Let’s face it. That 110 degree turf you’re rehearsing on has been known break the spirit of the eagerest, brightest eyed, bushiest tailed, freshmen band students. And on top of that, marching band is not the only thing going on in a high school band student’s life, and sometimes the weight of outside stressors can also seep into band practice.
Every band director and student leader needs a handy tool belt full of tried and true techniques to help raise the morale of their students. This article is full of exactly the stuff you need to improve the morale of your marching band.
From fun games, to traditions, to team bonding exercises. Many of these are from my firsthand experience in marching band, with even more ideas from others’ experiences.
1 – Spirit Week
Anyone who has ever been in marching band can understand the love hate relationship with summer band camp. While it’s fun to do what you love, playing music and marching with your friends, there are many things that can make it unenjoyable at times. From the scorching heat to the nonstop work, everyone is exhausted by the end of the day, especially if it is all work and no play.
That’s why my high school marching band did spirit week during our week of summer band camp! Every day had a theme, and the sections competed to have the most spirit by the end of the week. Everyone got very into the theme, dressing up, bringing in props, and laying their instruments down on the field to form designs or words. The drum majors would be in charge of deciding which section won each day, which often led to some pretty funny attempts at bribery.
2 – End of Band Camp Event
It would be a good idea to end band camp with a bit of a bang. These students have been working hard all week, and rewarding them for that hard work will continue to fuel their drive. After all, everyone likes to be appreciated.
On the last day of band camp, invite the students’ families to come listen to them play the parts of the show they have down so far, or maybe even march some of it. Show the parents how excellent their students are! Maybe have a small cookout afterward; some hotdogs and chips will go a long way.
My high school band also let the section that won spirit week pie the directors and drum majors in the face with whipped cream pies. One year, they rented a dunk tank, and every section got to try to dunk their section leaders. Another year we had a water balloon fight just for the heck of it! Get creative, maybe even ask your students for ideas, find out what they want to do.
3 – Section Parties
Band sections should be able to work together cohesively and help each other out when needed. While the entire band is one big family, the people within your own section are your siblings, and those within the other sections are your cousins.
Section get-togethers should be encouraged by the band director throughout the marching season, which begins as soon as you start summer band practices. Section leaders should be in charge of organizing these events as one of their responsibilities, but you can offer some ideas of activities they can do with their section. For example, they could go bowling, play laser tag, simply get together for lunch and bond over a good cheeseburger, or maybe go on a group trip to the zoo.
4 – Bus Ride Fun
What better way to boost morale within a band than to have some fun on the bus ride to a competition? When splitting your band up onto multiple buses, try to keep sections together. Everyone wants their section to be the best, and the more time they have together as a group, the better they will be.
As long as the bus driver is okay with it, play some music on the bus! Have some fun on the way to the competition, get everyone’s spirits up. Determine what songs your students would like to hear on the bus or ask your drum majors and section leaders to compile a list. My high school band loved screaming, I mean singing, Bohemian Rhapsody and Party in the USA.
5 – Cheers
During practices out on the football field, the band director is usually far away from the students, up in the spectator box above the bleachers. While this is good for spotting errors in the drill and hearing the general sound of the band, it can also lower morale. Students won’t pay as much attention to you because they feel like they don’t need to, you’re too far away to notice.
This is where cheers come in. Have each section create a call and response type cheer, where you say the name of their section, and they all respond with the cheer. These cheers can also be used on the bus, to organize sections in the band room, to find your students in crowds and get their attention, and to pump your students up before they go out on the field to compete.
6 – Pep Talks
Before and after performances, after practices, and before competitions, give your students a pep talk. That’s the most straight forward, sure fire way to boost morale. Pump them up, let them know you appreciate their hard work and dedication to the band, and that you believe they can do amazing if they put their all into the performance.
If you decide to make a call and response cheer for the entire band, you can have the drum majors lead that cheer after your pep talk for an extra boost.
7 – Be Understanding
Students will always be happier at band practice if they have a good, and kind, band director. A dictator for a director can destroy the passion a student has for marching band. Always remember that no matter how professional your students act on the field, they’re still just teenagers trying to make it through high school.
They have homework and studying to do, they may not have the best home life, and they think their love life is the most important thing in the world. Give water breaks, compliment them on their hard work and improvement, and encourage them to do their best.
Always remember to let your students have some fun. If your band program is a place where everyone has a good time and makes friends, the band’s morale will be through the roof!