ve offended by making this sound so easy.


Making the Switch: Drum Corps to Marching Band
September 10, 2007, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

This post is more for band directors and students who do both, than it is for the average reader, but it can be educational for either:

Cadets 06 Denver

Drum Corps International provides an extracurricular (marching) music experience like no other for thousands of dedicated students every year, so why is it that many band directors discourage participation?  I believe that this occurs because participants have a hard time making the switch from the highly competive, extreme high intensity of drum and bugle corps back to their high school or college bands.  The two are completely different worlds, as they should be. 

I’ll start off by sharing my sister’s present story with you.  She marched with Southwind this summer at the age of 15.  That is quite a feat in itself.  She fell in love with the people, the atmosphere and the intensity.  Now she is back in high school, marching around a parking lot 2 days per week.  Her high school program is good, but it is certainly not a drum corps.  She is still struggling with adjusting to working with the kids who just don’t care the way she does.  She has even developed an attitude about it…that is what I want to caution against.  Many times band directors discourage drum corps participation because of the attitudes with which their students return.  Admittedly, students who return from drum corps have done something on a higher level than the typical high school marching band.  It is when these students return with a superiority complex that they hurt, not help their band mates.  I would like to caution high school age participants against giving the drum corps community a bad name.  Please use your experience for the good of the group and, if you have to, take the group for what is.  Have fun. 

College band is a little different.  I don’t think that I have ever met a college band director who discouraged his students’ participation in drum corps.  Maybe this is because many college students who are in drum corps do not participate in their college marching bands.  I am one of the few individuals I know who do participate.  It took me 3 years to, as we say in the corps, “figure it out,” but I think that I’ve finally gotten it.  College band is much easier to adjust to than high school band because it is the most different.  You don’t have to worry about competing on a lower level because most college bands never compete at all.  College band (and I really never thought that I would allow myself to use this cliche about ANY band) is all about having fun and getting to know people.  It is what it is.  Have fun with it.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with this (and coming from a Cadet, this is going to sound farmiliar.)
Everything that you do is a choice.  Choose to have a good time in your high school or college band.  Bring back the wealth of amazing knowledge that you were given this past summer and share it as much as you can with your director.  Engage in civilized, intelligent conversations with your band staff so that they can see what an amazing product the drum corps community really puts out. 

Marching Styles Part 2
April 24, 2007, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

In order to explain corps style marching, I am going to split it up into 2 different sections: bicycle and straight leg.  There is a whole huge spectrum to be explored here, but for the sake of understanding, we’ll generalize.  Let’s discuss the Corps style technique: bicycle.


Definition: Each member has his/her own dot for each “set” of the show.  Step size varries for each member in each set because no two members have exactly the same commands to execute.  Steps are taken in a “bicycle” style, picking each foot up, bringing it to a certain point, and then extending to the next step.  The steps can be taken in a “tightrope” style, meaning that one foot is placed directly in front of the other, or in a “ski line” style, meaning that the paths of the feet may never cross (like skis).

This is the one which I have the least experience with, so feel free to correct any errors in my definition.

Advantages: This works very well in high school bands because it provides members a way to move fairly quickly without taking the time to teach a more strenuous and rigid technique.  It is the easiest for students to master as well as to hide small variations. 

Disadvantages: At slower tempos, it looks silly.  When its opposite, straight leg technique, is polished, this looks sloppy  and flaily by comparison.  Control is key.  It may also be harder to keep the movement from affecting your sound (ground in the sound) when using this technique.

Related Concepts: tight rope, ski line, precision/dot drill, high school marching band

Marching Styles: Part 1
April 23, 2007, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

After talking at length with some college students, mostly music education majors, I’ve decided that I need to do a bit of a series on marching styles.  I’ve marched everything so, although my likes definitely lie on the side of corps style, I think that I can give a pretty good, unbiased overview.  That said, let’s focus on our first style: Squad/Big10 style.


Definition: 3 or 4 person squads; all people in a given squad are given a single direction; squad members generally stay together and do uniform moves, which when combined with other squads, make forms; often partnered with a style referred to as “high knee”

Advantages: This style takes relatively little time to teach.  We use it in my college marching band.  We spend about 15 minutes teaching the commands at the beginning of band camp and never re-visit that for the remainder of the season.  A typical drill can fit on a couple of sheets of paper and can be read with ease by the average person who has never marched before.  It works well in areas where bands are required to do multiple shows in a year in order to please the football fans.

Disadvantages: This style does not usually jive well with dynamic considerations within a piece.  Often a piece will build up, crescendo, and then the drill takes them in a different direction, facing instruments away from the audience and ruining the effect.  Usually this can be fixed by simply sliding (shifting if you’re from the east coast) or caution in drill writing.  The other disadvantage to this technique is that it often looks sloppy.  Competition or corps style bands use precision, dot drills.  This style will be visited later.  In general however, 3 or 4 person squads do not stay/work together well, making distorted forms as a result.

Related concepts: High knee, big 10, football bands, college style, multiple shows