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Kickstart Your Season for Success

Kickstart your marching band season for success with these tips from Daniel Berard.
Preparing yourself and your students for Marching Season

by Daniel Berard, Music Educator and Consultant, YAMAHA Master Educator

In the hectic life of the busy Band Director, the summer months provide the much-needed time to catch our breath, step away, spend time with family, friends, or hobbies that may get pushed to the back burner during the hustle and bustle of the school year, and to recharge and refill the cup for the upcoming year. This gift of time is essential to our own personal health and success, but can also provide the mental space for us to lay the foundation for a successful fall season by reviewing and reassessing how we start it all during BAND CAMP!  Taking some time now to plan and organize the start of the season can be the difference-maker for directors, staff, and students alike. Here are a few tips collected over the years.

1. Review, Edit, and Re-Orchestrate

Whether your are using custom arrangements, stock charts from a publisher, or adapting “X Band show previously performed by Y Band,” go through the score, line by line, and think critically about YOUR band, the needs and abilities of YOUR students, the achievability of the parts and the effectiveness of the arrangement.  Are multi-split parts necessary (consider not only the number of players available but the scoring of the splits)? Are the ranges appropriate for the players I have? Can I create a more accessible option of the most technical passages for my youngest players? Are the percussion parts appropriate, achievable, and musically enhancing, or just plain overwritten to keep the players busy? Etc, etc, etc.  Having those kinks worked out in advance can set up students for success, confidence, and enjoyment, and can help assure that time during rehearsal in not being wasted on parts that are either unachievable, ineffective, and plain inappropriate for the students we serve. 

2. Study the Drill as Much as You Study the Score

Regardless of how elaborate the visual production of your show may be, it is imperative to study the drill and prepare rehearsal plans and strategies just as diligently as we prepare musically.  Do the measure number and counts line up between the score and the charts? Are feet moving in single or double time at this spot? Can I anticipate a timing or balance issue in advance based on the side-to-side or front-to-back placement of instruments on the field. Is there a horn move or visual/choreography needed? Are the drill sets marked in my score, and are the measure numbers marked in my drill charts? How long will it take for us to learn these sets? Work to integrate appropriate visual information into music rehearsal as soon as appropriate (ie: performing “step-outs” or moving feet while playing, horn visuals, “set breaks” etc). While this can get challenging as the drill is usually the last piece of the process to be completed, having full command of the drill & visual responsibilities is imperative for “getting the show on the field” efficiently and effectively. 

3. Review All Systems, Processes, and Timelines

“This is how we’ve always done it.” Quite possibly the most progress-limiting sentence of all time.  At the conclusion of each season, I take time to review, reflect, and take notes on almost every detail about the season I can wrap my head around, and as I am planning for the upcoming Band Camp, those notes become the framework for re-imagining those areas where we can find greater efficiency or effectiveness. How much time do we really need for…(fill in the blank)? Can we utilize our student leadership or parent volunteers more effectively? Are we introducing fundamental skillsets (musically or visually) in a manner that is pedagogically sound and builds sequentially to enhance student success? Is there a better way to do…(fill in the blank)? Can we accomplish this goal within the time we have? Are there things that we have done in the past that are no longer relevant?  Don’t be afraid to try a new way or to implement a system that can lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness.

4. Double Check All Facilities Needs and Reservations

Every situation is unique, and often the Band gets the leftovers when it comes to facilities, especially when facilities may be limited on a campus. Nothing can bring the whole process to a screeching halt quicker than planning to have a facility (indoors or out) only to find it has been double booked. With that in mind, it is imperative to communicate effectively with all who may be involved in the process, including district facilities personnel, campus administration, coaches, and custodial staff.  Proactively advocating for the needs of your students can eliminate many conflicts ahead of time. Keep the lines of communication between yourself and the coaches on campus open and positive, and work with campus personnel and custodial staff for potential alternate rehearsal spaces, especially in the case of inclement weather or excessive heat (some painters tape as yard lines in an open hallway or commons can work wonders!!). 

5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Take the time now to think of the unique needs of four district groups of stakeholders: 1) Parents and school administration, 2) Band instructional staff, 3) Student leadership, and 4) all Band members. Then, ask yourself two very important questions: 1) Where is all information readily available, accurate, relevant, and timely? And 2) what is our communication protocol (website, e-mail, messaging apps like Remind, GroupMe, Slack, etc)?  Each group needs similar but slightly targeted communications concerning schedules, timelines, expectations, and information.  As you prepare your “Band Camp Checklist” for students with all the things they need to have to be successful, compile a “Parents Guide to Band Camp” that helps them understand not only the “what” their child will be doing but the “why” they are doing it.  Engage a helpful parent or two who could put together a “FAQ” list from the parent perspective that can be readily accessed and updated. Front-loading the information available can make the entire process more effective and enjoyable for all involved.

For Band Students

1. Prepare For the Physical Demands of Marching

Let’s face it, Marching Band is a very physical activity. It requires strength, flexibility, stamina, and coordination.  Students who show up to Band Camp having done even some basic conditioning and strength preparation will find the experience far more enjoyable, and will set themselves up for success in this activity.  You don’t have to prepare to become an elite athlete, but even a couple weeks of dynamic stretching and flexibility exercises, cardio training or HIIT workouts, and basic strength and core conditioning will make all the difference. Take advantage of the myriad of excellent resources available via YouTube for workout plans and videos, or check with your local fitness center about student memberships.  Start a run club, or schedule a regular workout time with your section at a park. Even start by taking a regular brisk walk in the morning.  Anything is better than nothing, and regular is better than one high-intensity workout per week.

2. Start Acclimating to the Heat

We all can appreciate the comfort of air conditioning! However, as Band Camp approaches it is imperative that students start to prepare for longer stretches and more intense outside activity. Heat acclimatization is the improvement in tolerance that comes from gradually increasing the intensity or duration of work performed in a hot setting. The best way to acclimatize yourself to the heat is to increase the workload performed gradually over a period of 1-2 weeks.  Start with mild to moderate activity outside and gradually work for longer or more intense periods. By the time Band Camp starts, your body won’t be shocked by the sudden demand being placed on it, allowing you to have a more enjoyable and successful experience.

3. Recommit to Daily Practice on Your Instrument

Whether your summer involves a job, family travel, achieving wizard-level on some new video game, or just a plain old break, most students spend considerably less time practicing their instrument during the summer than once the routine of the season kicks in.  Just like any set of muscles, those involved in playing your instrument will weaken when not used regularly.  Students arrive to Band Camp excited for the start of a new season, only to experience frustration when they find that their “chops” simply won’t do what they want them to do, or that fatigue during rehearsal is keeping them from being successful.  Start now to commit to a practice routine that will rebuild your musical endurance on your instrument.  As with your physical conditioning and workouts, short periods of practice on a regular (daily) schedule will provide far better results than one long, intense practice session. Use the extra time during the summer to get ahead of the show music, or to start preparing honor band or all-state etudes. You will notice the difference when Band Camp comes around!

4. Find Quality, Supportive, Athletic Footwear

Marching Band as an activity, and Band Camp specifically, will require a lot of moving and time on your feet. Finding high-quality athletic footwear that provides support, flexibility, ventilation, and comfort does not need to be ultra expensive, but will make a huge difference in your experience!  Many styles of footwear may be really popular for teen fashion, but simply don’t provide the arch support, traction, or durability needed for success in marching band. Proper footwear can also help students avoid injury as well as fatigue to ankles, legs, knees and back. Look for footwear designed for running and/or walking in lieu of “cross-training” styles that have stiff soles that may restrict the foot from the full range of motion needed in the marching activity.

5. Prepare Your Band Camp Materials

Many programs may already have a prescribed “Band Camp kit”, but all students should plan to come to Band Camp with a good water bottle, sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses.  Don’t forget sunscreen for your lips! There are few things more painful than trying to play your instrument with your lips burnt to a crisp.  Students should also consider clothing that is breathable for outdoor activity and allows for the full range of motion necessary in this activity.  Dry-fit or moisture-wicking materials are more affordable than ever and can provide not only comfort sun protection as well. In addition, getting all music and resources into a good 3-ring binder with sheet protectors, along with some rubber bands or paper clips, will keep your music from blowing away during that outdoor sectional. 

The start of a new Band season can be exhilarating and overwhelming. A little extra time spent preparing during the summer can make all the difference for Directors, staff, students, and parents. Kickstart your season and lay the foundation for continued success. Happy Marching!

Daniel Berard is a 30-year veteran music educator, having led highly successful Band programs in Colorado, Missouri, and Texas.  His ensembles have won numerous recognitions on a state and national level in concert band, jazz ensemble, and marching band, including multiple performances at the Music For All National Concert Band Festival, the MidWest Clinic, and multiple state championships. He has been recognized as a “Yamaha Master Educator,” and is very active as a guest conductor, adjudicator, clinician, and speaker around the country.  




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