Now that October is here, you’ve probably got most (if not all) of your marching band show on the field. You’ve had a number of performances and maybe even participated in a few contests. This is about the time many bands experience a mid-season “slump.” The newness has worn off and it’s easy to lose focus because the rapid improved you made early in the season—as you went from have very little of your show on the field to having most of it out there—has been replaced by the slow pace of working on the details. It takes a lot of patience because it’s actually harder to advance on your learning curve the better you get! The increments of improvement are much smaller, but those tiny increments are the very things that separate the average bands from the good bands. And if you want to go from good to great, you have to embrace and look forward to making those small increments. It’s a simple fact: Great bands go to lengths that lesser bands find annoying. Here are a few ideas to help you pull out of the mid-season slump.

Focus on procedures and stick to them—no matter what!

When rehearsal procedures are strong, morale improves because it’s harder for negativity to take hold. When you hustle back to your sets, remain silent during instruction and when resetting, vocalize energetically when called upon, and even just raise your hand fully and stand a little taller, you create an enthusiastic, purposeful environment. Think about it…if everyone is silent during rehearsal, no one is complaining! (If you’d like to get the full story on how and why procedures are so closely linked to morale, click here to read the blog I wrote for your directors a few weeks ago.)

The further you get into the season, the less it’s about the directors and the more it’s about the members.

By now, your directors and staff have given you the vast majority of the information you need to perform your show. If you don’t believe this, count the number of times your director gives you information you’ve already heard multiple times, but that the performers on the field sometimes ignore. Never let a staff member tell you something you can figure out for yourself! This wastes time and starts that downward spiral of tedium. Challenge your staff to give you NEW information and to tell you things that aren’t obvious. Rehearsals become fun and fast paced when everyone anticipates the next task. As one of my former students and System Blue Leadership staff member Ben Underbrink says, “Figure out where the teacher is going and work to get there first!”

Focus on your circle of influence.

I recently had some correspondence with a System Blue camper from this past summer. He’s frustrated because he doesn’t seem to be able to get his band to rehearse as efficiently and enthusiastically as he knows it can. My suggestion to him is that he focus less on the entire band and more on the people closest to him that seem to “get it” (or that just “get him”). I suggested that he identify four or five of his most trusted fellow band members and then sit down with them to make a list of procedures, tasks, and behaviors that they will demonstrate consistently and relentlessly during each and every rehearsal. (Keep this a very small and trustworthy group! It has to be personal. If you involve too many people, you’ll lose the personal commitment.) Then ask each of those people in your group to identify a few others with whom they are close but that may not be in your circle. Have them do the same with their group, and stress the importance of picking people they can truly count on! This is not a strategy that works with friends who have good days and bad days! Pick your people carefully!

Once you’ve done this, simply rehearse like you all agreed to, and BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN YOUR BAND (to paraphrase Gandhi). Avoid confrontation, and simply be the example of the best band member you can imagine. Focus on what’s working, not what isn’t. And when faced with negative people, let them motivate you to be even more positive!

There are no quick fixes.

Be patient. Things probably won’t change today or even this week. But you can be sure that if you do things the way you’ve always done them, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten (or worse!). Several years ago, a senior drum major by the name of Grant decided, along with his sophomore brother, Blake, to try this “circle of influence” strategy. Later that season, Grant emailed me and said that things in his band had gotten better. Procedures were stronger, but not as good as he had hoped they’d be. Attendance was up, but there were still a few people who were consistently late or absent. Here’s what he said in his email:

Though things have gotten better, and the band is definitely on the right track, it’s probably going to take longer than just this year for real changes to stick. It may not happen by the time I graduate, but I think Blake will part of a much better band when he’s a senior.

What a fantastic legacy to leave your band!

If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at





Disagreements are inevitable, especially when you work closely with others who care as deeply as you do about doing a good job. Sometimes you’ll feel very strongly that YOUR WAY will be the best way, and you may be right! But if you’ve ever been on the other side of that situation—where you want so badly to be listened to and taken seriously—you can understand how frustrating it is to be shut down. Remember, there’s more than one path to the top of the mountain! Be willing to listen to other ideas, and give them your FULL and OPEN-MINDED consideration. Allow others to take the lead and you’ll earn the respect worthy of a great leader.

On those occasions when problems arise, here’s a helpful way to remember how to maintain the respect of everyone involved.


Rather than just react, process your ideas and respond clearly. You mustn’t get emotional when you respond! That only escalates the conflict.


Let the person know that you also understand his side of the issue by listening actively and responding appropriately. But TRULY LISTEN! If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking, you’re not really listening and the other person will know it!


Be specific in what you are saying and where you want it to lead. Plan out what you want to say in advance and have a clear outcome in mind. Be able to state what the result will be.


Be supportive and positive in your choice of words and tone of voice.  Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements (e.g., “I feel like…” as opposed to “You make me feel like…”).


Make an honest effort to consider the feelings of the other person and imagine yourself in his situation.


You must remain calm, controlled, and clear in your tone of voice, body language, and choice of words.  Don’t interrupt and remember to “key down” below the emotional level of the person with whom you are dealing.


Whether you get what you want or not, remain friends and keep your emotions under control!  Be willing to give a little and you will find you have the advantage the next time a conflict arises.

If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at





Despite your best efforts and your thorough preparation, some people will choose not to respond appropriately to your instruction. Off-task behavior (talking, making noise…), defensive behavior (put-downs, laughter, anger, contempt…), and refusal to participate are all behaviors you may encounter as you lead others.

Just because someone resists your help doesn’t necessarily mean they disrespect you or what you’re trying to do. These behaviors could be ways of dealing with feelings of inadequacy or failure. Negative behavior is most likely to present itself when the people you’re working with hit a plateau, when they see the task at hand as too challenging, and when they risk exposing their inabilities to their peers. To be an effective leader, you have to know how to respond appropriately to such situations. Remember…

You are responsible ONLY for your own behavior, not the behavior of anyone else. You are TOTALLY responsible for setting a consistent, positive example and for helping to create an environment (society) that encourages right choices.

Once you’ve made the decision to set the positive example—consistently and relentlessly—only then can you expect others to follow similarly.

State your expectations clearly and without emotion

When faced with resistance from your peers, it’s easy to let your enthusiasm for getting things done turn into anger and frustration. It’s alright to be firm but not irrational or overly emotional in your delivery to reluctant learners. Do not plead, whine, nor ask for permission (“c’mon,” “ok?” “alright?” etc.).  Otherwise, you admit your loss of authority and concede their control. Repeat your expectations (more than once when necessary) and wait for compliance.

Praise those who participate appropriately

You send the message that the way to get attention is to respond appropriately. When you spend your energies mostly on reluctant learners, you may actually encourage cooperative participants to misbehave. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and they’ll adopt a behavior that gets attention.

Acknowledge individuals

Move around the group, make eye contact, and call individuals by name. People respond when they hear their names and you reinforce their importance as unique members of the group. Calling people by their names is one of the most effective ways of keeping people alert and on task.

Rearrange the set-up

Rather than separate individuals who misbehave (and draw FURTHER attention to them by doing this), consider re-setting everyone in the group. This permits you to place individuals where you can monitor their behavior and allows you to separate those who misbehave without giving them special attention.

Follow the same procedures and structure as your director and the other leaders.

You’re not just teaching skills to your peers, you’re teaching them how to rehearse. All members of the leadership team must follow the same procedures and use similar technical vocabulary. Consistency in your expectations, in your delivery of information, and in your actions during and away from rehearsal are the keys to efficient, effective team leadership. People are more likely to respect you when your actions and words support each other on a consistent basis.

When you speak, have something to say

When you are unprepared to teach the material or if you run out of things to say, you lose credibility and you open the door to resentment from the group.

·      Memorize 5-10 key aspects of the skill you’re teaching and address them one at a time. If you’re not sure what to say, demonstrate the skill and describe how you do what you’re doing.

·      Relate the skills you’re teaching to previously learned skills.

·      Use humor to reinforce a point, not to win approval. Otherwise you are perceived as “off-task” (or worse, contrary to the other leaders and your director) and you set a poor example.

Team-teach with other leaders

Take turns being in front of the group and refer to what other leaders have said. You reinforce each other’s expertise and you can monitor behavior more effectively.

Allow others to demonstrate

If a reluctant learner possesses adequate skill, you might ask him to demonstrate for the group. This is particularly effective when working with reluctant learners who were not selected to hold leadership positions. Acknowledging their skill as a performer may help them feel more like they have a positive impact on the success of the group. Consider the following before having reluctant learners demonstrate

·      Be certain the individual is capable of demonstrating the skill successfully. Otherwise, you embarrass yourself and the individual you call upon.

·      Let the individual know BEFORE rehearsal that you would like him to demonstrate. This will keep him from feeling surprised or “on-the-spot.”

·      Avoid creating the appearance of rewarding inappropriate behavior by having a reluctant learner demonstrate, even if his skills are high.

·      Be reserved in your delivery and sincere with your praise. Don’t “gush.”

Move on to something new

If you sense that you are no longer making progress on a particular skill, review previously taught skills or move on to something new. Be sure to get approval from your director BEFORE introducing a new skill or concept.

Seek help from your director

Never threaten nor attempt to punish one of your peers. At an appropriate time, approach your director with your concerns and allow him/her to intervene. Focus YOUR efforts on the accurate delivery of information and the consistent application of procedures. Your commitment to consistency will eventually defeat the errant wanderings of reluctant learners.

If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at





Conducting is only a small part of being a good drum major. The drum major is also a rehearsal manager; a bridge between the professional staff and the other leaders, and between the professional staff and the members at large. The drum major is the conscience of the band, gently guiding the individual members to make good choices.

What follows are some thoughts about what a truly great drum major can be. Share this information with your director so you can both define the extent and the limits of your responsibility.

·      The drum major knows the musical score and the drill before the band begins learning.  He  knows how the musical phrases work with the drill segments.

·      The drum major takes responsibility for maintaining the pace of the rehearsal by anticipating  the directors’ instructions and by being alert to the immediate goal of the rehearsal.  He  looks for ways to assist in achieving these goals quickly and efficiently.

·      The drum major always takes responsibility when things are not working.  He looks to  himself for solutions to problems and does not blame others, even when others are clearly to  blame.

·      The drum major always promotes the right social environment by openly cooperating and supporting the professional staff, and by projecting his enthusiasm for hard work and quality.

·      A drum major never projects fatigue, disgust, discouragement, contempt, anger, or  hopelessness.  The band must see the drum major as confident, highly competent, energetic, driven, organized, and committed.

·      The drum major models complete respect for other leaders and directors.

·      The drum major never has a bad rehearsal.  By choice, he has only two kinds of rehearsals:  good ones and great ones.

·      The drum major is an excellent musician so that when others aspire toward leadership positions, his example suggests that they must first aspire toward musicianship.

·      The drum major conducts himself in such a manner that the person the band sees on the  podium is the same person they see away from rehearsal.

·      The drum major restates instructions as necessary to help minimize student errors.

·      The drum major knows the music to the show on his instrument and is familiar with all other  parts and how they fit together.

·      The drum major is able to identify problems with ensemble timing and offer insight as to the cause of the problem.

·      The drum major works at his conducting skills so that he is never responsible for problems with the ensemble’s musical cohesiveness.

·      The drum major recognizes that his first responsibility is to insure a successful musical  performance.  Showmanship never supersedes musicianship.

·      The drum major never takes breaks unless the band takes a break. He looks for ways to remain constantly engaged and involved when awaiting the next task.

If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at






Goal setting has become the motivation for success because it gives us something to prepare for and work towards. However, goal setting can actually be harmful if you think of the goal as the END RESULT rather than part of a bigger PROCESS. What if we decided to set HABITS rather than GOALS? If you are in the HABIT of producing results, you’ll achieve your goals naturally. Here are some suggestions to help you build those habits as you become the leader you envision.


Goals that are vague or too broad make it dif cult to feel like you’re making progress (even when you are). Keep

it real and keep it focused. For instance, learning all the major and minor scales AND their arpeggios is something all accomplished musicians do. Great musicians make habits of working on things that average musicians don’t like to do. Learning your scales is a SPECIFIC GOAL, but it might seem overwhelming. Read on…


To build a HABIT OF SUCCESS, start out by challenging yourself just beyond your ability. If you struggle with a particular scale because of tricky ngerings, then isolate just the rst four or ve notes and build from there. By making your goals SPECIFIC and REALISTIC, you’ll feel good about what you’ve done and you’ll start to build
a new HABIT.


Establish a certain time of day and a certain amount of time (for example, 20 minutes, 45 minutes, etc.) that you’ll devote to focused effort on your goal AND STICK WITH IT! Even when you don’t feel like you got much better, you’ll still know you kept your promise to yourself and that becomes a habit in itself! If you’re SPECIFIC, REALISTIC, and have a TIME LINE, you’re almost there!


If your goal is “to be the best you can be,” you really have no way of determining if you’ve reached your goal. How do you know for certain what your best truly is? Examples of measurable goals might include things like reading two chapters from a book over a weekend, memorizing the rst 36 measures of a piece of music from the marching show, or running a mile in under 9 minutes. When you can EVALUATE what you’ve done, you can determine your progress and make decisions about how to set new goals on the way to building lifelong habits.


Share your goals with others. When you make your goal “public,” you reinforce the promise you made to yourself by sharing your determination. If you share similar goals with someone else, you might be able to work together to achieve them so you have ongoing accountability to each other.

Focus on the kind of MUSICIAN, the kind of LEADER, the kind of PERSON you want to be and then make habits out of the day-to-day things those people would do.






There is only one kind of discipline – SELF-DISCIPLINE! “Group Discipline” is nothing more than everyone in a group being self-disciplined together. You may share similar goals and values, but ultimately it is YOU taking charge of yourself to achieve those goals and live by those values.


Postponing the things you would rather do in favor of the things that need to be done.

This requires that you set priorities and decide what needs immediate action and what does not. Delayed gratification requires that you keep focused on the end result (your goal) and make choices that lead to that end regardless of whether you feel like it at the moment.


Before a problem can be solved, you must accept responsibility for finding the solution.

You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Get help when you need it, but see the problem through to its resolution. Even if the circumstance was brought upon by others or by something outside your immediate influence, OWN THE PROBLEM AND FIND THE SOLUTION.


The more accurately you view yourself, the better equipped you are to deal appropriately with the world.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines discipline as “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.” How would you define character? The truth may be static or dynamic – it may change as circumstances change. Just as maps have to be updated to reflect the changing landscape, your personal MAP OF THE TRUTH will require revision from time to time.

True discipline is never at the mercy of your emotions. In essence, discipline is a contract between you and your values. And like a contract, if you put your goals and values in writing, you’ll be more likely to honor the promise you make to yourself. Then share your goals with others. This will help keep you accountable for achieving them.

For more insight into the notion of DISCIPLINE, I highly recommend the book, “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck. It’s great summer reading and may help launch you toward becoming the leader you dream of being.





They recognize that they are just ONE on the TEAM.

Even among the other members of your leadership team, you will assume the role of both leader and follower. You have to learn when it’s appropriate to assume which role. Seek help from your fellow leaders when you need it. Knowing when help is needed is a sign of intelligence, awareness, and the mark of a strong leader. It is not an admission of weakness or inadequacy. Support each other by applying expectations consistently and by showing respect for ALL members of the leadership team.

They never complain to anyone who can’t help them solve their problem.

Complaining about ANYTHING to those unable to effect a positive change, no matter what the situation, undermines your credibility as a leader and you instantly become part of the problem.

They know that if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.

As corny as this might sound, it’s true. You can’t be a leader by default. You must take a decisive stance on every issue, even when it means setting aside your own feelings for the good of the group.

They never give up.

Any leader will face opposition, contempt, ridicule, and frustration on the way to realizing his true potential. You must be far-sighted in your goal setting and be resilient enough to get beyond the immediate setbacks. Remember: Effort fully releases its reward only after one refuses to quit.

They know that there are no guarantees.

You can do all the “right” things, and still not get the results you’re hoping for. That’s because people always have the power of choice and they can choose the wrong path without reason. STICK WITH IT! Even the worthiest causes meet resistance from time to time. Resolve to let every experience show you its lesson.

Check back each week for more System Blue leadership tips. If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at





A big misconception is that great leaders are just born that way. Sure, there are some who just have charisma. Others seem to gravitate to them because of their personality. But personality can be developed, just like your intellect and your skill.

They don’t have to be genetic!

Many years ago, and many times since, I asked my own students to identify the characteristics of the leaders in our band they thought were the most effective.

Here’s what they came up with…

They are strong performers.

The great leaders weren’t always first chair. We had some of our best leaders come from outside the top band. But they worked hard and they worked smart, and that earned them the respect of their peers.

MAKE NOTE! Sometimes it’s easy to think that great performers are born that way. Great performers HATE this perception! Talent only goes so far and the rest is hard work! One of the best ways you can show your commitment is to PRACTICE PUBLICLY. Practice where others can see you so they know that the path to excellence is through effort.

They are approachable and humble.

Make time for everyone, especially those outside your social circle. The better you get, the more distant you may seem to those who want to be acknowledged by you and to be more like you. Something as simple as saying hi to a freshman in the hall might seem like nothing to you, but it could mean a lot to someone who looks up to you. Offer help. Be friendly.

Praise effort.

Give thanks. Remember, gratitude is free to the person giving it and priceless to the person receiving it.

They are good communicators and teachers.

They’ve thought about what they want to say, and they say it with confidence. This doesn’t mean you pound your fist, or shout your beliefs. (Sometimes, those who shout the loudest are trying to convince themselves!)

Good communication starts with simple things. Start by eliminating things like “um,” “like,” “ok,” and other filler words. When you’re in a position of authority, these weaken your presence. You can practice being a better communicator without anyone knowing! Start by eliminating those unnecessary words and phrased in casual settings. No one will know you’re actually practicing to be a better leader!

Check back each week for more System Blue leadership tips. If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at




Being a good leader is not about titles. In fact, if you have to remind everyone what your title is, you’re probably not very effective. You’re using your title as a substitute for authentic leadership. Here are a few tips to help you become the leader others will want to follow.

1. Create success for others and help them feel important. Everyone has something to offer. Recognize every single person in an appropriate manner, especially those students who aren’t always on your side. BE SINCERE! False praise undermines your credibility and expertise.

2. When you teach them, tell them SPECIFICALLY what it is you want them to do. Begin by asking yourself these three questions:

“WHAT is the task at hand?”

“WHY do we do it this way?”

“HOW am I going to accomplish it?”

3. Be accessible outside of rehearsal. When you take the time to offer extra help or just be friendly and approachable, you will be regarded as someone who truly cares about the individuals you lead rather than as someone who merely has a job to do. Reach out to everyone, not just those with whom you might ordinarily associate.

4. Take responsibility when things go wrong and give credit when things go well. Assigning blame wastes time and results in anger, hurt feelings, discouragement, contempt, and defensiveness. Model the discipline it takes to be successful by accepting responsibility and finding a solution to the problem. Participate in accepting consequences when they are assigned.

5. Admit your errors. If you make a mistake, just say so! This shows everyone that you’re human and may actually strengthen the connection between you and those you lead. If you try to hide your mistakes, people will resent you and regard you as phony.

Three Aspects Of Your Leadership Effectiveness


Student Leadership Tips from System Blue

 Three Aspects Of Your Leadership Effectiveness

Most of us would agree that a good leader inspires and helps bring out the best in others. But how does a leader do this? What is it that makes a leader effective?

Truly effective leaders in music possess at least three common attributes. They are strong performers; they are humble followers; they are capable teachers.

The Leader as a Strong Performer

The example you set as a musician and as a student of your instrument is the foundation of your leadership effectiveness. Skill on your instrument and as a marcher enhances your credibility as a leader among your peers. Skill is something that cannot be taken away by someone else, however it can go away by neglect. You will have to work every day to become a better musician and performer; someone worthy of the respect of other strong performers. You can’t lead unless you are going somewhere, so always look for ways to improve.

The Leader as a Humble Follower

Humility is a quality that actually empowers your authority. When you defer to the actions and judgment of adults and other leaders, especially when you disagree, you model the respect you want from others. Sometimes the motives of others may not be clear to you immediately, just as yours may not be clear to them. You will have to work every day to become a more humble, patient, and empathetic follower; someone who relentlessly and consistently demonstrates his loyalty through his respect for others.

The Leader as a Capable Teacher

Success is synonymous with accomplishment. You create success for others by helping them develop their skills and confidence, and by modeling the skills of a strong performer and the respect of a humble follower. You will have to work every day to become a better teacher so that others can learn from you and realize their own potential for success.

Keep in mind that no article, lecture, class, workshop, camp, or book will “make” you a great leader. When it comes down to the reality of getting the job done, you’ll need more than just words and ideas—you’ll need skills, step-by-step procedures, contingency plans, and you’ll need to have all of this organized in a way that makes sense to you. You’ll need practical solutions to problems you encounter and you’ll need strategies for building on your accomplishments.

System Blue Leadership focuses on these very things. We begin by raising your self-awareness of these qualities and then we work to empower you to become a stronger performer, a more humble follower, and a more capable teacher. System Blue Leadership helps you become more the leader you want to be.