M101- Dots & Drill

I sensed a bit of parent confusion when we described Dot Books and Drill Books at the Boot Camp Parent Meeting.

So let's go back to square one:

Every marching band show is comprised of two main components: Music and Drill.

Music is pretty obvious

Students are given sheet music (and sheet music revisions) in small batches as the season progresses.

All music will eventually be memorized. This is one reason why the directors portion the music in chunks rather than overwhelming them with a large music dump.

And yes, every kid somehow manages to memorize the entire show. You'll be amazed that the kid who forgot his left shoe this morning, somehow has an entire area of his brain dedicated to holding multiple seasons of show music.

... or maybe that's why he forgot the shoe.

Your student will need a 3 ring binder plus lots of heavy duty sheet protectors to hold music. They should bring it to every rehearsal. I've never had to remind my kids about this folder and have never had to deliver it late. I think the students all know they need it or they die.

This same three ring binder will be used to store pages of Drill.

Here's my daughter's binder. Costco 2" binder. She keeps a lot of notes. Most kids have the 1" variety. The clear front pocket comes in great  for quick storage. A pencil on a string is a handy addition to the binder.

  • Front Ensemble kids can use a smaller binder (my son used a 1/2"). They have more detailed sheet music but no drill.
  • Guard can use a 1" binder. They have complex drill but no sheet music.

By the way, you can not give them enough sheet protectors! Every year I purchase a big box from Costco for desperate kids at band camp. I give 'em out like candy and I never seem to have enough for everyone. 

So the Music plus Drill goes into the binder using sheet protectors (because they do practice in the rain).

What is Drill?

Drill is a map of the marching band show. For all major points in the music, there is a unique map of the entire band, noting each position on the field.

Here's a page of drill from "The Kindling", 2013-14:

This is a map of the football field at one set point in time. This particular show was mapped out in 73 pages (not counting revisions). Each page of drill shows a different moment with a different formation. The large black items are props.

See the small x's? There is one student standing on each X. Your student knows exactly which X they are on this map. The X is their "Dot" or spot on the field. The next page of drill tells them where they need to be at the next check-point.

So what is the Dot Book?

Here is my daughter's dot book

It's made up of 3x5" index cards. She prefers this style of ring binder over the spiral bound type. Most kids have the spiral version. This ring style allows her to remove or reorder her cards, plus it has a heavy duty plastic cover. Both kinds work well. Note the long shoelace, the kids wear these books like necklaces. It needs to hang low so that they can write in it or toss it over their shoulder to get it out of the way.

Your student will take their Drill sheets and page by page, they'll go through and note each of their personal dots using an abbreviation system. It looks like the name of Star Wars robot friends to most parents. "S2, 2 out 20" is my daughter's instruction for the page shown above.  She will transfer that gibberish to her Dot book, to be used as a quick reference during field rehearsals.

So when your child says they have "drill homework", "dot work",  or homework in general, that means they are condensing the large binder of Drill sheet instructions into short & sweet Dot Book notation.

Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about music, dots, and drill.

What I didn't mention is all the choreography that goes in between each page of drill... that's a whole 'nother topic that we're going to pretend doesn't exist.

In short, it's enough to know that what your kid is about to do is jaw dropping and astounding. They dance, they high-step, they jazz run, most do it blindly, some will even stand on their heads... and they do it all while playing music from memory or while spinning weaponry. Once you see the band in action, you'll understand why marching band parents are so enthusiastic about this sport.

There isn't anything else like it. It's simply amazing.

You will never underestimate your child's potential again. If they can march, they're prepared for just about any challenge life throws at them. Marching kids totally rock.


Hat tip to David Tunney for suggesting this article. Great idea, Dave. Thanks!

M101- Summer Gear vs Fall Gear

It's helpful to think of marching band as a year round sport.

Timewise, it only runs June to November but season-wise? Your kid will wear everything from bikinis to parkas.


In the early days, send them in layers. It might be 900 degrees for the kids marching in the parking lot while the front ensemble shivers as they practice under the bleachers. And once the sun goes down, the hoodies all come out.

Yoga pants, tank tops, and athletic pants are good investments. They'll get a lot of use out of them. The kid that marches in jeans quickly starts to walk like a cowboy; they're simply too abrasive.

High Summer:

In peak practice season they need breathable clothing. They're either in the parking lot where you can see the heatwaves rise off the blacktop or they're on an athletic field (either the baseball outfield or the football field). We've asked the athletic director to plant shade trees on the playing fields but so far, he has declined.

The ratio of sunscreen should be inversely proportional to the amount of clothing they wear. Most of them bring spray-on sunscreen because it's quick to apply. And no kidding, I've seen an entire section stand in a line while the section leader sprays everyone down. All it takes is one kid to go lobster and they all learn from his mistake. Even the non marchers get a ton of sun. My front ensemble kid got one heck of a sunburn while standing in the shade all day. Apparently the bank of auditorium windows radiate better than a microwave.

No matter how much sunscreen your child wears, they'll still be french onion soup color by season's end. Band kids pride themselves on their band tans- they all have pale socks and gloves on, even when they're completely naked.

I should also warn you that tee shirts will undergo odd modifications in early August. The kids hack off the sleeves and slice downwards from the armpit to about 4 inches from the hemline. And once they cut off the the crew neck collar, it can hardly be called a shirt anymore. Don't accidentally throw a modified tee into the rag bag; I made that mistake once and I still hear about it.

Many kids wear brimmed hats (like ball caps or tennis visors) for the extra shade it provides. They're band kids, so the hat choices tend to be on the eccentric side. Sunglasses are essential too. Remember- they're in full sunlight, holding highly reflective instruments, and looking at music or drill instructions printed on bright white paper. Get good quality sunglasses with polarized lenses and a good UV rating.

Think seriously about high quality athletic footie socks for these months. They can't go without shoes or socks so whatever goes on their feet must be moisture wicking and definitely not thermal.

Late Summer, Early Fall:

When school resumes in September, the rehearsal days get longer and practices start earlier. They head outside every day around 1pm so the kids need to pack practice clothing. My kids are lazy and they just go to school in their practice clothing but if you've got a fashion plate in the house, watch out. You might want to issue a warning about how many times you'll deliver missing practice shoes or suitable clothing.

9 to 9 practices can be chilly at the start and finish. Buy a band hoodie, I guarantee it'll get a lot of wear. It's absolutely worth the extra fee to put have their name printed on all shirts and hoodies- when 150 kids are wearing the same exact thing, someone's bound to take the wrong one home.

This is the schizophrenic season for clothing. The air temp takes a backseat to their activity level. It's all about how much they're sweating, even if it's 40 degrees out. I've seen girls wearing knee high thick socks, shorts, a tank top, and a winter hat. Let them wear what they're comfortable with, just don't ever count on taking them out to a fancy dinner directly from rehearsal.

You're going to hear about band jackets, especially if you have child in percussion or guard. They're not asking for a varsity jacket, although many band kids have them. A band jacket is a black, three season waterproof jacket with an embroidered logo on the back. Kids love having their name + instrument on the front. They're sold through the spirit shop and the kids all love them. They wear them everywhere; I suspect some boys shower in theirs. I once paid my son $5 to take his jacket off long enough for me to wash it; he sat in the corner and cried until it finished the dryer cycle.

For football games and competitions, students MUST wear their show shirt underneath their uniform. If they don't have a show shirt on, they are not allowed to remove their uniform jacket. All students receive one show shirt, the price is worked into your seasonal fee. But when the spirit shop starts selling extra show shirts for family members, I highly recommend that you purchase an extra show shirt for your student. There are many times in a season when they have to wear the show shirt on Friday for football and then need to wear it again the next day for a competition. Unless you love doing late night laundry, a second show shirt is a good idea.

Black socks! Black socks are a uniform requirement. All socks must rise to at least mid calf- no skin should ever show below a pant cuff. For early season games and competitions, they need to be fairly thin and absorbent. 

Late Fall (or Frozen Tookus Season):

I've seen the kids practice in snow.

Not. Kidding.

Make sure they dress for the weather and take spare items for when something gets damp. It's hard to stay warm in wet clothing.

Pretty much everything from October onward is unpleasant after sundown. Several competitions are evening events and LOMB's flight is often the latest to perform. Long sleeved tee shirts, UnderArmour shirts and leggings (black)... basically anything you can get them to squeeze into underneath their uniform.

And remember the thin black socks I mentioned in the early fall category? Hide those puppies! Get them thick and thermal black socks as replacements. Marching shoes are supportive and comfortable but they're not warm when the temps dip below 35 degrees.

Kids will claim they're not cold at competitions or football games but I've worked pit crew and I've watched them shiver. Make a gift of a black ski cap, warm black gloves, and a box of chemical hand warmers- These are all things they can tuck into their bibber pockets or keep inside their instrument case. Your kid may protest but they'll happily use them when the air gets cold enough.

Hey veteran parents! I know I've missed more than a few clothing details.

Leave your tips and observations in the comment section below. This is definitely one of those conversations where we can all learn from each other, no matter how many years we've been in the system.

M101- Rehearsal Meals & Student Wheels

First off, let's clarify a rumor that wrecks havoc with new incoming marchers, every year.

LOMB does not feed students on rehearsal days.

Prepare yourself. You'll have at least one parent tell you otherwise. "But I heard someone say that they feed all the kids at practices."

They're wrong.

The LOBB organizes a series of meals prior to each marching COMPETITION. I'll write a post about Competition Meals when we get closer to recruiting volunteers. For now, all you need to understand that if there is no competition that day, there is no meal service. This includes all mini-camps, all Wednesday rehearsals, all 9-9s, all after school rehearsals.

No competition = no meal.

You need to fill your pantry with some specialized food for the summer and fall.

The marching band is really active at rehearsals. They're constantly in motion and fully exposed to the hot sun. They get really sticky, sweaty, and generally uncomfortable. For some, that means they'll work up a serious appetite. For others, it means they won't want to do more than peck at food until the day is over.

A wide variety of healthy options is best. Small, individually wrapped or bagged items. No grease, no high sugar or fat, no carbonated beverages. That's what I'm supposed to tell you.

But honestly, the best food is the food you can get your student to tolerate. Quality calorie intake is the most important factor and if they won't touch cheese sticks or baked tofu chips, it's a waste to send them.

You know your child best, you know what they'll eat better than I do. And your student will learn what they can and can not eat in rehearsal settings as the season progresses. Change and adapt to best feed your child.

For my son, frozen yogurt tubes were a favorite. They are cold, high in protein, and easy to suck-down on a five minute break. In fact, everything in his thermal lunch bag was frozen or highly chilled- from sandwiches to clementines, it was all cold, cold, cold. But my daughter would go on hunger strike if I sent her with the same chilled selections. Granola bars and nut mixes, cheese cubes and meats, all in a brown bag are more her thing.

The key is that the hotter it gets, the more clever their meal options need to be. One student moves to only PB&J during the heat of summer because the act of chewing through anything big or crunchy is simply too daunting.

  • Mini-camps and Wednesdays require a few snacks and one dinner
  • For 9-9's plan on several snacks, a lunch, and a dinner
  • Tues/Thurs rehearsals during the school year need a snack to bridge the gap between lunch at school and dinner at home

Many parents deliver meals- either hot home cooked or carry out. Subs are good and pasta options in carry out trays are awesome options. Apparently Panera has killer take-out Mac n' Cheese*. Plan on dropping off the food and leaving. Most kids would rather eat with their friends.

I see a lot of Taco Bell bags and pizza boxes at dinner drop off time. BE WARNED: Every year, at least one kid gets nauseous and looses their dinner during the post-dinner rehearsal. The more grease or spice to the meal, the greater the chance that they may have to run to the bathroom or porta potty. But again, if Taco Bell is what encourages them to eat and they can stomach it, go with what works.


I dropped a hint earlier when I talked about my own kid's meals. You need to talk with your student and decide how they want to carry their meal.

  • Many use draw string backpacks
  • Most throw brown bags into their backpack
  • A few use thermal bags and frozen gel-pack inserts
  • At least a couple carry Play-mate style lunch coolers with frozen inserts or ice cubes which can be added to their water jug

It depends on how much they want to carry and how chilled they prefer their food. Remember, someone dragging a sousaphone around may not be physically able to add a hard shell cooler to their armload.

Now here's the last item which will definitely involve some consultation with your spouse and then your student:

Many kids in high school have driver's licences.

I know, those of you with 13 year olds just gasped out loud.

Yes, now is the time to think about your beloved student riding in a car with a kid you may not know.

Technically, the kids are not supposed to leave campus during rehearsal time (which includes meals). But it happens. A lot.

I didn't even consider this possibility until my son texted me from the line at McDonald's asking me which sandwich was bigger. Huh? What sandwich is WHERE and HOW did you get to be there???

Yep. Don't do what I did. Have THE TALK before they begin the band season.

Decide ahead of time what you are comfortable with and lay down the law prior to the first day of boot camp. If they're not allowed to ride anywhere with anyone, make that clear. If you're restricting them to certain drivers or certain times, make that clear. 

Band kids are family and you'll be amazed at how quickly your son or daughter will be adopted by multiple, well meaning upper class-men with cars. They don't think twice about inviting freshman to tag along for dinner. Determine your family rules and make sure they're well established before your child is invited to "drive over to Jack's house to pick up the thing-a-ma-bob for his sister's trombone."

Don't assume that they won't be invited to dinner until they're older. I know it seems like you just took the training wheels off their bicycle yesterday but kids in cars going through drive-throughs are officially now on your list of things to worry about.

And on that happy note, enjoy the rest of your day?

Relax, high school isn't fatal. You'll survive this too.


* hat tip to Joe Laveque for the Panera Mac n Chz info. I just might use that idea this year...

M101- Absent@lodragonbands.org

Marching band is about to change your life. Or at least your summer vacation plans.

It's unavoidable. Competition season starts about the same time that school does and in order to be ready, summer rehearsals are a must.

The bulk of the learning happens during camp weeks (boot camp, mini-camp(s), pre & post camps). Wednesday rehearsals are an important way to keep students from backtracking between camp weeks. The fewer absences your student has, the stronger their marching skills will be.

But we realize you have a family and a life. Vacations, reunions, camping trips, those are important too.

So plan your absences wisely and then let us know about them.

EMAIL a list of your planned summer absences to absent@lodragonbands.org, before June 1st. If plans change, you can update anytime via email.

That's an EMAIL ADDRESS, not a website page. Our LOBB Recording Secretary compiles weekly lists of summer absences and notifies the staff that your son/daughter will be missing, for what reason, and how long.

If your student is ill on a rehearsal day, EMAIL the Recording Secretary at absent@lodragonbands.org. She will make sure Mr. Steele gets the last minute message.

If you have a planned absence that overlaps a competition, please EMAIL us at absent@lodragonbands.org. That type of absence needs to be approved by Mr. Steele and the Recording Secretary will begin that process.

Okay, at the risk of being slightly more redundant than I already have been:

  • absent@lodragonbands.org is an email address, not a website page
  • it's not a website page, it's an email address
  • due date for summer absences is June 1st
  • update your planned schedule as necessary
  • "out sick today" messages to the same email address
  • to seek approval for a competition absence, begin by contacting absent@lodragonbands.org

and pssttttt.... one more thing: it's an email address. 

M101- Ye Olde Water Jug

Here's a mandatory piece of equipment that you need to start shopping for: 1/2 gallon thermal water jug with drinking spout.

You'll find them made by several manufacturers: Igloo, Coleman, Rubbermaid, etc.

Note that I said it wasmandatoryequipment? Yep, your marcher is about to become best friends with their water jug. They'll go everywhere together, not by choice but by director's orders.

LOMB rehearsals are almost always outside, far from a water source. They take frequent water breaks but what they don't do is give everyone 30 minutes to run to the nearest drinking fountain and stand in line. Your marcher needs a water jug.

At band camp, the jugs become even more important. Not only are the rehearsals back to back for multiple days, but the water sources are even further away from rehearsal space and the cabins have no sinks or faucets.

Now I want you to look at the photo above. Really look. Notice anything?

I'm sending you out shopping NOW so that you can find your child a water jug that is any color BUT red.

I know. Red is pretty; red is my favorite color. The stores all agree with me. They really like red too.

The problem comes when you have 156 kids with 156 red water jugs.

You see, parents call them "water breaks" and that sounds all fancy and refined. Polite people have water breaks.

The kids call them: "Gush & Go"

The drum major gives them 60 seconds. They all run off the field at once and grab whatever jug looks a bit like theirs. They dump half on their head, the other half down the back of their shirt, and the last few drops make it into their mouth. Then they all run back to their dots and pretend like nothing ever happened.

Now you understand why the third jug from the left is hot pink with added stripes. That kid is an absolute genius.

So this helps explain why when I found a purple AND an orange 1/2 gallon water jug at a local store, I started spinning around in the camping aisle like Maria Von Trapp on her sunny Austrian hillside. It was like hitting the Mega Millions and then striking Texas Tea in my back yard all on the same day. I'd stumbled upon a magical hole in the space/time continuum where God was hiding all the un-red Igloo jugs.

So start shopping right now for a color other than red. Or make plans to add clever duct tape decoration. Do not rely on a name written in Sharpie- it won't last the whole season. Think odd, think different, think ugly-as-sin-no-one's-gonna-want-to-steal-this kind of decoration.

Want more water jug tips?

  • Run the lids through the dishwasher frequently and bleach the jug. Several kids have colonies growing in their jugs and don't seem to care.
  • Buy a bag of ice or freeze a few blocks that fit inside the jug. Your ice maker may not be able to keep up with the draw during mini-camp weeks.
  • The school water varies in taste. The camp water is worse. Single serve packets of sugar free drink mix can help mask the taste and relieve some of the monotony.
  • Buy an extra. Jugs break when you're least able to shop for a replacement. My kids have had at least one fatal crack or detached handle per year.
  • Be prepared for your student to loose their jug or bring one home marked "Fred". Their mind is on 5,000 other things besides guarding a jug.
  • When a jug breaks, save the parts- especially the gasket. You'll thank me later.
  • The boosters donate a few jugs to the Salvation Army every year. When your student says they can't find theirs, go check the lost & found.


M101- Shoes


My first LOMB child joined the Front Ensemble. Front ensemble is the official name for the team of students who stand along the front sideline playing non-mobile instruments- marimba, vibe, synthesizer, bass, etc. Pit kids (that’s the unofficial name) have some amazing skills but they never leave their own personal 4 foot diameter circle. No one builds calves of steel playing in the Front Ensemble.

So I was downright shocked when my second child joined marching band two years later as a mellophone. She was up and down the field, forwards, backwards, running, jogging… I regret not tagging her ear with one of those polar bear radio devices. I’m dying to know how many calories they consume during a 9-9 rehearsal.

Enjoying the visual image of me taking down my daughter with a sedative dart gun? Measuring her growth patterns, clamping a satellite-tracking collar around her neck, and doing all this while she’s sprawled out on the LO of the football field? Well, that right there is the kind of comedy gold I’m here for.

But the subject today is shoes and I’ve digressed into the migratory patterns of teenage band kids.

The point is that they really burn through shoe rubber during marching season.

Get your kid some good shoes. Get ‘em two pairs if they have stink-foot. We’re talking about good quality athletic shoes with a proper fit and the range of flexibility that your child prefers.

They’re not just on their feet a lot, they’re Moving. That’s Moving with a great, big capital M. To make matters worse, for the first half of the season, they do a lot of training in the teacher’s parking lot rather than on a grass field. So not only are they wearing down the interior shoe structure but they’re quickly scraping off the sole.

You know how Jenny gives Forrest Gump a pair of Nikes and he wears them until they disintegrate? That’s what’s about to happen to your child’s footwear. So keep an eye on ‘em and refresh as necessary.

And it goes without saying that flip flops, slides, skimmers, clogs, heels, slippers, Keds, Uggs, and any other type of decorative or stylish footwear is strictly banned from marching band rehearsal. If you ever want to see Mr. Steele turn 50 shades of purple, wear flip flops.

But what about the black marching shoes? Don’t we buy a pair of shoes specifically for marching?

We do, but here’s what I’ve noticed. This is not official policy, just a parent-in-the-stands observation.

Shoe purchases happen in July and I don’t really notice many kids wearing them until the after-school season starts. That's a full two months later. The uniform shoes are excellent! They're specifically designed for the kind of marching that these kids do but I suspect they’re also not very well ventilated. Once we move into late competition season rehearsals, the vast majority of kids do practice in their black shoes (not all, most) but that always seems to be AFTER the weather turns.

And here’s another important tip: If you’re squeezing your budget on black marching shoes, hoping for two seasons of wear before you replace them, DO NOT send the shoes to band camp.

Remember Pig Pen from the Peanuts comics? Giant dust cloud with dead leaves and assorted grit following him around? That is every single kid at band camp.

The practice pitch at band camp is a hardscrabble grass field. By the end of the week there is no grass. You can tell how hard they’ve practiced by measuring the air quality. Sending shiny black shoes into that scenario never ends well.

So that is my treatise on footwear.

Any questions? Want to make sure I cover a specific topic? Let me know in the comment section or email me at ashulke@lodragons.org

M101- How to tell a Rehearsal from a Sectional:


  • Scheduled by Mr. Steele in March or April, long before the season begins
  • Noted on the band calendar and the schedule on the website
  • Instructor led, instructor supervised
  • Full band
  • At LOHS
  • Required attendance
  • Absences must be excused (absent@lodragons.org)


  • Scheduled anywhere from 2 days to 2 minutes ahead of time
  • Never listed on a calendar or schedule. In fact, you may not hear about it until they're dressed and ready to go.
  • Student led
  • A single instrument section or a limited group of sections
  • At a student's home (Front Ensemble uses the band shed because marimbas are not very portable)
  • Attendance is optional but highly encouraged
  • May involve pizza, movie, a swimming pool, or small furry mammals wearing weird hats.

M101- Student Leadership Roles

One of the best things about LOMB is the way it encourages your student to become more responsible. Not just personal accountability (reporting on time, bringing the proper equipment, rehearsing well, and performing their best) but they also quickly adopt an attitude of social responsibility.

Marching band kids learn how to be leaders.


LOMB is a head start on high school. With 4 months of exposure to the building and campus, plus an established set of friends, freshman marchers begin high school with a unique confidence. They start out already fitting in.

That sense of purpose grows as they move through marching band seasons. They meet challenges and they help their section-members progress. Band students are the most supportive bunch of kids you’ll ever meet.

So it’s only natural that 2-3 years into LOMB, many marchers are looking for additional leadership roles. Every one of these kids knows how to meet a deadline and how to motivate themselves and others. They haven’t just read about leadership, they’ve practiced it daily.

LOMB has a great staff of instructors and volunteers but what’s amazing is how much of band is student driven, student led. You’ll be hearing a lot about the kids in leadership positions "John said this…” and "Sarah wants us to do that…” Your student will have several older kids who genuinely care about them and who take an active role in their lives. It’s pretty cool, especially as you watch your child move from the cared-for to the care-giver.

So who are the marching band’s student leaders? What do they do? I asked Mr. Steele to help explain the appointed roles.

Section Leader- this is usually the first student you’ll hear referenced at the dinner table. You’ll definitely hear them quoted a lot. Mr. Steele says:

Section Leaders are an experienced student marcher, selected by audition each spring, from each instrument section. They are responsible for communication withand coordination ofthe members of their section. These students provide assistance to students, including help with marching and music. They will set up and run sectional rehearsals throughout the summer and fall.

Section leaders become your student’s big brother or sister. They mentor the new kids, they challenge the experienced kids. Section leaders are the role model your student will interact with most each year. Get to know the name of your student’s section leader and refer your student to them whenever there’s a question. They’re the first stop for questions, for help with music or drill, and the simple what-to-do-where-to-go stuff.

As a parent, you’ll want to make contact with the section leader’s parent. Most sectional rehearsals and gatherings will happen at their house. You can ease your own nerves about teen events by knowing the family and the setting. These are also experienced parents who can help guide you through the season.

Horn Sergeants (Brass & Woodwind) or Captains- this is the student your child will admire. Mr. Steele tells us:

The Horn Sergeant is an experienced marcher, selected by audition. They are in effect, the section leader of the section leaders and will coordinate with the section leaders in their caption (brass orwoodwind). The Horn Sergeant is also often responsible for running group warm-ups at rehearsal. Percussion and Guard have Captains who perform these functions for their sections.

In my years watching from the sideline, I’ve decided that sergeants and captains are actually super heroes in disguise. They combine crazy-mad instrumental skills with the ability to inspire your kid to be the best performer they can possibly be.

When parents think leaders, they think Drum Majors; but it’s the sergeants and captains who are in the trenches with your student every day, showing them fingerings, positions, and steps during rehearsals. They are leaders on the field, performing ALONGSIDE your student. Each one of these kids has their own special brand of awesome and you should make an effort to learn who they are and watch them on the field. They’re the best of the best.

Drum Majors- these kids supervise the whole picture, both on and off the field. Mr. Steele says:

Drum Majors are experienced students, selected by audition, who are the conductors of the marching band. They are the student leaders of the entire band. With guidance and supervision of the directors and staff, they run rehearsals by giving all commands to the marchers. They coordinate with the Horn Sergeants and Captains.

I can’t believe how much the drum majors do for the band. They’re constantly in motion, all season long. Sit in the stands during a field rehearsal and you’ll understand why Drum Majors are so special. They conduct, they organize, they make special trips… and they do it all at a full-speed run rather than a walk. They’re the first to arrive, the last to leave, and if anyone’s going to grow up to manage a Fortune 500 company, it’s a Drum Major.

Drum Majors are the bridge between the adult staff and the students but they’re also a great parent resource. There may be 150 kids on the field but they know your son or daughter; they know their strength and their weakness and a Drum Major wants to help. Be sure to meet the DMs and thank them, your kind words make a hard job easier.

So that’s the list of kids-in-charge. Hopefully this clarifies what you see from the stands and what you hear in the car on the way home from rehearsals. These are the students your child looks up to, but they’re also a preview of what your marcher is about to become.

Welcome to marching band, it’s a place of great potential.

M101: Band Standard Time Zone- Arrivals & Departures

The Lake Orion Marching Band has their own time zone- BST

BST (Band Standard Time) bears very little resemblance to the real world- you know, the world where you show up on time and leave when the gig is over.


Come an hour early and leave an hour later seems to be the BST theme song.

Those of you familiar with chaos theory will pick up immediately on how to live happily within the BST zone.

But there is a method to the madness. When the schedule says "Rehearsal, 9-9”, the schedule is absolutely not lying. No, I’m not kidding. Rehearsals actually run 1-5pm or 9 to 9, as stated.

For 9 to 9s, the kids will physically be rehearsing from 9:00am to 9:00pm. At 9am sharp the staff will begin instruction and they cease all instruction at 9pm on the dot. The only exception is when practices run long in preparation for an impending big competition (but that’s kind’a logical and fairly rare).

But that one band mom said they never, ever, ever start or end on time… Relax, I’m getting there.

In order to start rehearsal precisely at 9am, your sweet child needs to follow a vital 10 step process:

  1. Arrive
  2. Socialize
  3. Find the band room
  4. Socialize
  5. Find their instrument
  6. Socialize
  7. Remember that they also need a mouthpiece, tell friend funny story as they look for missing mouthpiece… in the locker? Other locker? Backpack? At home on the kitchen table?
  8. Socialize
  9. Warmup (in between random bouts of peer to peer verbal interaction)
  10. Take a leisurely stroll to rehearsal field

Get the idea? If you drop your student off at the totally logical time of 8:45am, they’re already at least 38 minutes behind everyone else in hearing who Brittany from the clarinet section is dating this week or why the latest Destiny update was lame. This is why you have to drop them off early. They’re teenagers, I’d advise you to work with the beast rather than attempt to conquer it.

And trust me, that drop off time can get earlier and earlier depending upon the following conditions:

  • Your student is an eager beaver
  • Your student’s section leader is an eager beaver
  • Your student’s horn/wind/percussion sergeant is an eager beaver
  • Your student’s drum major is an eager beaver
  • Your student’s tech is an eager beaver

Beavers will complicate your life in direct proportion to how many join band in a given year. I’ve had to drop kids off early because of "running laps”, "polishing party”, "chop session”, "pre-rehearsal rehearsal”, and my personal favorite: "they’re making me clean out the locker because I complained that it smelled like gym socks soaked in cream of mushroom soup”. Please note that none of these early report times were reflected on the schedule; and in my eyes, none of them constituted a national emergency.

So as an experienced band parent, I ask the evening before: "What time do you need to be there?” The immediate follow up question must always be: "Who said so and why?” Then I make reasonable travel plans accordingly.

Now for dismissal time, the same system applies. Rehearsal ends exactly as listed. More than once, I’ve watched Mr. Steele watch the clock and cut the band off at the end of a measure. He really makes an effort to end on time. But here’s the rub:

  • The kids huddle for a post-rehearsal announcement time. Anyone can make an announcement.
  • Then they open it up to comment time. Anyone can make a comment.
  • Then the drum majors say something inspiring.
  • Then they chant about their chins.
  • Then they remove tape and rubbish from the football field and argue over who owns which red water jug.
  • Then they realize that all their stuff is back at the high school and the long leisurely trek ensues.
  • Please note that they socialize the whole, entire, ever-lovin’ time.
  • Once they arrive back at the high school, you can pretty much count on running the same 10 step morning arrival process, in reverse order.
  • And that all happens before it occurs to them that you might be growing eligible for social security checks in the parking lot.

There’s also something slightly cultish for brass players called "Circle of Fun”. From my observation, it isn’t circular and it doesn’t look fun, but most of them do it anyway. If your beloved one participates in Circle of Fun, that’ll set you back another 30 minutes in the let’s-get-the-heck-outta-here process.

As you can see, it isn’t the staff starting early or running late, it’s the system your child adds to the existing system that leaves you steaming behind the wheel while dinner burns in the crockpot.

The schedule states official start and stop time; it says nothing about your student’s personal BST adjustments.

From experienced band parents: tips on how to mitigate the BST effect:

  • Ask the night before- don’t assume your idea of a timely arrival/departure matches the demands of a section leader who has lusted over the reins of power for their whole life.
  • Tell your student, "Text me 15 minutes before you’re ready to be picked up”.
  • Lay down the law: "I saw you chatting with Brittany and Brittanie by the flagpole for 20 minutes. Tomorrow you must be in the car by 5:25pm or I’m leaving without you”.
  • Get out of the car and stand by the high school doors. Look like you’re having fun and that’ll make them nervous.
  • Give them the stink-eye so that they know darn-well you’re waiting… again.
  • Always pick them up a half hour later than they tell you.
  • Get them a driver’s license and ditch the unpaid taxi service.


Hat tip to Carrie Scher for reminding me about unscheduled start and stop times.

M101- Rehearsal Schedule: Summer & Fall Seasons

By now, I hope you’ve taken a look at the season schedule.


It’s on page 8 of this year’s Marching Band Packet. You need to know 2 things about that schedule:

1. It’s a tentative schedule. We make this schedule in March, way too early in the season for Mr. Steele to know exactly which MCBA competitions we will participate in. I will issue a finalized schedule before the end of the school year with exact dates and locations. You’ll receive it via email. You can tell it’s a finalized version because it will be full color and pretty, something suitable for hanging on your fridge for the next 6 months.

2. All rehearsal dates are not listed.

    Let’s repeat that last fact: All rehearsal dates are not listed.

    Why? Because the schedule would be 3 pages long if I listed everything.

    So what’s missing? To explain, I need you to mentally break the entire marching season into two halves: Summer and Fall. Got that?

    Summer Season-

    During the summer months, LOMB has two different types of rehearsals. Camps and weekly Wednesdays.

    1. Camps are listed on the schedule as:

      • Boot Camp- 5 days of basic training
      • Mini Camp(s)- 4 days of focused rehearsals that build upon each other
      • Pre-Camp- 5 days of focused rehearsal, the week before band camp
      • Band Camp- a week of intensive training, both drill and instrumental
      • Post Camp- 4-5 days that build upon skills and material learned at band camp

    All camps run 1-8pm at LOHS. You will need to send a dinner with your student or deliver one at meal time.

    2. Wednesdays- each week from the end of school through Pre-Camp, 1-8pm. Just like camps, you’ll need to send or deliver a dinnertime meal.

    Now I'm not recommending that your student miss any summer rehearsals- but if they are going to be absent, here’s how I’d rank the order of importance.

    1. Band Camp- required in order to participate in competitions. DO NOT even think about missing.
    2. Pre & Post Camps- they cover a lot of important stuff these weeks. Up until pre-camp, they’re working on music and little bits of show. Pre-camp is where it all starts to come together, post camp is where they prepare for that first competition. It’s harder to make-up the learning that happens at pre & post camps. Absences here definitely slow down the entire band and will affect the first competition score.
    3. Mini Camp- like pre & post camp, this is focused learning time. Missing some or all of this week definitely puts your student behind the rest of the band, it also noticeably slows the progress of your student’s instrument section.
    4. Boot Camp- many kids miss some or all of boot camp, but be warned- every minute spent catching-up is a minute they are not learning current material.
    5. Wednesday rehearsals- these are not unimportant but they are the easiest to miss, primarily because it’s only one day of learning rather than a week of camp. Warning- they will miss important items and they will have to spend time catching-up.

    Fall Season-

    Back to School time is where the schedule gets trickier and absences become detrimental.

    For starters, we add Saturday rehearsals. If they’re not headed to a competition, Saturday will be spent on the practice field. We call these rehearsals "9 to 9’s” based upon the start and stop time (clever, huh?). You will need to send your student to rehearsal with lunch, dinner, snack, and other various bits of equipment. 9 to 9s will get their own blog post, a bit later. And by the way, you might shudder at the idea of a 12 hour rehearsal but the kids love them.

    Let’s move on…

    Once school resumes, marching band becomes a class. Every day the entire marching band meets for rehearsal during last period. Monday through Friday, marching band class, every day.

    On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, when the school dismissal bell rings, marching students are usually on the football field. They do not dismiss for the day.

    Basically- Tuesday and Thursday rehearsals start at 1pm and last until 5pm.

    On Friday, they extend that time until 6pm. UNLESS there’s a home football game. If there is a game, they break for dinner from 5-6pm and then suit up in uniform and head to the game. On football Fridays, your child leaves the house for the start of school and won’t be home until after 10pm.

    You need to send your student with dinner on football Fridays or deliver one at meal time. They will be hungry!

    But wait, someone said the band feeds my kid dinner! Not on football Fridays. I’ll write more about the meals provided by the LOBB in a different post. On football Fridays, there is NO meal served. We do serve a third-quartersnack at the football game. It’s 1 slice of pizza, 1 drink, 1 bagged snack item. To make matters worse, while the time varies, snack never happens earlier than 8:30pm. That’s a long day to go without dinner! So send or deliver dinner for your poor, sad, child.

    Now again, I’m not recommending that your student miss any fall rehearsals- in fact, Mr. Steele might kill me for even mentioning the possibility of missing a fall rehearsal. But stuff happens, so here’s the order of importance, noted with the full qualification that fall absences are to be avoided at all costs.

    1. Saturday rehearsals on competition days. Yes, depending upon the scheduled performance time, they may have a pre-competition rehearsal. Don’t even think about missing it.
    2. Saturday 9 to 9s- These are days when major improvements are made to the show. Missing this type rehearsal directly slows down your student, your student’s section, and the entire band.
    3. Friday rehearsals, no matter if there’s a game or not. First off, if there is football, all absences need to be pre-approved because games are required events. And secondly, even if there’s not football, they’re missing an extended rehearsal that is jam-packed with stuff they’ll use for the next day’s competition. Do not miss!
    4. Tuesday & Thursday rehearsals- Please schedule all doctor, dentist, and other appointments for after school on Mon or Weds. Missing a Tuesday or Thursday means your student is not only missing material but they’re slowing down their entire section.
    5. Monday & Wednesday school day rehearsals. If I had to pick the ideal time for you student to have the flu, have it on a Monday or a Wednesday. Actually, a Sunday is better. Pencil them in for "flu- any day in December".

    So to summarize:

    • The summer rehearsal schedule will put a kink in your vacation plans.
    • The fall rehearsal schedule means that you send your kid off for the first day of school and will see them again sometime mid-November.

    Welcome to Marching Band!

    M101- Acronymaphobia & the LOMB Season

    LOMB is an unusual marching band program.

    I don’t mean unusual as in "weird”. I mean "extraordinary” or not-your-average-band.


    Lake Orion Marching Band is a competitive marching band; these are pretty rare in the state of Michigan. If a high school does have a marching band, chances are that it performs at football games and assorted parades or school functions. LOMB does the normal stuff plus they add a competition show. That specialized show is what turns LOMB from an average marching band into the equivalent of a travel sports team.

    The MCBA is the Michigan Competing Band Association, this is the league for our travel team. LOMB usually competes in four to five MCBA shows each year. We do not host any MCBA competitions but some of our neighboring schools do (Clarkston, Lakeland, Milford, Plymouth-Canton). MCBA also conducts the State Finals competition for the state of Michigan, held at Ford Field in Detroit.

    LOMB also competes in BOA competitions. Do not confuse BOA with MSBOA. MSBOA (the Michigan School Band & Orchestra Association) is for concert season. BOA is Bands of America, a nationwide competition marching band system. They host regional competitions in several states. The BOA season culminates with the Grand National Championships, held yearly at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, Indiana.

    To qualify for BOA Grand Nationals, LOMB must compete in at least one BOA regional. LOMB usually selects the Southeast Michigan/Northwest Ohio regional with sites like Toledo, Akron, or Bowling Green, Ohio. LOMB performs at regionals, even during non-Grand National years.

    The BOA Grand National Championships are open to the first 90 bands that apply. LOMB typically goes every other year but that schedule varies based on the discretion of our band directors. It’s a special trip when we do go and the kids have a great time no matter what they score. Please consider travelling to Grand Nats when the band goes. It’s an easy trip with tons of hotel choices. Grand National tickets are pricier than MCBA competitions but the caliber of shows is unmatched anywhere. Marching band doesn’t get better than what you’ll see at Grand Nats.

    LOMB is a Flight I (one) band. The MCBA divides school bands based on their school’s total enrollment. That’s enrollment for the entire high school, not the number of band students. Flight I is the top tier, the biggest of the big boys for schools with more than 1,695 students. Even if LOMB doubled its numbers (or marched fewer students) it would still be a Flight I band. Flights run from I down to IV, plus an open class.

    In my years watching other flights, I’ve noticed that Flight I schools tend to produce more polished shows than the lower flights. I assume this is because a Flight I band has a larger student body to draw from. Larger bands generally mean better funding and better staff. But at BOA Grand Nationals, we’ve seen some awesome Flight II bands, bigger does not equal better.

    I’ve also noticed that LOMB seems a tad smaller than your average Flight I band. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic that we won’t be touching today…

    Okay, so here’s the summary:

    • MCBA- 4-5 local shows
    • BOA- 1 regional, 1 Grand Nats
    • MSBOA- ignore that group from May to November
    • Flight I- big bands, big shows
    • Grand Nats- completely worth the trip

    For more reading visit:


    BOA Grand Nationals

    Marching 101- Welcome

    Welcome to Marching 101- How to Survive the Season

    For most of us, marching band is a foreign land filled with strange beings and weird customs.

    Marching 101- Lake Orion Band Boosters
    • Many band parents have never played an instrument.
    • Of those parents who participated in band, many did not participate in marching band.
    • Of the parents who marched, only a teeny tiny segment marched in a band of LOMB’s current size and caliber.

    So yes- it is normal for you to feel hopelessly lost. LOMB is a gigantic system full of peculiar rules, odd language, and rehearsals that never seem to end on time.

    The LO Band Boosters know you’re lost, because we were lost too. We field lots of questions and we make ourselves available at every opportunity, just in case you’re wondering something. We put out packets, newsletters, email Blasts, flyers, forms… basically we do everything but hire a sky writer to help explain the marching band system to everyone who will listen.

    And yet the most common comment I hear from parents is "Oh, if only I’d known that sooner!”

    So welcome to Marching 101, otherwise called "what the heck is going on???”

    This is your resource for marching band basics, interpreted into regular English for the unmusical and the inexperienced. Several times a week, I’ll post small snippets of useful tips and instruction about the alien creatures with odd tan lines. 

    By the way, my name is Amy Shulke and I’m the LOBB Communications Secretary. I have a marimba player and a mellophonist at my house; if they’re not sleeping, they’re doing something bandish. Both my husband and I played instruments, we each marched four years in our high school marching band, and still, we were completely flummoxed the first year of LOMB.

    Relax. The knowledge will come.

    Welcome to the band family, welcome to the club. Join us for another season of happy confusion…