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Marching Band: Drum major advice given by a fellow drum major

| August 31, 2006 | 7 Replies

Update: A lot of students have been searching for articles like this.  I have recently wrote a new article about drum majors and advice.  Please click on the following link to view it: Click It!
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The following article is from one of my students, Jonathan Neff. He is a senior music education major at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. With his permission I have reprinted his article on this site and hope it will be a benefit to you and your students.

This 2006-2007 academic year will be my ninth year in [tag]marching band[/tag] and my third as a drum major. As a drum major, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my conducting technique and have greater endurance in my shoulders and arms. Working out in the weight room and trying to stay in good shape help a lot in this area, but there is more that can and should be done in order to be more effective. I have found difficulty in finding articles on this topic and have decided to attempt to write down some of my own experiences to help my fellow drum majors and musicians alike. This article will focus on some simple stretches that can be done and some general guidelines and thoughts on being a drum major and what that position entails.

The importance of stretching cannot be underestimated by any [tag]drum major[/tag] on any level. The simple fact of the matter is that when you conduct patterns so big and for so long; your arms hurt. The most common areas for pain and soreness, that I have experienced, are the shoulders, upper arms, and sometimes the elbows. I have also experienced pain in my back and neck. That said, there are some very basic stretches that can be done to help alleviate the pain and keep you conducting longer without looking and feeling so fatigued.

Stretching should be done every day, especially before you are in front of the group for rehearsals or performances. Do not wait until you are in pain to begin stretching! Make sure that you stretch both before and after rehearsal (and in between songs just to keep loose). When you are conducting the [tag]band[/tag] you must take special care to keep your muscles as relaxed as possible. To clarify this more, you should not ‘flex’ your muscles while you conduct. This problem is especially prevalent in the shoulders. Not only will a tense pattern cause fatigue faster, but it will also make you look rigid and harsh. Your goal is not to be rigid; your goal is to be precise and exacting. Try to stay relaxed and have a good time, even if you have some pain or are getting tired.

To help you have a good time there are some [tag]basic stretches[/tag] that I highly recommend trying. The first stretch that I always employ is a simple shoulder roll (Fig. 1). This stretch should be done in both directions and is done by lifting the shoulders up, back (or forward), and down, then repeating.

Fig. 1

Pict1

The next stretch that I employ is the full arm circle (Fig.2), starting small, getting larger, and then getting small again. The arm circles should be done in both directions just like the shoulder rolls. Please note the importance of not doing these stretches at a quick pace. These stretches should serve to relax your muscles and get blood flowing through your veins, not “kill” your arms before you start conducting.

Fig. 2

Pict 2

After doing these stretches, I continue by working with the sustained stretching of the arms. One of my favorite shoulder stretches is done by reaching one arm across the front of the body and placing that hand over the opposite shoulder (Fig. 3). So if I am stretching my right shoulder, I would reach my right hand across my left shoulder, hold above my right elbow with my left hand and hold this position for at least thirty seconds.

After doing these stretches, I continue by working with the sustained stretching of the arms. One of my favorite shoulder stretches is done by reaching one arm across the front of the body and placing that hand over the opposite shoulder (Fig. 3). So if I am stretching my right shoulder, I would reach my right hand across my left shoulder, hold above my right elbow with my left hand and hold this position for at least thirty seconds.

Fig. 3

Pict 3

When you do this stretch, as with any stretch, it should not cause pain, instead you should feel slight tension and resistance in the muscle you are stretching. Another simple stretch is to reach both hands behind your back above your rear, clasp your hands together, and straighten your arms. This exercise should effectively stretch your back, shoulders, and arms. Along with these stretches, I employ gentle neck rolls and push-ups every night.

These are the main stretches that I employ before, after and during rehearsal as a college drum major. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it does give you a good starting point to expand upon and think about. This article was meant to get you, the reader, thinking about the rigorous physical demands of being a drum major and to help you to counteract the fatigue you will feel before it happens.

Along with these stretches you can try to convince your friends to give you shoulder, arm, neck or back massages (why not all four!) which will feel wonderful after a long day of conducting! Above all, I have found that the battle to fight fatigue and stay on my ‘A’ game, as drum major, is a mental battle. It is very easy to get caught up in your pattern, how you look, how you feel, how many more times you have to conduct the song or any other number of ‘me’ aspects of drum majoring. Whenever this starts to happen and you realize it, don’t be afraid to take a step back! Take a second to look around you, watch the band march the forms, focus on the trumpet part, listen for the woodwinds or the percussion section, or just enjoy the awesome music flying towards you from the band.

Remember, being drum major is not about you, it is about the band and how you can effectively help to lead them to greater heights and achievement than they have previously reached.

Good luck fellow drum majors, keep those arms loose and patterns precise!

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Category: Music Education

About the Author ()

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Fine Arts at Grove City College, PA and the Vice President of TI:ME. He also writes for DCI Magazine, In-Tune Monthly and has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
  • Anonymous

    Can you give so advice for conducting a band?

  • Elizabeth Bell

    Can you give some advice for conducting a band and ways to deal with smart mouthed band members?

  • Sprinkle

    Marching Band is God’s gift to those who feel lost and out of place. Right now our school is having auditions for drum major, and I’m so scared that it will go to someone that is not passionate about our band. It’s NOT about the glory. This guy’s right. It’s about putting the band before yourself, and leading them to achieve. To do something great.

  • Pingback: Advice For Marching Band Drum Majors: A Dozen Considerations()

  • http://www.mustech.net J. Pisano

    Sprinkle,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a note! Your right, drum major’s need to be passionate about what they are doing. I wish you luck! Don’t be worried, just give it your best!

    I just finished another article about Marching Band and Drum Majors you can find it by clicking the above Link “Advice For Marching…:A Dozen Considerations”

    Please feel free to stop by and comment on mustech.net anytime! :smile:

    J. Pisano

  • Brittany

    I’m personally trying out for drum major. I think I have what it takes but what is most is important is truly caring about your band.

    I’m worried that the positions will go to people who don’t deserve it like people who ended up in the top band who don’t deserve it.

    I didn’t realize the true extent of my passion towards band until I started filling out my application.

    Good luck to anyone else trying out! Make sure your heart is in the right place!

  • http://www.wristbandsnow.com/ Rubber bracelets

    you need an exercise to improve your skills in drums.
    i want to try this drills too in order to improve my skills.

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