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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 primarily by high school and college students, as well as by adults and middle school students.

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.

Table of contents
1 Field Marching
2 Street Marching
3 Color Guard

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 style. 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:

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:

Another common form of marching is scatter, or scramble. This style is practiced mainly by a number of college marching bands, primarily in more academically elite schools such as the Ivy League, Stanford and the University of Virginia. 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.

Scramble bands emerged in the 1970's as a reaction to the militaristic, non-individualist nature of marching bands, fueled by an anti-government sentiment from the Vietnam War. These groups are generally student-run, and use humor, as well as music, to entertain. Scatter bands are notorious for their stunts, from Columbia's altar-boy joke (tuition going down faster than...) while playing a Catholic school, to UVa's Inbred Family Feud gag against West Virginia. Perhaps the most famous caper happened by accident at a Stanford game, as the band rushed the field before the game ended. Pay attention to college football history highlight reels and you may see a clip of this priceless football moment, as a trombone player is tackled by the ball-carrier.

In recent years, scramble bands are under pressure to calm their ways. College football makes vast amounts of money, and today's athletic departments have less patience for the embarrassment of students with a sense of humor. As long as people continue taking college sports too seriously, student-run bands will be under threat.

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.