When teaching or coaching any activity, proper resource selection is crucial. For marching band, no resource is as thorough than “The System” by Gary Smith.

Recently, I received a copy of Gary Smith’s The System in exchange for writing this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

When you wish to perform well in your craft, you find resources to help guide you and create the system you follow. Maybe it is a video of someone teaching a specific task, or providing a “hack” on making things more efficient. If you are luck, you get to spend time with a professional or trend-setter in your craft, picking their brain for how they made it.

You hear about it all the time in baseball. How Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant adapted his swing from the coaching his father received by Ted Williams. Or how veteran players will often work with rookies to help them throw the perfect cutter. In the world of music, music educators flock to Chicago for the Midwest Clinic, in hopes to spend time with mentors and music trend setters.

When it comes to the marching arts, resources abound. While many say that performing in Drum Corp International or Winter Guard International is the best way to learn, others soak it in through observing and watching master teachers. In terms of texts resources, there are as many as there are seat in Lucas Oil Stadium. The most thorough of these is Gary Smith’s The System.

Who is Gary Smith?

For those that know Gary Smith, he is genuinely one of the nicest, yet most competitive people you will meet. I recall my first interaction with him in 2012, welcoming me to a new position and inviting me to dinner. Even after retiring from teaching a few years ago, he still manages to regularly attend the CBDNA Athletic Band Symposium just to play golf. ( I am told he cheats, ha!)

Photo Credit: John M. Wissocki, The Banner

From the professional standpoint, Gary is one of the most respected teachers of marching arts in the world. He taught at the high school and college level – most notably with the University of Illinois Marching Illini – but also in China, Japan, Australia, Canada, and France.

Further more, he is the former owner of Smith-Walbridge Clinics, providing marching, leadership, and drum major instructional camps for several weeks over the summer. Traditionally, these clinic occur in Charleston, IL, on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Often, DCI ensembles will visit and present an additional clinic. The program is now under the direction of Barry Houser, Director of the Marching Illini.

Check out swclinics.com for more information.

The System

The System is unique in the realm of marching arts resources.  It cover major topics such as leadership, music, marching techniques, and many others, while providing visual examples to help understanding.

The book itself is divided into 12 sections: Leadership, Music, Marching, Rehearsal, Parades, Measurements & Grid Systems, Drill Design, Conducting, The Drum Major, Marching Percussion, The Colorguard, and Administration. Not only does Gary discuss most every topic, other professionals contribute to the material. Noted leadership clinician Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser provides insights to developing students in the ensembles leadership. Alfred Watkins, retired director from Lassiter High School, and Dr. David Waybright from the University of Florida provide input on music and conducting. Many others also contribute.

The greatest asset of the text are the examples including demonstrating the concepts. Excepts of conducting pattern practice, percussion techniques, and standard drill design allow the read to follow in the process and gain further understanding. Additionally, the text helps inexperienced directors obtain rehearsal techniques and learn organizational systems that can help the entire band program, not just the marching bands.

To say that Gary is complete in all parts of the book is almost an understatement. His distinct explanations along with the attention to every part of the program is refreshing. The format is easy to follow and every page is clean and crisp. The goal of The System is simple: establish a system to help build a solid foundation for any program.

The System is published by GIA Publications, and can be purchased through Amazon, J. W.  Pepper, and at marchingbandsystem.com.  It truly is worth the purchase to include in any music director’s library. Should you teach a university level marching techniques course, this resource should be discussed, if not used as course material.

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