Which is more important? The score or the score?

Marching band contest season is upon us. Bands from all over the country will travel to festivals or contest and compete against other schools. Judges will provide feedback and (hopefully) thoughts on how the ensemble can improve. Trophies or plaques are handed out and parents will cheer. Some students will be disappointed in the “opinions” of the judges and the score provided, while others will celebrate. This will happen every weekend between now and Thanksgiving.

Now, do not get me wrong. As a student, I bought into the power of the trophy. Hearing the name of my school called as “champion” or in “first place” made me smile. I was competitive – I wanted us to be the best. There was a time that my band director threw trophies in the trash due to the results of a contest. Looking back at all of it now, I placed value in pieces of plastic and not in the people around me.

Many directors take to social media to express opinions of festival results. Phrases like, “I am so proud of my students. They worked hard and placed (fill in the blank)….” or “rough run today,” are posted often. It is not just marching season, however. Similar posts come after the completion of concert band evaluations. And while there is nothing truly wrong with bands “making straights I’s” at a festival, we are missing the point.

Participating in musical ensemble is far more than just the score provided by a panel of judges. Emphasis on the musical score is necessary. Are your students performing music of merit, something that will challenge them both in personal proficiency and musical ability? Or are they provided opportunities for musical learning beyond just their concert or marching band music?

Two things to improve the “score” from festivals:


As a band director, understand your student’s musical ability and celebrate that success. If you know that your students often struggle with intonation, but during a performance that issue improved, let them know! Tell them you heard their success and ask how that moment felt to them. It is surprising how celebrating something small encourages more musical success.

Numbers are great because they are tangible. We can point to the assessed score as the grade. But, what earned the grade? The students’ performance. The problem with the score is that it does not reflect the true achievement of the ensemble. Directors, you know the day-in and day-out of the ensemble’s performance. You understand their struggles and the successes. If we make it about the score (points) and not the score (the music), we diminish their effort.

Directors, please, emphasize the music you task your students with making over the score from the judges. I witnessed bands come off the field feeling great about their performance only to be crushed after their placement was announced. They knew their performance was one of their best. The judges do not know that. They only see the one or two performances that day.


Judges need to be careful of their feedback. Yes, we are to assess what we hear and see, but we need to make sure our comments refer to the “next steps” for the ensemble’s success. Too many tapes lack true educational substance.

If you say “that impact just didn’t do anything,” state why and how to improve. For example, say “The impact you just performed can be more effective. For me, there was too much difference in volume between the measure before and the moment of impact. Make sure to exaggerate the crescendo more into impact and do not breathe before the impact.”

At the end of the day, there is some worth to music festivals. The students get to performance and receive feedback from other music educators. The effects on the program are detrimental when people emphasize the score (number) over the score (music). It is better to have a room full of students than have a room full of trophies.

Four-step Survival Guide for Freshman Music Majors

The summer is almost over. All over the country young adults are preparing for their first true adventure into independence. They will attend college, live in dorms, play inter-murals sports, and pledge Greek organizations. And some of these people will be music majors.

Now, let me be honest, being a music major you will have a difficult schedule. While some people are taking four or five classes, music majors will be taking six to eight. Homework is not normal homework in music. You have music analysis and learning the difference between a dominant seventh chord and a German augmented sixth chord. Ensemble rehearsals. Lessons. It is not always easy. Hard work is involved.

But, when the work is completed, it is the most amazing experience in your life.

So, in order to help you prepare or your first year as a music major, here is some advice.

Plan your schedule before you step on campus.

Time management is crucial to all people, but more so for music majors. Between the hours of rehearsals, managing homework, lessons, and eating, planning a schedule is important. From day one, schedule every minute of every day. Set a time to work on homework daily. Schedule individual practice times, daily. Plan your lunch time, rest/relaxation time, even your naps. If you plan your routine from day one, you are off to a better start than most students.

Music majors must practice.

Private lesson instructors and ensemble directors are not kidding when they say music majors need to practice. And, they are right when they say you should practice two hours daily. Now, this does not have to be two hours consecutive in the day, but it is important. Spend 30 minute on tone exercises and technical etudes. Spend another 30 minutes on scales. All of them. Then, go do something else. Relax for an hour, go eat breakfast or lunch. Get on Facebook. Go to class. Later in the day, come back to the practice room and work on your solo repertoire and ensemble music. And do your scales again.

Note: Ensemble rehearsals do not count as individual practice time.

Set a homework routine.

The great thing about classes in college is that you schedule them. From day one, you know what classes are suppose to meet when. Well, you are suppose to know at least. With this knowledge, here is a tip: do homework daily. One of the most powerful concept that I learned from an influential professor was “constant contact with the subject matter brings true knowledge.” Simply put, music majors must regularly participate in studies of all subjects. For example, if you have College Algebra on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, make sure you schedule time to review materials on Tuesday, Thursday, and on day over the weekend. Schedule this time. You should do something in every class everyday, whether it is attend class or review the material from the day before. Even it is going over your notes again, contact every subject daily.

Remember, take time to relax and refresh.

Building relationships with people and enjoying life will benefit all other parts of your life. Having a community of people to share life with, to discuss problems, or to just to hold you accountable will be a value asset during your college years. In other words, be a young adult. Hang out with your friends, play video games, attend concerts. Yes, take care of your course work and practice time, but also be sure to be a human being. Schedule regular time off to exercise, go enjoy the outdoors, or just take a nap. While it is important to study and fulfill your duties of a music major, your mental and emotional health are just as important.

The FFFF’s of Band Camp

We have reached the middle of July, and that means band camps are starting around the country. Break out the sunscreen, ear plugs, and Gold Bond! While band camp is crucial to the overall performance success of any ensemble, it is important to remember some fact that lay the foundation during this time.


Band camp is the time to establish the foundation of musical performance throughout the year. Focus on the fundamentals of playing. Spend time discussing proper air control, embouchure, blending of timbre. These are all things that will lead to successful music making. Additionally, this time allows for directors to set expectations for all members. Students can learn time management skills, teamwork, ways to prepare for the next task, and working until something is complete. All of these are important life skills.


These kids are people. They have parents, guardians, friends, and responsibilities outside of band. You, in fact, are a person as well. You enjoy Games of Thrones, cooking, and time in the quiet. It is important to remember these things. it provides a great perspective for all of us. At the end of the day, no matter the quality of the rehearsal or what needs to get done tomorrow, everyone involved is a person. Treat them with the respect you with which you wish them to treat you. Lead with energy, drive toward the goal, but be mindful of the people around you. While you do spend a great deal of time together, you may not be aware of everything going on in their lives. Sometimes, they are distracted by an family issue and can only give you 70% of their focus and energy. Encourage them to give all of that 70%. Remember, band rehearsal may be the best part of their day.


This topic goes hand-in-hand with fundamentals. How is each part of camp going to help build for the future of the program? Are the activities designed to generate closer relationships and trust through teamwork? Will the musical warm-up improve the tone quality of the concert band? What challenges will your arrangement provide that will lead to growth in performance?  It is important that you plan band camp with the full school year in mind.


I know there are many reasons why students are in band. They like the companionship or the competition. But, at the root of all of is they enjoyment of band. Students join beginning band because they believe it will be fun. Sure, it is a lot of work, but there is a sense of enjoyment as well. And, how many band directors truly choose this field because they like to work? No, they enjoy the work they do. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Seven Things to do on Your College Visits

Many high school students are starting to plan college visits to schools in which they are interested. While many schools offer tours and standard activities for prospective students, the visits tend to be generic. In order to make the appropriate choice, here are some practices I recommend for students interested in music activities (not just a music major) during a campus visit.

Photo Credit Sandy King
Photo Credit Sandy King
  1. Attend a class in your planned major. Get a feel for the way the class operates and a feel for the facilities.
  2. Meet with a professor in your academic area. Talk with them about the programs they offer and opportunities outside of the classroom (honor societies, team activities, newspaper/radio, small ensembles, etc).
  3. Attend a music rehearsal. Many conductors may allow you to sit in with the ensemble. After rehearsal, talk with the conductor and ask questions.
  4. Eat lunch on campus and around other students. Get a feel for the overall attitude and energy of the school.
  5. Visit the bookstore and buy a hat or keychain. Can you see yourself still using those after graduating?
  6. Always make an appointment with the Financial Aide and Scholarship offices!
  7. Before you leave, take the time to walk and drive around campus on your own. Imagine yourself as a student. How does this campus appeal to you? Does it fit your personality and your needs? Nothing is more important than finding the right fit for you, regardless of school name or program. If you cannot feel at home on campus, the likelihood of being successful decreases.

Why should I march in college?

Congratulations! You are graduating high school and plan on attending college in the fall! Many choices are going to be presented to you and decisions will have to be made.

  • Your major.
  • What classes to take.
  • Which meal plan to select.
  • Who is going to be your roommate and in which dorm will you reside.
  • Do you join the band.

Let me answer one of these questions for you. YES! Join the band! I do not say this for the benefit of the college directors and their ensemble growing in number. This is about you – the one that has spent a great deal of the last four years riding on a bus to and from ball games, contests, and other events. For you – the person who built relationships with others that you may have never met otherwise. You – the one who enjoyed the atmosphere of performing. Here are a few reasons why I believe participating in marching band (or concert band for that matter), regardless of your major, is beneficial.

J Corey Francis, Eastern Illinois University Marching Band

Build a community of support while away from home/in a new stage of life.

One of the best benefits from participating in marching band in high school is the relationships you build with other people. These are the ones you hung out with after school and shared some of your most secretive and embarrassing moments with during these formative years. Your time is college is no different, except the people are from all over the state or nation, not just your community. And, many of you will be away from home.I have witnessed students flourish and fail in college, and all have one thing in common: the support system they created.When you attend college, you want to feel as if you are at home. Finding a way to build a support system become crucial, especially during the first few weeks on campus. Those students that I witnessed build a solid system of friends succeeded while in school, especially compared to those that did not find their community. Many college marching ensembles will have camp a week before classes start. While the time in rehearsal is important to prepare for the season, it is the creation of friendships and the knowledge of campus the allows freshman band students to walk around in comfort on Day 1 of class.

Become part of the college spirit and traditions of your school.

Each college and university has it’s own vibe, it’s own spirit. For many schools, this is shown at its greatest during athletic events. Part of that spirit is the band. When they play the fight song, fans sing. When the drums play cadences, they dance. When the band cheers, many of the fans will join in. The band performs an important role in the overall spirit of campus. And, it is through participation in band, the students feel that they are part of that spirit and become attached to the school in a way that is deep and long-lasting.

Continue playing for fun.

You spent many years performing in marching band in high school. What would you do with that time now? Seriously. You worked crazy hours in hot weather or in liquid sunshine (my high school director’s term for rain), to perform 8-10 minutes of music while running across a football field.

Let’s be honest: none of us started playing in band back in 6th grade (or 4th or 5th) because we thought it was going to be hard work and stressful at times. We wanted to play because it looked like fun. We would be in parades and people would cheer for us! We loved listening to music on the radio and dancing along. We just wanted to be part of the fun. And then we had to learn scales (which are extremely important, but that is not the point now). And then we had to do playing tests. Our directors would get frustrated because we were not performing up to standards. Band was hard work. I am not saying band is all fun and no work in college. It takes time and effort. However, college bands are more interactive during games. They dance. They cheer. They play!!! And, you are with your friends.

What are you going to replace marching band with in college? Many people say, “I want to focus on my studies.” This is a valid and important concern. Most of those same people often came to me during the beginning of the semester proclaiming how much they miss marching band and that they want to join. The benefit for many students in this situation is learning to improve time management and balancing studies with marching band or other activities. (NOTE: STUDIES ARE THE REASON YOU ARE IN SCHOOL. I AM NOT SUGGESTING TO IGNORE STUDIES FOR MARCHING BAND…..EVER!!!!)

It’s fun! You do like fun, right?