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3 Tips for a Smooth Start

Ken Tonaki | August 2012

   For students new to marching, it may initially seem daunting to focus on moving and playing at the same time. The following ideas may help high school students learn to move better while marching.

1. Relaxation
   Students are told to stay relaxed while moving. They are instructed to keep the muscles relaxed but that is not effective. When I see students move, relaxation comes from the joints, not the muscles. This past year I told students to focus only on keeping joints pliable and not to think about moving their muscles. When the attention was on ankles, knees, and shoulders, the difference was amazing. They marched better and their posture improved. The experiment started with the section leaders who commented that once they started thinking about keeping the joints loose, their whole body felt better from head to toe. When they played and marched, they said there was an entirely different feeling in their bodies.

2. Body Awareness
   With the Cavaliers we did many body isolation exercises. For example, members were told to lift the right arm to the side. They thought they were just lifting the arm but actually would tilt the whole body and lean to the left.    They were not even aware of the tilt. For young students it is worth spending time on just one or two moves to help them understand and become aware of how their bodies move. This is especially important because students are naturally awkward during growth spurts. For example, bell-front players may think they stand straight up, but often the heavy bell causes them to stick the hips out and arch their back to compensate. Even at the drum corps and college levels, students may need to be reminded to push their hips back so they stand straight. Hunched shoulders are another common problem. 

3. Give it Time
   Marching well takes time and maturity. Do not overload high school students with too many expectations. They are young and awkward; 25% of the band probably looks weird, but they will get more poised as time goes on. 
   One difficult concept for students new to marching is moving backwards. The Cavaliers always said, “Don’t think about walking into the unknown (behind you). Walk away from the known. Use hash marks, numbers and yard lines – the references in front of you – as guides. That can be an unfamiliar concept for an incoming freshman that will take time for them to understand.