Producing a competitive marching band show

Talking to staff during warm ups at Florida State Championships. I could have never succeeded in competitive marching band without quality staff.

Competitive marching band has been a big part of my life. I enjoyed being a performer and I loved being a director. When you say “marching band” to me, I see competitive marching band. But, if you say “marching band” to a group of people, you will get various different ideas of what they look like.

Some see a college big 10 show.

Others may describe the high energy stand music from an HBCU band.

This post will address producing a competitive marching band show similar to what you would find at a Bands of America competition.

Half time as entertainment or…?

You first need to address the question of whether you want to be a competitive marching band. A band director has to decide what kind of band they’re going to field. Nothing should be done until certain questions are answered. What is the primary goal of the program? What is the band’s history? Are we willing to elicit the opinion of competition judges? Who will be our primary audience? The answer to these questions will determine your next steps.

What does your school community want?

This is a hard pill to swallow and I haven’t done well with asking that question. Generally, I’ve done what I want to do, but the problem is that if I want to do a serious, competitive show and my community wants a fun loving show, we’re going to be running in different directions.

Be careful here. Sometimes you will hear that people want a competition band, but they don’t really know what that will entail. (Remember, they might be seeing something different!). It is your job as the director to let them know what will be needed to succeed in this area. Let’s examine this idea in more detail.


Let’s begin with the way you look. It would be best if you had a well designed uniform. You can choose a lower cost uniform that is designed to fit your performance for the year, but you will need a new one next year.

You will need designers for the physical movements of the band (drill). I spent most of my 26 seasons designing my own drill. This allowed me to save serious money, but the band was also limited to my skill level. It is difficult to direct a band and also write the drill. Not impossible, but if this is your choice, be prepared for the extra work.

You will need serious help with colorguard, percussion and a team of visual and music staff members. If these people are good, you will be talking about serious money. Again, you can do most of this yourself. I was my own music and visual staff for years and used graduated students to help with colorguard and percussion. I saved a lot of money, but, as these people got good at their craft, they also wanted and deserved compensation.

Sound equipment

Modern competition bands use sound reinforcement. You can’t just run out and buy a few microphones and a speaker. You will need to do serious research to see what is best for your group. I won’t even try to tell you what you will need. But, I will say that you should also consider how you will power this equipment. Are you going to rely on a long extension cord, or will you be generating your own power?

Who will be taking care of this equipment? You can’t just buy it and expect everything will be ok. Your best bet is to find someone local that you can put on staff who will both care for the equipment and do the job of live mixing the sound during performances.

And, pray that it doesn’t rain on performance da


You can’t expect to find the best competitions within easy school bus range. (Unless your school is in the suburbs of Indianapolis!). You’ll need charter buses as well as restaurant and hotel room reservations. You can do this on your own, or delegate the task, but the buck stops with you if things go wrong.

If you choose to travel, pack in an enormous amount of extra time. Buses break down, hotels get reservations wrong and restaurants can take a lot more time than you expect. And, remember that kids need to use the bathroom! Oh, and there may be an accident on the road you’re taking.


All of this will cost money which the school may or may not provide. Be prepared to do an enormous amount of fundraising. Most bands do some degree of fundraising, but if you have big goals for your band, those goals will have a big price tag.


You’ll need to practice, regardless of what kind of marching band you choose to do. But, if you want to compete at the highest level, you had better pack in a great deal of extra time. And that time needs to be managed well.

I suggest that you study the way that John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach would practice. He would map out every minute of his practice time. No down time! Yes, the kids want and need breaks, but that should be on your schedule. If you have an hour of rehearsal, use it efficiently.

Video of.a John Wooden practice with his narration. Hypnotic!!

You also need a dedicated area to use for practice. I recommend a paved area where the lines are professionally marked out for you. Practicing in grass sounds better until you realize that you have to constantly reline the field. And, a paved field is good to go right after the long rain. A grass field might be a swamp. I’ve been there!

I like the saying, “Somewhere, someone is practicing harder than you. And when they meet you in competition, they will beat you!”. Being the high scorer at a competition will require an enormous amount of hard work under the sun. Are you, your kids and band community ready for it?


This all comes together to create a great deal of stress. If you choose a competitive marching band style this stress is mostly self inflicted. You will have other members of your profession accuse you of competing to get trophies and accolades. Make sure this isn’t true! The kids aren’t your slaves that you use to build your ego and resume.

Wrapping things up

I don’t mean to create a negative tone in this post. What I’m trying to do is make the reader aware of the work required to create a top notch competitive marching band show. I’m also well aware that in most situations you have no choice. If your school has been competing for years, then you had best tighten your belt and get busy.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it. Your school might want to move into or out of competition. But, if you are making this big change, you will feel that law of motion working on you.

Ultimately, be flexible and keep your mind open. If you are a new director, go into the work with your eyes wide open. There is a lot of work to be done if you want to take this route.

Personally, I loved my 26 years directing competitive marching band. It was a great challenge that I lived for. When it is done well, it is as the Music for all saying goes, “A Positively Life-changing Experience.”!

Good luck!


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