Rehearsing a Marching Band Front Line Ensemble

Mike Lawson • • October 1, 2018

Share This:

I am going to discuss rehearsal techniques for training a mallet and percussion section in your marching band. Many of these techniques can also be used in regular band rehearsal. Here are some helpful hints.

1) Warmup and scale exercises: It is really important that your mallet players know all 12 major scales in both the circle of fourths and circle of fifths. Having a warmup book and going through all the keys at the beginning of rehearsal will help prepare them for practice.

2) Give them a recording: Giving your ensemble an audio recording of the entire show will enable them to listen to the music and become familiar with it. Go over the recording in full rehearsal and note the style differences between movements. There are midi recordings available for most marching band arrangements if you aren’t able to find a professional recording for your students.

3) Teach by rote: “Rote learning is a memorization technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it,” says Wikipedia. For marching band, I have found this style of teaching to be extremely effective. Your students will immediately commit the music to muscle memory, so they can focus on musicality. It also gets their heads out of the music, so they can pay attention to the ensemble. Another advantage is that it enables students who can’t read music to immediately become part of the music ensemble.

4) Teach small segments at a time: Teaching four to eight measures at a time is very effective because it allows your students to focus on details and not get overwhelmed with too much material at once. Teaching a four-bar phrase and having the students memorize it immediately, and then repeating the four measures about 20 times will solidify the segment in their minds. Add another four measures to the previous segment and run that 20 times. The next step will be to run the entire eight measures 20 times.

5) Review and enlarge: This is a very effective teaching technique in all subjects aside from music. This consists of reviewing the segment that your students have repeated over and over, and then adding another small segment to memory. Add four measures at a time, and then going back and review everything they have already learned before adding more material. It is very important that the learned portion of the music is rehearsed in every run through, and not just the new material. This will only solidify the previously learned material in your students’ brains. This rehearsal technique seems time consuming while you are going through the process, but in the grand scheme, it is actually extremely fast! I have had students learn and memorize and solidify an entire marching band song in one three-hour rehearsal when this teaching technique is followed.

6) Add musicality immediately: When you are applying the “rote teaching” and “review and enlarge” techniques, make sure your students learn the proper dynamics, phrasing, and musicality immediately. Never wait and add these later. Our students, as well as ourselves, are creatures of habit. Every time they run through a four or eight measure segment, they are “programming” it into their minds and muscle memory. It is very important to use every single repetition of the segment to solidify every aspect of the music.

7) Perfect practice makes perfect: The phrase “practice makes perfect” is actually false. “Perfect practice makes perfect” is the correct phrase. When you students run through musical segments, make sure they are playing every single note, rhythm and dynamic perfectly, even if you have to click the song at a ridiculously slow tempo. As a matter of fact, I often have my students rehearse a segment at a fraction of the marked tempo, because they can focus on playing everything perfectly as well as get a clear understanding of every rhythm.

8) Gradually increase the tempo: Adding 10 BPM to the metronome after every time your students play a passage perfectly will allow them so to ease into the marked tempo. With gradually increases, your students won’t even realize when they are playing it at the marked tempo! Often times I will also have them practice a little faster than the marked tempo just, so they are technically prepared for the adrenaline factor of a live performance.

9) Full “run throughs:” After the painful process of learning four measures at a time until the end of the song is reached, it is extremely important to do a lot of full “run throughs.” This allows the students to understand everything in context with the music as well as the other parts going on around them. It also helps them understand transitions and any transition problems that need to be addressed.

10) Outdoor volume: Your front-line ensemble needs to understand that there is an outdoor volume and an indoor volume. Everything outdoor is usually twice as loud. They need to practice this in rehearsal. I have had many ensembles become confused when they practice outside for the first time and they suddenly they can’t hear anything! Every pianissimo volumes are raised outdoors, but all dynamics are raised relative to one another.


The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!