Want to Become a Marching Band Director?

Think you might want to become a marching band director? We spoke with Dr. Nathan Rinnert, a seasoned band director, music educator, composer, and arranger to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to become successful in this field. Whether you’re a high school band geek or are stoked by the energetic performances you see at football games, here’s what you need to know if you’re passionate about a career as a marching band director.

Q: Can you provide an overview of the marching band director profession?

A: Marching band directors need to be masterful musicians who are well-trained in music theory, history, musicianship, and artistry.

Being an accomplished musician is not enough. Marching band directors also have to be excellent teachers. To be effective, they must find balance between their musical artistry and their teaching skills. They must learn how to identify creative sequential learning processes for students, guide them through these steps utilizing a variety of methods, and check for student learning.

Great marching band directors engage their students with an assortment of rehearsal techniques. They must be proficient at rehearsal pacing designed to stimulate student interaction with the music and movement elements involved.

They also inspire their students with thoughtful attention to the artistry, quality of music, and movement utilized. Creative rehearsal planning and show design come naturally to some and require much work and trial-and-error efforts for others.

Note that once marching season is over, high school directors need to be well-prepared to switch over to concert band directing.

Q: How should someone in high school prepare for this field?

A: High school as well as college students who want to become marching band directors should:

1. March in school band, drum corps, and wherever else you can.

2. Seek out leadership positions – sectional leader, drum major, band officer, etc.

3. Ask for opportunities to write marching drill or arrange/compose music. (This can be very basic.)

4. Interview a variety of people who are in positions you might like to be in within the next 5 – 10 years. Find out:

  • How did they get there?
  • What education and experiences did they acquire?
  • What are their priorities for their ensembles and each individual participant?

Q: Any additional preparation for college students?

A: College students should also:

1. Teach or assist at summer music instruction camps.

2. Seek out opportunities to teach or assist at high school marching band camps.

3. Seek out season-long high school marching band staff positions.

Q: What degrees and coursework are necessary?

A: A degree in music education is required for certification to teach in public schools in most states in the U.S. A master’s degree and, in many cases, a doctorate in music (not just in music education) is necessary to teach at the college level.

Coursework in most music education programs will often guide you toward answers to questions you have not yet considered. Seek out opportunities early on in your undergraduate training to observe a variety of teachers (music and non-music), and get some basic teaching experiences yourself by running sectionals in your own ensembles and teaching private lessons to your peers or younger students.

Observe the following:

  • What is being taught and learned?
  • What method of teaching is being used?
  • Is the content or skill taught by a teacher telling and students listening? Showing and watching?  Guiding and doing?
  • Does the teacher take into account a variety of learning styles with their teaching methods?
  • How does the teacher check to see if learning actually took place?
  • Is this teaching/learning experience effective?
  • Would you do things the same way?
  • How might you alter the experience to make it more effective?

Q: What skills and knowledge are necessary for the music versus the visual elements of marching band?

A: The musical and visual elements of great marching bands often complement and feed each other. To that end, it is imperative to develop both aspects if you’re serious about a career in the marching arts.

1. The key musical skills you’ll need are:

  • Individual & ensemble performance skills on at least one instrument
  • Arranging/composing skills
  • Conducting skills
  • Artistic decision-making
  • Rehearsal techniques

2. The visual proficiencies you’ll need:

  • Drill-writing – computer-based (Pyware) and by hand
  • Show concept design (integrating the artistry of music and movement)
  • Auxiliary functions and uses

Dr. Nathan Rinnert co-directs Mansfield University Mountie Marching Band. He serves as Mansfield’s Music Department Chair, instructs the tuba studio, directs the Symphonic Band and Brass Band, and teaches courses in instrumental music methods and conducting. He is an active performer, clinician, arranger, and researcher.

Comments

  1. Joanna

    Hello, I am also a Freshman in high school. I seek to be a band director. What is the typical starting income for a high band director? Also, my family does not have enough money to get me lessons right now. I want to be an excellent musician so I can be better for the directing field. What can I do to improve to be able to play on a band director level? Is it best to stick to one instrument or play many? I currently focus on the Bari sax. My band director does not like to place baseline instruments as drum majors since there are only 4 of us. How do I become a drum major then? I am going to try to be section leader of the sousaphones my junior year since I am the only Bari. My friend is currently teaching me tuba so I can lead them in marching band at some point. I am also learning to transpose music. I don’t think I’m super good at my saxophone but I would love to be. Does anybody have any great tips for the situation I’m in? What are the downsides to band directing?

    • We hope others will chime in here as well. In the meantime, we suggest that you make practicing and improving your proficiency on your primary instrument your focus. We also suggest you start taking summer band programs that offer leadership skills training. As you move forward in high school and continue your interest in becoming a band director, it will be helpful to do some “informational interviews” with various band directors who can share their stories and help you better understand what their careers are all about. Note that the salaries of band directors vary based on where they work and how long they’ve been in their positions.

  2. Raisa

    I want to become a band director. I’m currently a freshman in high school, but don’t know if directing is something for me. I came to a decision of my future by watching my own band director conduct us and treat all her students with love. Deep down in my heart I felt something, wanting to love my own students. Band directing seems fun. Am I making the right decision? If my parents came to know, they’d not be happy. What should I do about that?

    • We suggest that you re-read this article and follow the suggestions the author provides. This will help you decide whether pursuing this field as a career is really the right fit. We also suggest you share this article with your parents, so they can get a better understanding of what a band director learns and does. Hopefully, your parents will see the serious effort you’re making to figure out whether this is the right path to pursue, and will support you as you move forward.

      Becoming a band director is hard work. Sure, there are fun aspects to it, but it is a pretty intense road. But if you’re really passionate about it and have the skills for it, it can lead to a very rewarding career.

  3. Alexandra

    I am an upcoming freshman in high school and I plan on pursuing a career in music, specifically band directing. My school does not offer a music pathway and we don’t have any classes such as music theory. Would it be beneficial to choose an education pathway for high school since my school does not offer a music guided pathway? The only music classes my school offers is Jazz Band, Concert Band ( with the outside things included in that such as Marching Band and Pep Band). Is there any other things you would recommend me doing to help me purse a career as a band director?

    • As a band director, you’ll want to be a highly proficient performer, a strong ensemble player, and a great director. By participating in the music programs at your school, you’ll gain a lot of experience. You will also want to take music lessons on your primary instrument. And check out summer music programs where you can learn more.

  4. Audriana

    I am signing up for my senior year classes and am finding it difficult to figure out. There are only 3 classes that I have to take.. plus I’m taking marching and concert band.. I have always loved band and always thought of what it would be like if I became a band director. The band director that I have had for the past 6-7 years has been like a father to me and I find it really heart breaking to even have the thought of him not being my director anymore. One day I had a dream that I became the new director when my band director finally decided to retire. When I woke up the next morning, I knew that I wanted to become a band director. So back to the questions I need answered…. Did you ever have to take a choir class? Are there any high school electives I need to take other than marching and concert band? I need to figure out what electives I should take to make my senior year easy and fun.

    • I always recommend singing for instrumental music majors. It helps develop the ear, musicality, phrasing, and so many other aspects of music… you will benefit greatly from it. Your music theory courses in college will most likely require aural skills training, and singing in choir is a great way to help prep for that. I teach in PA, and in my state music ed majors, upon graduation, are certified K-12, instrumental/vocal/and GM. Many schools are unfortunately cutting and combining music positions, and I am seeing more and more band/choir jobs. You are best served to be able to do both well… it makes you much more marketable.

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