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What Are the Different Types of High School Marching Bands?

By Jamie Nedderman
Updated May 23, 2024
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Gone are the days of only traditional uniformed high school students marching along the football field playing instruments; high school marching bands vary in type only to the limits of creativity. More traditional forms will likely expose students to both parades and sporting event performances, but other types may include color guards or focus primarily on either parades or sporting events. High school marching bands can set themselves apart from others with their dress, formations, or music content. Different types of march can be employed, such as high step and roll step, both of which can be used in competition.

The traditional marching band is composed of high school students playing various instruments, such as percussion, woodwinds, and brass. Instruments should be able to be played while marching at a variety of paces in a variety of directions, since this type of band often participates in parades and field shows. Students are typically in uniform and march in moving formations, led by a drum major. The bands are usually accompanied by a pit crew, which generally consists of percussion instruments on the sidelines. Some types of high school marching bands employ color guards, who carry objects like flags and banners, and/or majorettes, who twirl batons, guns, swords, and other such objects.

Parade bands vary from traditional high school marching bands by focusing more specifically on parades and the marching styles and instrumentation appropriate for this style of performance. Instruments may be similar to the traditional marching band, or may include other instruments such as bagpipes. The musical performance is generally a constant tempo through which coordinated marching is achieved.

High school marching bands also may vary on their own individual content. For example, traditional uniforms may be discarded for a more casual dress, and formations may be discarded for a more random movement. Color guards or cheerleaders may be incorporated into performances, or solo acts may be introduced for variety. Other types of music, such as jazz, may also be utilized.

In addition to traditional marching, variations of the type of march can be found, including both the high step and the roll step. The high step is one example of how high schools can prepare students for a collegiate marching band. High step creates crowd enthusiasm with emphasis on energy and effort; students must master both their instrument and lifting feet high on every step with sharp turns. The glide step, or roll step, occurs when the heel gently touches the ground, and then the student rolls forward on their toes before taking the next step. This form provides a smooth performance, and enables higher degrees of control in technical formations and the ability to use more types of tempos since there is less strain on the upper body.

Successful high school marching bands compete to broaden experiences and tour with talents. One example is the Mid-America Competing Band Directors Association (MACBDA), hosting bands from the Midwest United States and parts of Canada. During the fall, the United States Scholastic Band Association (USSBA) offers professional judgment regarding programming and design. Competitions will generally split up bands into different classes or divisions based on factors such as the size of the school, number of band members, and more.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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