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Marching band

A marching band is a group of musicians that march in time with the music being played. Traditionally, marching bands were military in nature. Today, however, marching is a sport/art form engaged in by high school and college students, as well as adults.

The traditional music played by a marching band is, of course, the march. However, most bands today branch out into other forms of music, including classical and popular pieces. In both cases, however, the music must be re-arranged specifically for the unique instrumentation of the band. In non-military marching, the two primary forms are street and field. Street marching, as in a parade, is the more traditional of the two.

Field Marching

Field marching evolved (in the US) from high school and college marching bands that were called upon to perform at football games. Instead of marching on a street, the band would choreograph[?] a pre-game or halftime field show[?], designed to be both musically and visually enjoyable to audience members in the stands. The visual aspects of field shows have evolved significantly over the years. There are now several specific styles of field marching, and many marching bands have eschewed street marching entirely in favor of field performance.

The single most popular style of field marching today is drum corps[?]. In addition to a large number of schools and colleges that perform only in drum corps style (still usually for a football game), private (and often highly selective) groups perform as well. Notable here is Drum Corps International (DCI). Drum corps is distinguished from other marching styles in these main ways:

  1. Step - An extremely smooth step called 'roll step' is used exclusively. To roll step, a marcher places the heel of the foot down first. Then, the rest of the foot is rolled forward until the toe touches down. Continuing the roll, the heel lifts up. Finally, the toe lifts up. Roll step has the property that, when properly executed, the amount of bounce in the torso is reduced to almost zero. This improves sound quality dramatically, especially for brass instruments.
  2. Instrumentation - No woodwind instruments are used. Several sizes of valved brass instrument are used to cover the different parts in the arrangement. These typically include trumpet/cornet, mellophone, baritone horn, and tuba/sousaphone. Percussion is divided between a marching section (snare drum[?], tonal bass drums[?], cymbals) and a 'pit' (glockenspiels, gongs, timpani), which stays motionless at one side of the field on the 50-yard line.
  3. Formations - Formations are almost all follow-the-leader. Certain key marchers guide a series of smooth lines and curves, which shift position and shape over time.
  4. Presentation - Because the corps band is composed entirely of brass instruments, and since brass instruments are highly directional, corps bands always choose a particular sideline and all marchers will face it continuously throughout the entire show. Audience members faced by the band are treated to a loud, clear performance. Audience members on any other side hear almost nothing. As a consequence, DCI shows always have the entire audience sitting on one side of the field.
  5. Frequency of new shows - Most core bands learn and perform only one or two shows per year. Each show takes an enormous amount of work before it is ready to be performed. This is primarily due to the type of formations used.

An older and fading style of field marching is high step. This form is more loosely-defined than drum corps, and probably no two high-stepping bands are exactly the same. However, this style can be generally contrasted with corps as follows:

  1. Step - Steps are extremely jerky. Marchers much more literally march than in corps style. As a result, more bouncing occurs and sound quality tends to diminish somewhat. However, most high-stepping bands develop techniques for keeping the sound quality high despite bouncing.
  2. Instrumentation - Traditional marching band instrumentation is used. This typically includes all the instruments found in drum corps with the addition of alto and tenor saxophone, flute and/or piccolo, clarinet, and slide trombone. Sousaphones are almost always used in place of tubas, though many consider the concert tuba to look better marching. There is no percussion 'pit'. Thus, extremely large and/or heavy percussion instruments found in drum corps are not used in high step marching. One exception is the glockenspiel, since a smaller marching variant of this instrument is widely available. Tonal bass drums[?] may be used.
  3. Formations - Formations are rarely follow-the-leader. Instead, each marcher learns his/her own choreography and performs it appropriately. Curves are still used, but straight lines and boxes are more common.
  4. Presentation - The band will typically change directions several times during the course of the show, with marchers changing directions several times during the course of a song. Marchers typically face whatever direction they happen to be marching in at the time. Because the band is composed of mixed brass and woodwinds, these direction changes greatly distort the sound of the band as a whole.
  5. Frequency of new shows - This varies greatly, with some bands learning new shows infrequenty and others learning new shows as often as once a week. The individualized marching style allows marchers to memorize their choreography ahead of time, minimizing required practice time.

Another common form of marching is scatter. This style is practiced mainly by a number of college marching bands. In scatter, the members of the band form a series of 'pictures' on the field, like a flower or a car. Then, when one picture is done, the band scatters to the next picture in the series. Scattering is rarely done in step, usually between songs. In fact, some scatter marching bands do not ever actually march.

Some bands combine elements of these different styles within the same show. A band may use drum corps-style formations and the roll step, facing one direction continuously, but may be composed of the more traditional mixture of both brass and woodwind instruments, and may also have a percussion pit at the sideline. They may also march in step to most formations, but at a particular break in the music, they may scatter to a new formation for visual effect.

Street Marching

Regardless of the style of field marching practiced by a given band, almost all marching bands use a modified form of drum corps marching when performing street, or parade, marching. The band lines up in a marching block composed of ranks and files. Ranks are the lines that run across the width of the road; files are the lines that run along the length of the road. Guiding is generally performed by each marcher trying to stay within his/her given rank and file. For each file, the marcher in the front rank is the guide; all other marchers in that file follow the guide. For each rank, one of the marchers in the rank (typically either the center, leftmost, or rightmost) is the guide; all other marchers in the rank follow the guide. Lastly, guidance is fine-tuned by following the diagonals: lines that extend forward-left and forward-right from each marcher. These too should be straight.

A drum cadence is played whenever the band is marching, but not actively playing a song. This is how the band keeps time. At the very least, a drum click (rim-shot) is given on the odd beats to keep the band in step. Usually (but not always), the left foot is put down on the odd-numbered beats; the right foot on evens. Phasing is the problem of different marchers being on-step (correct foot on the correct beat), but not all hitting the ground at exactly the same moment. Some marchers may be just slightly before the beat; others slightly behind.

Color Guard

Many marching bands also have a color guard - a holdover from military days. Sometimes, this section is referred to as a winterguard[?]. The color guard may contain rifles, batons, flags, horizontal banners, vertical banners, streamers, or pom-poms. In most cases (though certainly not all), the color guard is composed primarily of female marchers. Rifles, batons, flags, and streamers are all twirled, spun, or generally moved about. Horizontal and vertical banners usually identify the band, and are thus simply carried. Poms-poms are jiggled.

Marching bands, because of their military roots, usually wear military-style uniforms. Color guard uniforms are more likely to resemble gymnastics or cheer leader garb. There are many cases, however, in which bands wear entirely non-traditional uniforms.

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