Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Marching Band

I have spent much of the last month working with high school marching bands. I have been out in blistering heat, bone-chilling cold, and monsoon-grade rainstorms with some of the hardest-working, kindest, most intense young people you will ever meet. While author Robert Fulghum laid out the premise that all we really needed to know we learned in Kindergarten, I would argue that there is something special about the learning that goes on in a marching band.

Here are just a few of the life lessons I have learned after many years around the marching band activity.

Trust Each Other

Marching bands are often moving very fast and changing directions rapidly (much like life itself). It is critical that the members of the marching band trust each other that they’re all going to change directions when it is time to change direction.

Be Ready to Duck

Life comes at you fast and so do color guard members carrying large flags or fake rifles. I know that I said you had to trust each other, but I think it was Ronald Reagan or Charlie Sheen who said, “Trust, but verify.” When the color guard comes moving at you with big equipment, you better be ready to get out of the way; they will take you out because they are on a mission. In life you will find people who will plow over you and not give it a second thought. Be ready to put your head down when they come through so that you live to fight another day.

“One More Time” is a Lie

Band directors really mean it when they say that they want to see the routine one more time. The problem is that things are never perfect that one time, so you have to do it at least five more times in order to make it acceptable. Band directors are sorry/not sorry about this. It happens in the real world too. When the boss asks for one more revision, it’s never one more revision. “One more time,” is really just a way of saying, “yeah, I know you can do this better.” It’s when someone stops asking for more of you that you should begin to worry.

What Happens on the Bus Stays on the Bus

Enough said.

Stand Tall

The fundamental premise of good marching is to make yourself taller. You get up on your toes to go backwards, you pull your shoulders back and up, and you keep your chin high at all times; that’s how you look strong and confident. The world looks at you differently when you stand up tall and exude confidence (even when you’re not 100% sure what direction to turn next).

Find Someone Who Does It Right and Do What They Do

Someone can explain to you how to slide left doing six steps every five yards or you can watch someone do it and match them. The best teachers know how to model and the best learners know how to watch and then do. In almost every life circumstance simple modeling could eliminate a lengthy explanation. It is also great advice to find the person who does what you want to be able to do better than anyone else and learn from them. The best marching bands know who their best marchers are and they put them down front so that everyone behind them can learn from them.

They Cheer For Each Other

Go to a marching contest and the bands all cheer for each other. Yes, they cheer for each other.

Band Parents Can Solve Any Problem

You forgot to bring black socks…Mrs. Upton has a pair in her pocket. Your spit valve won’t close…Mrs. Ochoa has some duct tape to close it. The buttons on your overalls just popped off…go find Mrs. Schwaderer to sew them back on in the parking lot. Band parents are the best. They put up with the smells of the school bus, the noises of hundreds of instruments filling the band room, they don’t melt in the 100-degree heat or freeze up on the coldest days at the end of the season. They clothe the half-naked, they feed the hungry, and they haul ridiculous props across the state and onto the field. They do it without pay and without credit. The world is filled with people who want to help you out, you just need to be willing to accept it. The one rule we don’t follow enough is that we don’t say “thank you” near as often as we should.

Family is Everywhere

That leads me to my last point, which is that you can find family everywhere. Anyone who has been in a marching band knows that it is a family. You don’t have to like everyone in your family, but you do have to care about them. Every family has the sweet, kind ones (the upper woodwinds), every family has the egotistical ones (the trumpets), every family has the ones who you have to talk really slowly to (the low brass), every family has the ones who are constantly making bizarre fashion statements (the color guard), and every family has that group that disappears for hours at a time and you don’t want to know what they are up to (the drumline). What people don’t understand about marching band is that it isn’t really about marching band. It is about doing something together. There is no bench on a marching band. Everyone has to produce and has to produce in front of an audience. It is the definition of an authentic learning opportunity. You are going to practice together for hours and hours, you are going to depend on many others to know what they are doing with you, and you are going to perform for a real audience. The true lesson we can all learn from marching band is that we are stronger together. An entire group committed to excellence is a beautiful thing.

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