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Who Leads a Marching Band?

What do we mean by a marching band? It is an almost self-explanatory statement. It’s simply a band that marches and is not static. There might be occasions when it does stand still. But, essentially, it is on the move while they play their music. 

How Many Musicians?

This is where it can get a little tricky. You can have half a dozen, or you could have two or three hundred or more. In the case of larger numbers, there has to be a control element. Or, in other words, a leader. So who leads a marching band?

Not Just The Musicians

To have a professional marching band, such as the Greatest Marching Bands, there has to be a certain delegation of responsibilities. You can describe the main roles in a marching band as:

  • Band Director.
  • Assistant Director.
  • Drum Major.
  • Assistant Drum Major.
  • Section Leaders.
  • Equipment Managers.
  • Band Secretaries.

Whether all of these roles need to be fulfilled will depend on the size of the band in question. You wouldn’t need some of those for a small band. But, as I said earlier, it will usually depend on the size of the band.

Two or three hundred members of a marching band will take a management structure to make sure everything gets done and runs smoothly. But, some bands could go as high as even 600, and that will take a full structure to control it.

So, let’s take a closer look then at who is the leader of a marching band and the structure that could be required.

Who Leads a Marching Band? – The Key Roles

Who Leads a Marching Band

We will take a look at all the potential figures that could have an input into the band. However, the leading figures are the Band Director, an Assistant if required, and the Drum Majors. 

There might be different names given to these roles in some bands. But, the responsibilities will be the same. Let’s take a look at all those who may be given some responsibility.

The Band Director

This is the person who is given the role of Band Director or Band Leader. They are the person that controls every aspect of the band, and as such, have the most responsibility.

Band Directors are often musicians that have spent many years playing their instrument. They might also have attended college or university, but this is not a prerequisite.

The Authority Figure

They have the authority to control the band and most functions that operate within its environment. They will handle:

  • The music the band will play.
  • How many instruments will be in the band.
  • If there are any certain styles of music, they prefer.

But there could be other responsibilities as well:

  • Decisions about scholarships if the band has them.
  • Setting the regulations and the rules that the band adheres to.
  • Disciplinary matters.
  • Certain business aspects.

It’s not a symphony…

Some people like to refer to the Band Leader as a Conductor. But that is not giving an accurate impression. 

The roles of the Band Leader and the Conductor of a symphony orchestra are vastly different. You should not think they are the same. Or that a band leader could conduct a symphony orchestra.

While the band leader has the senior position, there are other leadership positions in a marching band under their control that are vital.

The Assistant Band Director

In larger marching bands, there needs to be a structured hierarchy. This is for occasions when the Band Leader might not be available, and someone needs to step in. The Assistant will be familiar with all the Band Leader’s responsibilities and probably shadow them when they are there.

They might not be given full authority on any one day. That will depend on how long the Band Leader will be unavailable.

The Drum Majors

The Drum Majors

If there is not an Assistant Band Leader, then the Drum Major will assume a temporary responsibility. As the name implies, they lead the percussion section of the band and, therefore, have a pivotal role.

The Drum Major will often deal with other band members in the normal course of events. They will issue the Band Leader’s instructions. Becoming a liaison point between the Band Leader and other band members. They are, therefore, well-placed to assume temporary control if needed.

A good Drum Major will gain respect from the other band members through their performance and the way they conduct certain musical leadership functions. They will sometimes report to the Band Leader if something is not quite right and needs their attention.

Assistant Drum Major

As the name implies, someone who can fill in if necessary for the Drum Major. When the Drum Major is present, they may be given some of their more routine tasks to handle. 

However, any reports that need to be made are given to the Drum Major and not the Band Leader or their assistant.

Section Leaders

In marching bands with a significant number of musicians, you may find that they are grouped and divided into sections. This may be by instrument type. You may find sections for:

  • Brass.
  • Woodwind.
  • Strings.

The section leaders will lead their section and carry out any instructions from the Drum Majors that apply to their section. The Band Leaders or their assistants will not usually deal directly with section leaders but issue instructions to the Drum Majors.

Equipment Managers

This is an important role in a marching band because without instruments in good working order, the band has a problem. 

In smaller marching bands, you would expect those individual musicians would handle this themselves. In larger bands, the equipment manager will ensure the instruments and other equipment are in good working order. And, if it isn’t, they will help to sort the problem out. 

This could also extend to caring for uniforms, if there are any. But, on occasion, there will be someone designated as the Uniform Manager.

Uniform Manager

Uniform Manager

In status within the structure of the band’s organization, they should be considered the same as Equipment Managers. The uniform is a fundamental part of most marching bands. 

No matter how good the music might be, if they don’t look the part, it will ruin the way the band is perceived. The Uniform Manager, therefore, has a key role.

The Band Secretary

Depending on the amount of activity that the band has, this could be a function found in smaller units. It will probably be essential in larger bands.

They will handle any marketing or publicity required for performances. The Band Secretary might be responsible for the band’s event schedule and any requirements associated with that. 

The Band Secretary is unlikely to have any input on the music side. It will all be administration and ensuring the band is presented to the public in a good way. The Band Leaders will deal directly with the Band Secretary on these issues.

The Sounds of a Marching Band

That covers all the main roles and responsibilities in a marching band. But, before I wrap up, here is a selection of marching band music from some of the best in the business.

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And, for those of you looking to join a marching band, take a look at College Marching Band Practice Songs: Classic and Fun Songs to Help You Get Ready for Marching Band Tryouts.

Do You Enjoy Learning About Instruments and Different Types of Music Groups?

Well, take a look at our informative articles on a List of String Instruments in an OrchestraBrass Instruments ListThe Essential Instruments in a Rock BandThe Difference Between Brass and Woodwind Instruments, and How Many Strings Does a Harp Have for more information.

Who Leads a Marching Band? – Final Thoughts

Well, as we have seen, the ultimate responsibility rests with the Band Leader. Their role is vital in every area.

However, in the larger marching bands, the structure of responsibility is important. I have tried to outline those responsibilities, and those responsible for ensuring the band is always at its very best.

Until next time, let the music play.

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