Five Ways to Kick Off Your Marching Band Season No Matter What

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • July 15, 2020

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Ah…the world of band and orchestra right now. How complex and challenging a time we are living in! One of the most challenging issues we are facing is how to plan for next school year when we don’t have any idea what mandates will come down from our administration, district, or state.

But that shouldn’t stop us from being empowered to move forward in every way that we can!

One of the biggest questions right now is with marching band. When I was in high school, my July was filled with early morning technique rehearsals and practicing for parade marching. How unfortunate that so many of our marching band kiddos are missing their summer band and band camp opportunities!

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for mandates from on high to embrace what our students need. Here are five ways you can kick of your marching band season with everyone still being at home.

Practice Fundamentals

Set up a regular schedule for students to login and participate in an online calisthenics rehearsal to practice movement. Jeff Young has created an entire marching fundamentals program that is accessible online. It is easily adaptable for students at home. You can enhance the engagement by challenging your students to do 7-days, 15-days, or even 30-days of marching fundamentals videos. This isn’t anything new! The world of yoga has been doing similar online challenges and educational videos for years. Give your excited students and opportunity to hop into the marching season in a meaningful way that will enhance your movement and musicianship all season long. Learn more about Jeff’s Marching Fundamentals program at

Encourage Sectionals

You already know that your students can’t play together online, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an advantage to having them meet in sectionals to rehearse music. Simply provide your section leaders with simple rehearsal plans for silent rehearsals, or “take-turns” sectionals. The section leader can demonstrate how a song or phrase can be performed, then take turns hearing the same from the section members. It’s a great way to enhance the musicality of both the section leaders and the members. To enhance the experience, schedule sectional times in advance and provide PDF copies of the music ahead of time. Encourage your section leaders to be relentlessly positive and encouraging of any participation.

Focus on Individual Musicianship

What makes an excellent musician? When I was learning about how to teach Jazz, my professors all taught me that the #1 technique was modelling. Encourage your students to listen to bands that sound like you want them to sound! Many drum corps and college marching bands have easily accessible videos of sections and entire bands playing together. Share these videos with your students and encourage them to mimic the sounds that they hear.

Visualization Exercises

Many studies have shown that what happens in the mind is just as powerful as what happens with the body. You can take advantage of this fact by offering your students visualization exercises. When I was training for my first triathlons, I used to go to sleep every night thinking about swimming- visualizing the way my body moved through the water. After many nights, I finally was good enough to be competitive, and stood on the podium in my first triathlon. The subconscious mind knows no difference between reality and imagination, and we can leverage this fact with students.

You can simply record an audio track for them to listen to, guiding them through the best objectives of what you want them to be. Encourage them to visualize playing in tune, standing on the field confident in victory, performing to their all-star best. Once this audio track is recorded, encourage your students to listen to it as often as possible. The more they visualize the type of student and performer they want to be, the more likely they will become just that.

Build Relationships

Whether you embrace the opportunities to build musicianship or not, now is a great time to build relationships with your students. Many of your students are already very savvy with online communications – texting, messaging – and this is your chance to leverage that. By simply setting up a regular weekly casual video chat with your students you’ll be able to get to know them build relationships with them, and thus be able to leverage the rapport you create with them.

That same rapport can easily transfer to the in-person marching season. It’s as simple as creating a recurring weekly meeting on Zoom and inviting your entire marching band roster. Certainly, these aren’t all of the ways you can leverage this time to engage with your students. Take a few moments to brainstorm all of the opportunities that you have with your students now, online.

As you can see, there are many ways you can kick off your marching band season without waiting for the guidelines and mandates from your admin. Take the opportunities you have now to build the program you want to have in the future. Do all that you can with the tools you have. And have fun every step of the way.

An experienced K8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. She holds a bachelor of music, a master of business administration, and is currently pursuing a doctorate of education in instructional design. Elisa uses her vast and diverse skill set to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. She serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for SBO Magazine, and is an internationally-recognized speaker. She is the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the International Music Education Summit and the Society for Online Music Education, and author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive and The Music Booster Manual.


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