Advice For Marching Band Drum Majors: A Dozen Considerations

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Update (6/1/2007): Hey current and future drum majors, This article is being read dozens of time a day (by people just like you) and there is still no discussion on this article. Please leave us a line, tell us about you, your band -what you experience as a drum major, fears with tryouts etc. We would love to hear from you and have a conversation with you! Let’ start a conversation about this today! Again you can remain anonymous if you would like or provide a link to your band page in the website box at the end of this article! ~J. Pisano :)

Lately, has been searched a lot for “drum major help” and “drum major advice”. I guess it’s that time of the year! In August of last year, I had a student submit an article about helpful drum major warm-ups and I published it. It was well done, very insightful and will provide another great reference for current drum majors or those seeking to be a drum major.

As a marching band director, conductor and adjudicator, I have specific ideas about what I look for when considering a drum major and what is expected of them throughout the year. I have composed a list of a dozen items that I feel are necessary attributes for a good drum major to have.

Each band director will have their own ideas about what constitutes a good candidate for a drum major or a good drum major. This list is not exhaustive but it does provide a good framework for thought.

There is one pre-requisite that all drum major candidates must have before any of the following is considered and that is a strong desire to actually be a drum major. Some people may have all the qualities listed in this article and more but if they don’t really have the desire to become a drum major then they should not consider it as a matter of practicality.

1. Drum majors must be masters of meter, rhythm and time:
A drum major that does not have a good sense of rhythm and an “internal clock” to keep and provide a tempo is not much use on the field.

2. Drum majors must be clear and concise in their conducting patterns:
A drum major that does not provide a clear ictus and an even takt is doing more harm than good to the ensemble. Clear, large, easily visible patterns are more useful than fancy and ornate ones.

3. Drum majors must be respected by their peers:
A drum major that does not have the respect of their peers will find themselves having a very difficult time being in the leadership role.

4. Drum majors must be respected by their directors:
A person that has not earned the trust and approval of their directors will find themselves not being a drum major in the first place.

5. Drum majors need to be disciplined:
If a drum major is undisciplined in their day to day routines and with their course work, they will not be disciplined on the field. In order to be an effective drum major, scores and routines need to be memorized, resolving field placement issues needs to be second nature and there are a host of other things that need to organized, deployed and implemented by the drum major. Unorganized people will find these tasks daunting if not impossible.

6. Drum majors must have a resilient personality:
Being a drum major is not for the meek. There will be times when you will feel pressure from both your peers and directors. Drum majors need to be able to channel all the feedback they get, both positive and negative, into the proper places and learn and grow from it.

7. Drum majors must have a commanding presence:
The drum major must execute their whistle commands and vocal commands with authority. They must direct with confidence. They must act the leader, play the leader and become the leader that the drum major role demands.

8. Drum majors must have the heart of a servant:
The drum major is not an all glory role nor should it be thought as such. In actuality, the drum major is a servant on multiple levels. They serve the ensemble, they serve the composers, they serve the directors, they serve their school or organization and most importantly they serve the musicians and drum majors of tomorrow by providing a model and blazing a path for them.

9. Drum majors are part of a team and they need to be be an integral member of the team:
The drum major is a key component in a larger community, the band itself. The best leaders are both leaders AND “team players”. The drum major doesn’t have to have all the answers; however, they need to know where to get them and more importantly: how to work through them when needed. The band is a group and every single person has their own important role.

10. Drum majors need to be in good physical shape:
Directing the ensemble from the field is exhausting. Drum majors are called upon to climb ladders, run up and down the field, wield the mace, direct while moving backwards and deal with a lot of other mental and physical challenges. A person who is not in shape may find themselves in a medical predicament that they do not want nor need to be in.

11. Drum majors need to be huge supporters of the band and inspirational:
There are few people that can inspire the band to get “pumped” like their own drum majors. Drum majors need to be able to inspire the band to be the best that they can be and after a hard day of performing or rehearsing, the drum major needs to not only reflect on what needs to be fixed but also what was done well. The band members require constant encouragement and feedback.

12. Drum majors need to realize they are human too.
Often times it seems the weight of the “world” is brought to the shoulders of the drum major. A drum major is not super human, nor are they expected to be. A good drum major is able to let down at times and enjoy what is happening around them. Mistakes will be made, learn from them. I was once told that perfection is the enemy of true excellence. Nothing will ever be “perfect” but we can make things better and we can be excellent! True perfection is unattainable and if you focus on every little thing that is going wrong you will never realize the amazing things your band has accomplished on their journey.

The drum major is not alone in these roles and the burden of theses responsibilities are carried by many. The directors, advisors, officers, section leaders, squad leaders, and the members themselves all share and are part of the “community”. To be an effective leader you must be able to see the “big picture” and realize that every single band member, audio/visual and band managers included, have large roles to play. All members are part of the “whole” and when the band is excited about being the band (Esprit de Corp) and everyone is functioning in their capacities -success will, no doubt, follow.

I would appreciate your comments or additional thoughts! Please drop us a line and/or leave a note of encouragement for all those reading this post by replying below!

Pisano Sig.

[tags] marching band, drum major, music, advice, tips, help [/tags]
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
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  • Armond

    Hi, my name is Armond Dorsey and I am currently a freshman at Suitland High School in Forestville, MD. I am part of the marching band and I would like to be drum major my junior and/or senior year. I am, to be honest, out of shape and I do have a sense of rhythm, but I cannot not dance well, but I am charismatic. Are there any tips you can give me? I have to learn how to do a good body roll, possibly a half split, and a back bend (I can’t be far from the ground, lol.). Thanks!

  • Dr. J. Pisano


    Thanks for contacting us and commenting. Your best bet is to “get in shape”. Check with your school gym teachers and get into a regimen. What you are looking to do is called “tumbling”. I’m sure there are a number of people that can help you, just be confident and take the time to ask.

    Also, don’t be afraid to ask your director for pointers too and get in touch with previous drum majors from your school and ask them for advice.

    Best wishes.

  • Relly

    This is my second year I’m trying out for drum major. Last year I was only a freshman and only tried out for getting the hang of things. Right now I really REALLY want to be drum major and I’m confident that I have the needed qualities (might need to hit the gym for some extra endurance, but that’s fine with me). Right now I’m having problems with getting a nice conducting pattern. I feel like mine is too definitive and fancy. You can see the beats clearly… but you can see every “and” of each beat fairly easily as well. I find this troublesome in faster pieces and I soon fall behind. I also look at one of my current drum majors and her pattern is clear, not as definite and flows much better (she said she adapted it from a phantom regiment drum major who used a baton). I like her pattern but I want my own style! I’m really worrying because I’m quite a perfectionist with things like this and, like I said earlier, I want to be drum major for my junior and senior years. May some one please help?

  • Cate

    I’m currently applying to be the field major in my band which means I would be on the track to be the drum major- a drum major in training. The field major is a sophomore who conducts in the bleachers at the football game. The director basically has them learning. I joined this band as an eigth grader, which is relatively unique. I have another year of experience. I have to write an essay and I was looking for ideas about what I could say my strengths are. This article really helped. One of the things that this article didn’t mention that I know my director places a great deal of importance on is that ability to read and teach drill. Also strong marching abilities are required to be able to help other members of the band. Basically, the drum major is meant to be a person that the rookies can look up to and attempt to exlemplify.

  • Grace

    Thank you Joe Pisano for this list. I’m currently trying out to be drum major and auditions are in 4 days. There are two spots availiable with the third going to our new head drum major. There are 6 of us trying out for these two spots and most of them being my best friends. I know that I have been working extremely hard for this role and have dreamed about it for a long time but my director said this is going to be the hardest tryouts he has ever had to do. With that, I am a nervous wreck trying to write my drum major essay, and this list has helped. Thanks for the good advice!

  • Anonymous

    This was tons of help! Thank you so much!

  • Samantha Licon

    This helps so much honestly. But the advice really only helps if you, your other drum major(s), and the rest of the band will fully participate. I have that problem in my band and as drum major, sectional leader, and just an overall instigator of activity in the band I find it really hard to motivate an unmotivated, lazy band. It is a small band but nonetheless has the capacity to be a good band. It just has nothing to show for it.

  • Taylor burnham

    I’m trying to find excersizes for drum majors that I need to start doing to build up my endurance. I just found out I am our drummajor for next year (so exited!!!)and I know I need to start getting stronger. Any advice?