What is a Marching Band?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A marching band is a group of musicians, usually woodwinds, brass and percussionists, that mix coordinated movements with the playing of music. These bands grew out of the popularity accorded to military bands, and in fact, march music was often composed for military bands. Today, many young musicians participate in a marching band through their schools, both in high school and college. There are even a few professional marching bands for adults.

Colleges often employ marching bands during halftime of football games.
Colleges often employ marching bands during halftime of football games.

The less experienced marching band, as from a secondary or high school, may participate in a few local parades. They may also have a dance team, or a flag team that participates in the march, and they almost always include a drum major. Until recently, uniforms were quite elaborate, with high top hats, and elaborate coats and pants displaying a school's colors.

Marching bands march to the beat of the music they play, typically accompanied by drums.
Marching bands march to the beat of the music they play, typically accompanied by drums.

Today, one is more apt to see a local marching band that may have coordinating t-shirts and shorts. This represents less expense, and is frequently a more comfortable way to march. Traditionally dressed marching bands still exist, and are most likely to be found in schools that have a long tradition of band excellence.

Though it almost goes without saying, a marching band typically marches in a parade. The more elaborate bands may also perform moves and routines for sporting events during half-time. College football teams often offer entertainment by their local band as part of a half-time show.

A marching band should be both musically adept and skilled at moving as a single unit. Marching tends in most small school-based bands to be simply stepping along with the music. More experienced bands may use different marching techniques, most often the high military-type step or the glide or roll step.

With budget cuts to music programs, many schools no longer have these bands. These bands require long hours of practice in order to move as one, and many teachers lack the time or the inclination to devote additional hours to this cause. Instead, where school music programs exist, schools may offer chances to participate in bands that play performances which exclude marching.

Often, some of the best brass and woodwind band music makes wonderful marches. For example, most people recognize a Sousa march with ease, even if they are not musicians.

Though the art form of the marching band no longer has the same degree of participation, there are still competitions and parades for bands throughout the US. Large parades like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Rose Parade in Pasadena, attract many talented groups who are well worth watching.

Tubas are a type of marching band instrument.
Tubas are a type of marching band instrument.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


This article is completely uneducated and extremely offensive to the band students who devote their sweat, blood and tears to marching, and the directors who take time away from their families and pay for pep music and equipment out of their own pocket. I am a high school marching band student, and honestly, it's the most beautiful thing in the world. My director stops at nothing to make sure we are ready, and even organizes extra sessions if requested. We go to parades (in full uniform, no less, no matter what the weather is) and none of us stop. It's grueling and hard. But it makes you a better person, and it improves your abilities as a musician. And in the end, no one cares how hard it was or if you got heat stroke when you went too long without water. The band is your family, and the director is the Big Pops. You love every bit of it.


As a future music educator (music education major) this statement offends me, and lets me know this guy has know clue, because "...and many teachers lack the time or the inclination to devote additional hours to this cause..." This is why people spend four or five years in school getting qualified to do this type of thing.


This article makes me laugh. I wonder if the writer was in a marching band, or if he just researched them? Fall shows are the definite focus of a marching band, not the parades or half-time shows. One of the biggest things that needs to be emphasized is how much bands vary throughout the country. And bigger than that, how much perspective differs from outsiders to the marchers and staff.

"Marching tends in most small school-based bands to be simply stepping along with the music." That is so not true. The high school I attend spends hours upon hours correcting the marching technique, fixing the form, etc. etc. etc.


It would be interesting to know where the poster of this article comes from. Marching band has a different level of emphasis in different parts of the county. Where I am, it's not something that is important. Concert band is where the focus is. I know in the midwest and some other areas, schools go all out for marching band. It depends on the values and traditions of the region. Personally, I don't quite get the point of competing with a marching band. Why spend so many hours working on 10 minutes worth of low grade music?


Agreed. Aside from tons of memories that will stay with me forever. The thing I remember the most was how much money my parents and the entire music program had to put up to keep it all going. We wore the elaborate uniforms that were about 20 years old. Our t-shirts were for pep rallies only.

Marching band is one of the most awesome things I've been a part of. And I've since graduated college and started a career. Life's not too bad now but those were some of the most amazing times. It's just a shame to see the music programs suffering so much.

Band kids worship their directors. We've always understood how much they sacrifice for us. They become another parent. Spending five years in band (8th-12th grade) had a lot to do with who I was in high school and am now.

There's not enough time in the world to really explain. And I was in a small single A marching band.


Marching bands do much more than just parades. They also go to competitions almost every weekend of marching season (basically the same as football season). That's usually the main focus of the band. Local parades and football games are just minor things compared to competition. Also, I've never seen a band marching in shorts and t-shirts aside from parades. Usually they still have elaborate uniforms with the school colors as well (at least where I'm from). Most schools, even the poorest ones, still have marching bands, even if they only have 10 or 12 people. Maybe marching bands are dying out in other parts of the country, but in the Midwest they're still going strong!


"...and many teachers lack the time or the inclination to devote additional hours to this cause..."

This is not always the case. Band takes money and lots of it. There are uniform rental fees, meals, traveling costs, festival entry fees, instrument upkeep, parades, bus fees, room & board, etc.

Not to say that it doesn't take time. When student teaching, I was lucky to go home after 10pm at the high school I was at. And that was not even during marching season.

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