18 Lessons Marching Band Teaches Our Kids: A Parent’s Perspective

Today’s guest blogger is Penny Ray.

My name is Penny Ray, and I’m a music parent. My husband and I have three teenagers: a sophomore who plays mellophone in her public high school marching band and French horn in the Wind Ensemble at school; an 8th grader who plays trumpet in the local homeschool concert band program; and an 8th grader on the autism spectrum who has not yet been introduced to a musical instrument.

My music experience is limited to the piano lessons that I begged for as a child (that proved piano was not my instrument) and to handbells at church beginning in my high school years. For most of my childhood, I attended a small, rural K-12 school with no band program.

That’s why I’m so glad my kids have the opportunity to march. In this post I’ll highlight 18 lessons that marching band teaches kids.

marching band stock photoMusic. Music affects the brain. Hearing it. Playing it. Especially playing it. The math involved in playing music keeps the brain active and growing. Music can uplift you when you’re down or dragging.

Neurological multi-tasking. Marching and playing at the same time is challenging, and marching band members meet the challenge of marching at one tempo while playing at another. The neuronal connections grown in marching band will benefit the students throughout life, for multi-tasking through college and in the workplace, and for multi-tasking as a parent.

Discipline. Long rehearsals. Memorize drill. Memorize music. Early is on time; on time is late. The discipline you experience and practice is a foundation for discipline later, through college, in the workplace, as a parent. The discipline of being a part of a team like a marching band is experience that you’ll take with you through life.

Teamwork. Every part of a team is important. Every part contributes. There is amazing satisfaction in coming together with a team, working hard alongside and with a team, to perform a show. And the teamwork is very different from that of a sports team, where the goal is to defeat opponents in games. In sports, teams try to go after an opponent’s weakness and to shut down an opponent’s strong scorer. The teamwork in marching band is about individual and group self-improvement, competing with self, comparing results with self over time.

Camaraderie. Shared experiences over time build relationships and friendships. A job transfer moved our family across the country as my sophomore was ending her 8th grade year. We moved in time for her to attend every practice with the marching band. She began her freshman year in a new school in her new state with a posse of friends from the marching band. Marching band was a wonderful bridge between two states

Time management. From July through November, a good chunk of time will be consumed by rehearsals, football games, and contests. You give up a lot of computer time, video game time, free time during those months. Time management experience will serve you well throughout life.

Sacrifice. Band members get an opportunity to see the benefits of sacrificing what you want to do (computer chats, shopping, goofing off) for the good of the team. There is personal satisfaction in knowing as you are walking off the field together that the group had a good show. Seeing your scores improve throughout the season or from year to year is rewarding. Awards, medals, trophies from festivals and competitions are sweet tangible payoffs to the sacrifices band members make throughout the season.

Resilience. Students mess up. They keep going. Judges make mistakes or make calls we don’t agree with. The band members keep going. Students learn that a bobble or a fall during a competition is not the end of the world. Resilience is a hot topic in psychology today, and being able to bounce back after a mistake or setback is an important skill throughout life, a skill that develops by being practiced and experienced, and (fortunately or unfortunately), there are lots of opportunities to practice in marching band. We parents watched in dismay as our band experienced a tempo tear during prelims of a competition and yet the band recovered and finished strong. I was as proud of them for their collective resiliency as I was by the fact that we made finals that day.

Flexibility combined with creative problem solving. Our band staff embraces feedback from judges’ commentaries. Instead of rigidly insisting that the show they put together at camp in July is perfect, they take constructive criticism seriously and make adjustments where needed. Our staff model flexibility and creative problem solving for the students; the students practice flexibility in tweaking the show until the show is the way the directors want it.

Manners and respect. Band members practice the habits of manners and respect. Students represent both school and community when at a performance or competition. Our band is expected to be respectful in all situations, from rehearsals to football games to competitions. While the parents are going nuts in the stands, the band members on the field remain perfectly still in situations where we all know they wanted to dance and scream.

Generosity. Our kids applaud other bands at competitions. Our parents applaud other bands at competitions. Applauding another band takes nothing away from our own band.

Education and history. The fine arts camp my daughter attended during two summer vacations names cabins after composers. Imagine our delight to make the connection that she stayed in the cabin named for Bizet and last year played a melody from Carmen with the marching band.

Proprioception. That body awareness thang. Marching backwards, marching sideways while facing straight ahead without checking your neighbors’ locations requires you have a good sense of where you are in space and helps students experience and grow in this area.

Trust. When you’re marching backwards, or sideways, you must trust that your bandmates are doing what they’re supposed to do so that you don’t crash into them on a trek across the football field during your precision marching.

Lots of practice hours. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that 10,000 hours of practice at anything = success. During marching season, marching band students get many more hours of playing music than most non-marching students.

Music programs give our students practice and experience in skills that reach far beyond musical notes and instruments. The kids don’t realize that they are getting experience in so many non-musical life-skills that will have positive impacts as they become adults. Our band director often quotes the Harris Poll that found that 73% of CEOs from Fortune 1000 companies were involved in music programs in high school. When I think about the different areas of development that marching band reaches, I can see why. I am glad that my children have the opportunity that I did not have and watching them and their friends grow into adulthood will be a joy to watch from a front row seat as we parents and teachers see the ways in which marching impacts their lives over the years.

The original version of this post is here.

penny rayMarried for 26 years, Penny Ray has three teenagers including a set of twins where one twin is on the autism spectrum and one twin developed typically. She is an accidental homeschooler of two children at the moment, with the other in public school. A United States Southerner by birth, she spent more than 20 years away from her beloved South before returning to it recently. Her interests include the things that her kids do: marching band, theater, baseball, baseball, baseball, figure skating, special needs cheerleading. She writes about autism and special needs at Homeschooling, Autism, & “Stuff” and at Homeschool Mosaics.

19 thoughts on “18 Lessons Marching Band Teaches Our Kids: A Parent’s Perspective

  1. My 11 yr. Old son joined the band and marching band this yr. In 6th grade at a new school, he is doing trumpet and so loves it!!! He is making new friends and has a fabulous teacher!! Sometimes kids get down about tons of homework and teachers who forget kids need some fun too! Great article!
    Glenda in Savannah Ga.

    1. i just graduated high school in a small town in Oklahoma we are a very proud team. I marched with the band all throughout high school. i have played the trumpet since 6th grade, and to this day consider that the best choice i have ever made in my school career.

  2. The best thing about these kids and their music is that they can enjoy playing their instrument and making music all their life. They can always find a comunity- city- municipal- wind ensemble or some sort of band to play in. I started band in 5th. grade on the baritone horn and at age 82 still play in 3 bands and plan on playing until I can no longer hold up the horn. A member of one of the bands I play in is 91 and still going strong.

    1. Amazing! You’re such an inspiration. I’m a baritone player too—maybe it’s time for me to pull it out again. Thanks for posting!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with all of this. I was a band geek, my ex-husband was a band geek and our children are or have been band geeks from the get-go. If I could still be in band, I would.

    1. If you still have an insterment look around where you live there is bound to be some oppertunity to play a community or city band or ensomble or even a church qurtet

    2. Check and see if there are any community bands in your neighborhood. If not then maybe you can talk with other alumni about starting a community band or even an alumni band. We’ve got/done both in the small town where I live.

  4. I’m a French horn player. I started in 4th grade on trumpet and switched to French horn in 7th grade. Once I graduated from HS I no longer played because I got a job, got married, had kids. Once the kids were in college (23 yrs. later) I decided to play again. I joined a city band and then later joined another. I am now 62 years old. Both bands have members 75+ playing along side of HS kids. It’s wonderful. With sports you play for a few years and that’s it. With band, you can enjoy its benefits for a lifetime. That’s why it makes me sooooo mad when I hear school districts cutting music programs.

  5. Marching Band was the best thing that happened to our kids. Our son was a percussionist on the front line and our daughter was a clarinet player. My husband and I will be lost next fall without competitions and football games consuming our weekends. We enjoyed it as much as the kids did.

  6. Your blog is spot on! It’s like I was reading about my own kids’ experiences in high school band. Marching band is the best!

  7. As a former band director, I love seeing posts like this! It reconfirms so many things I tried to teach my own students (and sometimes the parents) through long practice hours and time away from many other things in their lives! These were just some of the takeaway values I received as a band student and always hoped to pass along to my students!
    Thank you so much for sharing this!!!! Way too many people never understand all band has to offer students!

  8. I don’t think band is just about what it teaches but what it gives us. I can tell you that when I first signed up for band I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but as time went on I realized I had signed up just for some class but a family. The others in band especially in marching band became my second family and I can tell you that I can sometimes spend more time with my marching family than my real family.

  9. This is spot on! But in Texas we still need the option for our homeschool kids to be able to participate in the local marching band. Other states allow homeschool kids to participate in their local public school music programs, but the UIL in Texas forbids participation in sport or music activities unless the student is a FULL TIME student of the public school. Making the decision to homeschool my son took away his opportunity to participate in this fantastic opportunity for kids , despite the fact that we pay taxes to our school district still.

  10. We have 5 sons, all grown now. 3 of them began taking an instrument in 4th grade, and continued through high school in marching band, concert band, wind ensemble, and jazz band. They learned so much in ways other than music; discipline, etc. Two of them received graduate degrees in music education, conducting, performance. One now teaches at a large high school, plays in local groups, performs in local theater (in a large city) and has won Teacher of the Year in NY. The other son taught high school music programs for a few years, but his real love is conducting, performing, and composing. He
    has a publishing company which receives orders worldwide. His son is attending a top school in NYState for sound engineering and technology
    and played in ensembles all through school, and ran the sound system in his high school, and uses his mixers, mics, amps, etc. to DJ at weddings and at New Year celebrations at a beautiful inn nearby. Music teaches much more than a love of music in all genres; it instills discipline, time management, and the list goes on. Schools should never cut the music or any arts programs in our schools. It is imperative that schools support these groups.

  11. Penny, I thoroughly enjoyed your article! My wife and I met, 48 years ago (good grief!) standing side-by-side in our college marching band. We celebrate our Forty-Sixth wedding anniversary in two weeks! The many benefits of Marching Band cannot be over-estimated — after all, we’re still marching in step!

  12. I joined the band when in the 6th grade and I am still playing in a band and still take part in the Alumni band at my College every year. I am now almost 83 years old and I travel over 700 miles to play in the Alumni band each year and will continue to play as lone as I am able. The band has been a very joyful experience and has allowed me to make and keep in touch with good friends and to make new friends each year. I hope to be able to continue to play many more years,

  13. I have an 8th grader marching with the high school band for the first time this year. He starts band camp next week. My family has always been involved very heavily in music (my father was a band director, as well as his brother, and every single friend of my father’s that I called “Uncle So-and-So” my entire life). I was a “band geek” and loved every single minute of it. I was thrilled that I didn’t even have to ask my son if he wanted to try marching. He came to me and asked permission on his own. Being an 8th grader marching with the high school band it will give him the opportunity to march for 5 years instead of 4. I hope and pray that he gets the same experience, or even a much better one than I did. I moved from California to Kentucky my junior year of high school, and because of band I started in a brand new school, in a brand new state, with 180 brand new friends. It sure made the transition so much easier on me. I still catch my heart beating to the drum line at parades, and sometimes cannot help but fall into step when I hear music.

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