What Makes A Great Drum Major, Part 2: Problem Solving
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What Makes A Great Drum Major, Part 2: Problem Solving

How to stop your band from falling into chaos and disarray.

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What Makes A Great Drum Major, Part 2: Problem Solving
Madison Gostkowski

Drum majors: they conduct marching bands during performances, but their most important job is to be student leaders and role models for the rest of the band. How can drum majors lead the band when they themselves are students? In this three-part series, I’ll be explaining three crucial attributes of any successful high school drum major, based on my experience as a marching band member and drum major. Last week, I discussed how the best drum majors communicate with other members of the band. Here in part two, I’ll explain how drum majors can put out fires by solving problems within the band.

As student leaders, drum majors act as an intermediary between the kids and the adults, helping each side see the others’ viewpoints. This applies to problem-solving, as conflicts between the students and the staff will often come to light during a season. There are two main types of problems drum majors may have to solve: personal problems and logistical problems.

1. Personal problems

Nothing is “just a personal problem” in marching band; when that many people spend that much time working and improving, there’s bound to be disagreement, drama, and division.

For minor arguments, try to be quick and fair. While you should always make the right choice for the band, keep in mind that destroying the other side in the process will help no one. Be kind and try to explain why you chose the other option. Above all, don’t let small disputes like disagreements in marching technique or musical style blossom into resentment or drama.

For more serious section-based drama, you may have to wait for a section leader or other member to let you know that a problem is occurring. You definitely don’t want to overstep your boundaries and try to solve the problem directly. A better course of action might be to ask a section leader for updates, give them advice, and monitor the situation from the outside.

Your band will often become frustrated with a staff member’s decision or explanation, and as the intermediary between the two, it’s the drum major’s responsibility to quell this frustration and keep up the band’s morale. You can either choose to explain the staff’s reasoning or admit that you don’t understand yourself. Either way, the goal should be to calm the band’s frustration and get them to move on. Also, take into account who is frustrated; if a freshman or sophomore is angry with something they clearly know little about, it’s definitely appropriate to be sterner. However, if a respected, intelligent leader is legitimately questioning the situation, try to talk to them about it, either on the field or during a break. Some staff members do appreciate the feedback, and learning about the students’ concerns can be valuable as well.

2. Logistical problems

There are so many logistical problems that a band can go through that I can’t mention them all, so here are some general situations that I remember dealing with.

When you have multiple drum majors, all trying to set up and prepare for rehearsal, it’s easy for items to get mixed up. Always try to have backup supplies for things like gloves, batteries, and metronome-like devices close by. However, when you inevitably forget something in the music building, be sure to make the most efficient decision. If you’re missing a metronome battery, think about whether you can manage with a gock for the rest of rehearsal, or if you absolutely need a drum major to run and grab a new battery. The goal with logistical issues is to keep rehearsal running so that the band doesn’t get distracted by a problem.

At competitions, make sure you and your drum majors know the rehearsal schedule and plan out the sequence of events. In new, sometimes poorly-light warm-up locations, it helps to decide exactly how the warm-up will go to minimize the variables that can occur. And always make sure you’re on the same page as everyone else.

Finally, if you’re not sure what the rehearsal plan is or what the setup should be, try not to jump to conclusions and have the group spend too much time and effort moving props or setting up chairs and stands, only to have to move them when the director comes and wants a different setup. You should still give definite instructions so that the band will begin getting ready for rehearsal, but make these more general and conservative so that you can give clearer setup instructions when the director arrives. For example, if you’re not sure if your director wants stands in a music rehearsal or not, have the members line up their cases, set up in arcs with no stands, and begin playing a few notes. This way, the band will begin preparing for rehearsal, and can still go and get stands if need be.

Final general guidelines:

There’s a fine balance between being decisive and getting things done, and being cautious and flexible so that a director can modify your instructions. It’s difficult to balance and try to read your director’s mind, but do your best. However, whatever way you choose, be decisive and confident in how you do it. Nothing is less inspiring than a leader who is stunned by a sudden problem and can’t react or try to solve it.

Always stay on the same page as your director and other drum majors. Take this from my experiences running off to solve a problem I didn’t need to solve. Other people might know something you don’t, or have a better, more practical idea than you do.

If you’re good at reading people, apply that skill. Try to sense some interpersonal tensions and work them out the best you can. Even mentioning it to an upperclassman in the same section can help. Rely on your fellow student leaders!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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