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What are the different kinds of marching bands?

By Rachel Stopchinksi

Marching bands are prevalent in modern American society, from ushering in the beginnings of parades to entertaining the masses during football game halftime shows.

Did you know that there are many variations of marching band, each with their own style and traditions? Find out what makes a marching band.

1. The Military Band

The modern marching band originates in the military band tradition. Military bands are characterized by straight, organized ranks that move in the forwards direction. Clean and precise, military bands put a heavy emphasis on the uniformity of their visual style. Military bands often play national or patriotic tunes. The art of the military band isn’t as popular as it was, but some do exist, notably the Texas A&M Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, the largest military style band in the country. In addition, many United States military bands form marching ranks for particular occasions, such as inaugural parades.

          

 

2. The Drum and Bugle Corp

Other styles of marching band borrow elements from the military band, but add their own unique flair. For example, the Drum and Bugle Corps borrows elements of the military’s regimented nature, but make formations that can be more organic and even pictorial. In addition, Drum and Bugle Corps freely move both backwards and forwards. Band members often “traverse” or “slide” so that their upper bodies consistently face the front of the field, ensuring a constant wall of sound no matter what direction they move. These elements can be manipulated to create various effects in dynamics.

Drum and Bugle Corps aim to imitate the artistic sound of a concert band while on the move. These bands put together one show, with a set list of music, based around a theme, which they practice and perform over the length of the season. Their repertoire can vary from classical to jazz to even movie scores. Most bands of this style consist of only brass, percussion, and a color guard, giving them a unique, rich sound due to the absence of the woodwind section.

Drum and Bugle Corps represent the competitive aspect of marching band culture. Many participate in circuits, like Drum Corps International (DCI), where bands compete against one another. Fans of these circuits often loyally support their favorite Drum and Bugle Corps like one would a sports team. Hardcore fans of DCI are known to enter lively debates over which Drum and Bugle Corp is the best of all.

3. The Marching Band

However, probably the most prolific in popular culture is the college marching band, seen performing at halftime at most football games across the United States. These marching bands might put a heavy emphasis on crowd entertainment and sometimes scripted storytelling.

             

Each band cultivates their own visual style and sound. While some model the Drum and Bugle Corps, others are starkly different, holding true to the regimented tradition of the marching band, but also embracing edgier sounds and contemporary music. All-band dance breaks or the use of props and effects are becoming more common. The repertoire played is catered to the crowd and features popular or radio music. While instrumentation is up to the discretion of the band, most feature full woodwind, brass, drumline, and color guard sections.

In addition, many bands use a high step style either in replacement or addition of the typical roll/glide step seen in Drum and Bugle Corps. This involves band members raising their steps at an angle, though the steps vary based on the traditions of the band.

Details aside, the main goal of these marching bands is to give the audience the best possible experience while anxiously waiting for their football teams to return to the field. One great example is the University of Michigan’s own marching band, The Michigan Marching Band (MMB).  From Beyoncé to Willie Wonka to a collaboration with Pixmob, the MMB strives to bring the most innovative in halftime entertainment to the Big House’s 100,000+ crowd every football Saturday. The excitement as the MMB takes the field is palpable for both the musicians and the audience!

          

 4. The Party Band

Lastly, there are many marching bands that exist outside these categories. The Detroit Party Marching Band, for example, carries the spirit of entertainment embraced by many modern marching bands, but with none of the formalities. Jamming to arrangements of popular music, members openly groove and dance as they play. Less attention is placed on the precision of visual style and more is placed on the creation of fun, lighthearted atmosphere. They frequent city streets, standing in a huddle or moving around, ready to start an impromptu party. They capture the spirit of camaraderie and showmanship embraced by the marching band community without the restrictions of the formalities of organized movement. Party bands can perform / party in non-typical venues, and their memorable, laidback attitude draws people to them in flocks.

Do you love marching bands? Are you in a marching band? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

Updated 6/2/2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Stopchinski is a senior at the University of Michigan. She studies English and Creative Writing, Asian Studies, Music, and Performing Arts Management. She's been a part of the UMS Ticket Office student intern team since 2012. She also been known to be a part of marching bands.
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