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Five Life Skills I Learned in Marching Band

Photo by John Boyd

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are plenty of studies documenting the academic benefits of participating in a music program. Experts tout higher SAT scores and higher graduation rates among the positives for students who play musical instruments.

But did you know that even for those who don’t play music, there are life skills to be gained from being a part of marching band?

Long ago (I won’t say how long ago), I was one of those students who was lucky enough to be part of my high school marching band. And we were awesome. The Princess Anne High School Fabulous Marching Cavaliers in Virginia Beach, Virginia are still among the best of the best today.

The students who belong to this band — and all students who are in marching band — will sharpen their skills in music and performing over the years. They’ll grow artistically and academically as a result. But that’s not all they will take away from the experience. It sounds sappy, but the truth is that marching band prepares you for life after high school in so many ways.

Here are five things I learned courtesy of marching band:

1- Commitment. Rehearsals, band camps, show run-throughs, performances. Day after day, week after week. There’s a rhythm (no pun intended) to life in a marching band that you fall into. You do it because you have to, but also because you want to. You’ve made a commitment, and others are counting on you to be there. There’s a hole in the formation on the field when you’re out. You never want to be called out for that. This is great training for a world that often demands we do things “because.” What better preparation for that college class or job that requires you to be there, every day, because you’ve made that commitment. In life, we value those people who make a commitment and stick to it.

2-Self-confidence. Band kids learn quickly that it’s all about the attitude. There are friendly rivalries between different sections, like horns and drumlines, and self-confidence abounds. You learn that pride is a good thing: If you carry yourself onto the field like a winner, you will win. One of our slogans was “Better Because We Want to Be.” We really believed that we were better than the other bands, even those with nicer uniforms and higher-dollar instruments. We won competitions — lots of them. In the real world, some people you meet may not be the absolute best at what they do, but they carry themselves with confidence and demonstrate that they want to be there. Often, these are life’s winners.

3- Responsibility. Marching band teaches you to be responsible for yourself. Take, for example, learning to be on time. It’s drummed into your brain: “Early is on time, and on time is late.” You learn that the bus will leave without you. You take ownership for your performance, because even though you’re not the only person on the field, or in the parade, there are thousands watching and someone will see you mess up (and in these days of social media, they’ll post it somewhere online.) You own your image: You are responsible for your instrument, your uniform, every detail down to the plume in your hat. In the real world, it’s personal accountability that separates the good guys from the bad guys. We’ve all had the types of managers who could “pass the buck” when mistakes or bad ideas came to light. These guys never would have made it in marching band. We would have called them out.

4- Appreciation for hard work. Putting on a performance, a concert, a parade routine, or any other band show takes months of practice. There are many changes along the way; music and steps have to be learned quickly. That means more practice in 90 degree heat or sub-freezing temperatures. It’s a labor of love, and it’s intense, physical work, but it feels good. And everyone participates. As James Divine points out, “There are no bench-warmers in marching band.” You develop an appreciation for hard work that follows you into adulthood, across various disciplines. You realize what it takes to produce quality. You may not appreciate all art forms, but you appreciate the hard work it took to produce them.

5- Belonging. Long before you become lifelong friends with your first college suite-mates, or join a sorority or frat, or share your first apartment, marching band is your first “belonging” experience. Bands are close-knit groups. Sure, not everyone is best friend material, but your common experiences, like the overnight bus trips and 5-mile parade routes, create a bond between you and your bandmates. When someone calls one of your bandmates a “geek,” you rally to his defense. You have extra gloves when someone forgets theirs, and they have an extra bag of chips at midnight on the bus when you are starving. It’s one big family. You take care of each other.

This belonging is probably the most powerful life lesson young people can take away from marching band. In band, you belong to a group of a hundred very different individuals who, after long hours of commitment and hard work, come together in a band that creates a beautiful blend of sound and visuals. It all works, thanks to the different talents that each person brings.

It’s teamwork on steroids.

Lots of communities and workplaces could learn from that model, couldn’t they?

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Donna Krache.  









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  • Beautifully said, Donna!

    November 25, 2015
    • Thank you!

      November 26, 2015
  • I was a member of Kempsville High School Marching Chiefs in Virginia Beach, Virginia from 1978 to 1980. I couldn’t agree more. We also had a not so friendly but harmless rivalry with Princess Anne Marching Band. We always strived to be the best and beat out our competition with PA being the one we wanted to beat the most. We finally accomplished that feat at Indian River High School Battle of the Bands. Congrats to all who participated that year and all the other years. We are all winners!

    November 26, 2015
    • I had lots of friends at Kempsville, great school. Congratulations on your win.

      November 26, 2015
  • Correction: Antelope Valley High School Marching Band from Lancaster CA proved to be the best in the country. Great article! And one principle to include is healthy completion! Thank you!

    November 26, 2015
  • I just found this and I have to say….
    It was said so simply and with ease. I showed it to my son who is finishing up his Senior high school year and his beloved Band. His Director said many of the same things, including the part about Being Late. All band kids should read this and know this before applying to college, writing their essays, and their interviews. They shouldn’t sell themselves short. What they do is amazing. Thank you.

    January 17, 2021

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