Teaching Suggestions

By Terry Williams  


(800) 800-8531


            1.  I highly recommend you line your practice field with 4-step markers.  If you have ever watched a rookie student try to step off 11 steps from the front sideline, you will understand why.  The best way is to make your regular hash marks solid lines.  Then put the 4-step marks on the lines using the regular size hash mark.  Remember, because a football field divided into thirds by the hash marks is 53' 4" between the sideline and 1st hash and 53' 4" between hashes, your 4-step marks will be 91.43 inches apart.  That student who couldn't be very accurate with the 11 steps from the front sideline will be able to see the 3rd 4-step mark and stand 1 step from it.

            2.  I have found Mason jar lids to be great for marking coordinates on the field as the students are learning.  You can buy them in boxes of 12, and they are not very expensive.  Each student should paint their chips with their own special design (all 12 the same basic design and color scheme.)  It is a good idea to number them with large black numerals from 1 to 12.

            3.  Teach the students how to read their coordinate sheets, then teach from a high point off the field if possible.  Use your drill charts to see if the students are finding their spots. 

            4.  Horn directions, or upper body directions, can be:


                        a.  To the front side line

                        b.  To the back side line

                        c.  To the drum major's stand

                        d.  To a point in the stands on the 50 yd. line, 15 rows up

                        e.  To the box

                        f.  To the 50 yd. line

                        g.  Straight in front of the student - forward march style


            I use a, c, and d most of the time.  You have to decide where you want the instruments in order to achieve the sound you want from the band during each particular drill.

            5.  A way to teach slides and spatial awareness.  Put students in a 4 step by 4 step box formation.  Have them march 8 steps forward, 8 steps left slide, 8 steps backward, 8 steps right slide.  They should wind up where they started.  Increase to 16 steps as students get better.  Use various speeds Do the block to the right as well as to the left.

            6.  10% of each marching rehearsal should be spent on marching fundamentals.

                        a.  Low mark time

                        b.  High mark time

                        c.  Step off

                        d.  4 x 4's (mark time 4, forward march 4, etc.)

                        e.  backward march (drag the toe)

                        f.  Slides

                        g.  Flanks

                        h.  4 count drag turns

                        i.  8 count drag turns


            Do these warm-ups in a 4 by 4 box.


            7.  Chip each drill every week of the season.  (Opener on Monday, 2nd & 3rd song on Tuesday, Closer on Wednesday, review on Thursday.)  If you don't do this, students tend to wander away from their coordinates, and the forms will not look right.

            8.  Emphasize marching in a straight line from point "A" to point "B" in all floats.  Also, every step must be equal in size.

            9.  Students must keep their heads up!  This increases their peripheral vision.  This also will help their spatial awareness.

            10.  Call me if you need help!


7/10/95            I just returned from visiting my daughter in Rockford, Illinois.  She is marching in the color guard of Phantom Regiment this year.  If you ever have a chance to witness a rehearsal of one of the top corps, do it!!! You will learn so much more than just watching a contest.  If they are coming through your area, offer them a place to spend the night and rehearse.  You will learn so much.

            Here are some rehearsal techniques I picked up.  When you are rehearsing one set to another, i.e. 16 counts, have the students finish their 16th count with their right foot on their coordinate and their left foot where it was on count 15.  Their body, instrument position and angle should be frozen on the last count.  Most bands usually have their students come to the position of attention on the last count, but as you know, that never happens in the show, except on a halt or mark time.  You are always coming from somewhere and going somewhere on each set in the show.  The field commander gives the command "Set" when he is ready to begin the drill rehearsal.  The students will put their right foot on the coordinate where they are beginning and their left foot on the last step before this coordinate.  Make sure they put their hips in line with the direction they just came from in the drill.  Their instruments should be in the direction of the last count of the previous drill.  In other words, the student should start their drill from a frozen position of the last count of the previous set.  The field commander checks a metronome for the correct tempo, then conducts 4 beats.  The snare drum then plays quarter notes on 1 and 3, then 1,2,3,4 and the group begins.  There is no verbal command to start.  The group does the drill and freezes on the last count.  Percussion plays, guard does equipment work and horns sing their parts with dynamics.

            After the director has checked positions and horn angles, the field commander tells the group to "check your set".  Then students adjust.  Everything is done quietly so instructions from the director and field commander can be heard.  If the director wants to run that section again, the students move very quickly to set up again.  When the field commander says, "Set", they come to that frozen position of the final count of the previous set.  Then, 4 counts conducted from the field commander, 1,3, 1,2,3,4 from the snare drum and they are off again.  May your band be as good as Phantom Regiment this year!



Many times you will want your students to keep their instruments facing the audience while backward marching or backward sliding into a set.  This is called backing into a blind set, and it can be scary to teach until you try it a few times.  Here is how I do it. 


Have the students do a regular forward march to the set a couple of times to establish step size.  Then have them turn around and back into the set.  They should keep their eyes on the form they can see in front of them and develop a “feel” for the set.  After they run it once, have them look at their chip and adjust their step size the next time.  Usually, after 3 or 4 times everyone will be getting fairly close.  Uniform step size is the key not only while backing into blind sets, but also in all drill moves.  I am asked by students quite often if they should backward slide into a set or forward slide into a set.  If the set is behind parallel to the sideline I usually have the student backward slide.  If it is parallel or in front of parallel to the sideline, I will have the student forward slide.  This can be altered some; particularly if you are having the students direct their instruments toward the drum major.