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