All Things Saxophone

Last modified 09/12/08


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Pep Band & Marching Band — why?

Why play in the pep band or the marching band?  This is controversy for all horn players & percussionists, not just saxophonists. A lot of young aspiring players either don't want to play in these bands or want to play in these bands exclusively.  As an educator who played in these bands in Jr. High and High School (I was even the drum major), I can tell you that neither of the aforementioned approaches is appropriate.  Young aspiring saxophonists need to play in all the bands — concert band, pep band, marching band, and jazz band (even orchestra in the rare instance that a piece calls for it).

Good things about pep band & marching band

Musically, they are really only good for a few things:  endurance for the chops, intonation in an outdoor setting, and adjusting for sound delay in a large area.  The last two of these items come in handy as a pro when doing outdoor gigs or a gig in a very large hall or arena.  In addition, pep/marching band fosters good non-musical characteristics like student comradery, discipline, and teamwork.

Bad things about pep/marching band

Playing in these bands won't teach you anything about good tone.  In fact the student must be careful because there is a tendency to overblow all the time.  Because of that, forget about a good learning environment for dynamics or melodic interpretation.  Pep/marching band is almost entirely about playing loud.

Evaluating the good & bad

Looking at it musically there doesn't seem to be much reason to play in a pep/marching band, and that essentially is true.   However, when it comes to the politics of the educational system, these bands have high visibility with the decision makers.  Any band director will tell you that if you want to keep or increase your operating budget, you have to make a good impression with the marching band and the pep band because that's what the musically unaware public (and school administration) sees.  So, the students need to play in these bands.  Don't fret, just remember this all balances out when you play in the other bands like concert band, jazz band, and orchestra.  Also, my experience has been that players that aren't cutting the mustard in the other bands (in other words they just SUCK) can improve to mediocre level even without private instruction if they play in pep/marching band.

The exceptions

There are some programs that don't have marching bands or pep bands.  These are usually private schools so they don't have to count on the funding from the decision makers mentioned above.  The percentage of schools without these bands gets higher in the colleges and universities.  If you are attending a school that's an exceptional case, consider yourself fortunate and go with the flow.

So, pep band and marching band are here to stay, and they have their unique place within the music education system.  Words of comfort:  all you aspiring players don't sweat it if you have to play in the marching band or pep band - it's small stuff in the big picture.  Words of warning:  any of you who think that those bands are all that's important better think again if you want to keep playing after college.