A quick guide for surviving your first year of being drum major, written by a one-year drum major starting second year fall 2009.
Well, firstly, congratulations on being chosen to be the new drum major. I am assuming you have at least one other drum major. However I will also assume that he/she is also a rookie, because that is exactly what I can give advice about, because that is exactly what I had. ANYWAY…
First off. When giving commands, always be at attention. The band will not go to attention or follow your commands as willingly if you pull the evil gym teacher routine, where you yell at them to do things you don’t do. In addition, never look unsure of yourself. Better to give a wrong command confidently than a correct one timidly. Hopefully, your band director is as cool as mine is and never calls you out in front of the band, and just rolls with it.
Second, go above and beyond the call. If your band is anything like mine, the drum majors don’t do a whole lot of flashy stuff that the audience sees. They conduct, and that’s about it. Well, no more at my school. Me and my partner made up a new salute, new baton work for the parades, a new wind-up (what we use to start parades), and bought different, more flashy hats called busbys. In addition, I even began doing the Big Ten strut and backbend. For those that don’t know, both moves are done during pregame. The strut is a flashy run that is done either around or through the band, and the backbend is where a drum major arches his back to the point where his hat touches the ground just behind his feet, without the use of his hands. A bit off topic, but even though I hate the University of Michigan, their backbend is the best, the drum major touches his head to the ground. Back on topic, do go above and beyond. Make up stuff, experiment with the baton or mace, or both if you’re lucky.
Third, always be clear with whistle commands. If you don’t use a whistle, disregard this section. The ACME Thunderer is definitely the best whistle, and it is the only one I ever use. If your band doesn’t use them, go pick them up. Use your tongue to start and stop the flow of air to make sharp, short tweets. Also, the pitch of a whistle is similar to dynamics on an instrument- the less air, the lower the pitch. The tweets should all be the same pitch.
Fourth, learn everyones name. Yes, even frosh. You will be called by name by people you have never seen, and it greatly improves the bands take on you if you respond in kind.
Last, don’t freak out if the band begins to fall apart, particularly mid-season. It is bound to happen where you have a rehearsal where nothing gets done. Don’t go ballistic on them. Give them their share of off days. That being said, don’t be afraid to crack the whip a bit. If you tell them to do something, they have to do it, or they get in trouble. Don’t get power hungry, but don’t be a pushover. Its a fine line we drum majors walk, but the better you get at it, the more fun you and the band will have.
Well, there you have it. This short list should get you well on your way to being a successful drum major. Have fun with it, and when stuff just doesn’t work, don’t sweat the small stuff.