Very soon, we’ll be in the midst of a new marching band season and there will be an overwhelming number of things pressing down on us. There’s a good chance that last year you thought of some things you’d like to do differently next year with regard to rehearsal procedures, show design, and maybe the timeline for learning the show. You may not be thinking of them right now, but it’s guaranteed that when the season begins, those changes you wish you’d made will haunt you for another season. This is the time to think through what you want to do differently and come up with a plan for change and action. Here are a few suggestions….

Involve others on the staff.

Get together with the others you work with and brainstorm ideas. You might do this in a social setting rather than at school so there’s a more relaxed, peer relationship. Involvement creates ownership, and when others on the staff feel like they have a part in developing a successful program, you build loyalty. Encourage even the wildest ideas! You never know which one will lead to a breakthrough.

Involve your student leaders.

As connected and aware of our students as we might like to think we are, there’s a dynamic at work within the band that only the students are privy to. You can create the same kind of ownership within the students that you do for the staff by listening and acting on their ideas. BEWARE! If your students have “concerns,” do your best to listen to what they’re actually trying to say rather than HOW they say it! Emotions run high when you’re a teenager (remember?) and they don’t always see themselves they way adults see them. SUGGESTION: When you invite the leaders to share their ideas, any concern should be accompanied by a solution. They’ll discover that solutions are much more challenging to come up with that problems, and this teaches them how to think through a problem rather than just amplifying it.

Have your own list of changes you’d like to make.

Rather than just list your ideas, consider discussing the scenarios that brought those ideas about. Then you can gently guide them to the conclusion you may already have reached. Then give them the credit! If you lead your staff and students without regard to who gets the credit, you’ll create even more loyalty and ownership in every stakeholder in the organization.

A few of the things I wanted to improve over the years were…

  • Better rehearsal pacing
  • Consistent attendance and punctuality
  • Higher individual accountability without seeming oppressive
  • Greater social responsibility

These and other topics will be the subject of future weekly System Blue tips. As always, if you have questions or would like more information, contact Frank Troyka at

Win A Free System Blue Hoodie – Sign Up For a SB Event

Posted on Categories News



Sign up and pay for one of our upcoming System Blue Events and be entered to win a System Blue hoodie. You must complete the following steps to be eligible:
1. Sign up and pay for a System Blue Event
2. Share that event to your Facebook or Instagram Feed
3. Use ‪#‎systemblue‬
4. Tag the System Blue Facebook Page or Instagram @systemblue1
5. Complete the following sentence – When I attend my System Blue event I would like to learn _____________.
We will randomly pick 10 entries.
Our 10 winners will be announced and posted to the System Blue Facebook page on Monday May 23,2016. The hoodies will be mailed out shortly thereafter.
*If you have already signed up for an upcoming event this summer, complete steps 2-5 only in order to be entered for the hoodie give away.
*USA shipping only, we can not ship items overseas.
Good Luck! Together, we grow. #systemblue



The Trumpet Mouthpiece Best For You


System Blue offers two Trumpet mouthpieces, the TR1 and the TR2. In general, the two mouthpieces are very similar, they both have larger back bores and throats, and like all of the System Blue mouthpieces, they have a UV (not ultraviolet :-), but a mix of a U-shape and V-shape cup), and slightly sharper bite to assist with clarity of articulation. The biggest different between the TR1 and the TR2 is the actual cup size. The TR1 is geared more for “lead” players and has a smaller cup, whereas the TR2 is more of a “section” mouthpiece, and has a standard Trumpet cup size. Both mouthpieces are designed to work best with the System Blue Professional and Traditional Trumpets, but work well with ANY Trumpet.




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

Why the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium


Why the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium

We get asked all the time why a group would choose to use the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium over a Baritone, or a Euphonium, or a mix of Baritones and Euphoniums. There are several reasons we usually respond with, and I will talk through a few here.

One of the main reasons we initially designed the Hybrid-Euph was to eliminate the need to use two different low brass voices (which The Blue Devils did for many years). When two voices are used (say a Baritone for the leads, and Euphonium for the lower parts), and then a unison line is written for the full low brass section, intonation issues will arise that are inconsistent between the two instruments. By using the one instrument, all of the tuning tendencies are now similar from player to player.

The Hybrid-Euph borrows parts from a Baritone and a Euphonium, as well as has some custom parts made specifically for it. The “front-end” of the instrument is more Baritone, and the “back-end” is more Euphonium. Because of that, lead players will still be able to climb the register and play with a great top end sound, while the lower parts can still play with a “beefy” sound in the low register.

As you can see, the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium covers all the bases musically, as well as it is weighted so performers from high school students to world class drum corps members can perform and maneuver it with general ease (although it is still a large instrument, we’re not talking about a Trumpet here :-).





Most bands have different categories of student leadership opportunities. These may include:

·       Instructional leaders (drum majors; section or squad leaders; brass, woodwind, percussion, and color guard captains)

·       Logistical leaders (loading crew, field set-up crew, electronics crew, librarians)

·       Elected leaders (president, vice-president, secretary, historian)

For those programs that send their students to leadership camp, or who host their own leadership camp or retreat, it’s common to require instructional leaders to attend because they are most directly involved in the rehearsal process itself. I was one of those directors. Early in my career, I sent only the core leaders—the instruction leaders—to camp in order to develop their teaching, communication, and performance skills. My thought was to go “lean and mean” so we could focus more on the individuals and thereby develop their potential more fully. But there were always kids who tried out for instructional leadership positions who were strong in many ways, but who were not selected because there may not have been a need for additional section leaders, or perhaps they were strong marchers but not strong enough as players. These students were often encouraged to pursue positions as logistical or elected leaders instead, but I stopped short of including them in the leadership camp. I missed a great opportunity!

Then it dawned on me. If I send ALL the leaders—instructional, logistical, and elected—to camp, then I would have three times the number of students who received advanced training. I would encourage the non-instructional leaders to participate in the teaching and communication activities which gave everyone a greater insight and, more importantly, greater empathy for what it takes to be an effective student leader. And the additional students became a larger group of marchers for the instructional leaders to practice the teaching skills in a more realistic situation. Rather than return to summer band with only 20-25 well-trained instructional leaders spread across a 270 to 300-member band, now I had 60-70 students who had gone through the leadership training, forming a much larger core of kids who “got it.” Their influence by example transformed the effectiveness of the instructional leaders and, in effect, transformed the entire band into better leaders.

“Lean and mean” may have its advantages. But for me and my circumstances, being more inclusive helped develop a more pervasive culture—a culture of leadership.

If you have questions or would like more information, contact Frank Troyka at






System Blue Brass “Wraps” Explained by Top Designer John Meehan


How we developed the “wraps” of our horns

When designing the System Blue Professional Brass series, we tried to take everything into consideration. One of the big concerns for us, was the way the horn felt in the performers hand. As we went from the initial prototypes through all of the iterations leading to the versions available now, we not only focused on the way the horn played, but the ergonomics of how it felt to the performer.

Marching band and drum corps performers practice a lot, and the horns are almost always in their hands. The instrument is essentially an extension of the performer, so it needs to feel like it’s part of the performer. By slightly moving the valve casing, or the first valve U-hook, or where we bent the tubing on the Hybrid-Euphonium near the left hand, it all played a part in making the instruments look like they do, and how they feel in the performers hands.

Another consideration with how a brass instrument is “wrapped” is the length of tubing.  Many times, instruments will have a long tube, but it is then bent back and forth once, or several times, for myriad of different reasons. You’ll find with the a lot of the System Blue Professional Brass instruments, the tubing is more of a “pure shot,” the actual length of the tube. We do this because, the air then travels in a more singular direction, versus constantly changing directions. As instrument designers, we always try to keep the air moving from the receiver to the bell with the most limited amount of “detours” as possible.




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.

Don’t Tell Them What You’re Going to Teach Them


As a young teacher, I was told that when in doubt, default to this three-step teaching strategy:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
  2. Teach them.
  3. Tell them what you taught them.

This was good advice for a young teacher because it was concise, it was manageable, and it was effective for someone who hadn’t yet found his own voice and his own method. By and large, this strategy worked. But in retrospect, it was more about me finding MY way than finding a way for THE KIDS. To give an example using this method, allow me this fictitious narrative that I might have used in my early years as a teacher:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
    Today we’re going to learn about Hector Berlioz. Berlioz was a composer who is best known for his “Symphonie Fantastique,” written in 1830. It’s a five-movement work subtitled, “An Episode in the Life of an Artist.” A unique feature of this symphony is the recurring use of a five-note motive that would become known as the “idee fixe,” or fixed idea. Berlioz used it to represent his beloved. (Not very engaging, even to this writer!)
  2. Teach them.
    At this point, I might have elaborated on the five movements, played examples of the idee fixe as they are presented in each movement, and then asked the kids how they thought each version of the motive applied to that particular movement. All of this is well within the scope of “good teaching.” (Still not very engaging, but at least there’s action.)
  3. Tell them what you taught them.
    Also known as “closure,” this is when I might have summarized the content of the lesson and referenced my “anticipatory set”. (My “tell them what you’re going to teach them” introduction).

There’s nothing wrong with this approach technically, but it doesn’t genuinely engage the student the way it’s intend to. By telling them up front what I plan to teach them, I allow them to formulate an opinion about the subject matter. And unless I get to the “good stuff” right away, the non-verbal cues are likely to spread rapidly and my lesson is sunk before it even launches.

How about we eliminate Step 1 and go right to a modified Step 2? Our new Step 2 is, “Go where the student is and employ SNEAK-ATTACK TEACHING!” Our new lesson might sound like this…

Have you every been so passionate about someone or something that you thought about it all the time? Maybe it was a car you dreamed of owning, or taking a trip somewhere exotic, or maybe it was someone you really liked but didn’t know just how to express it. Have any of you ever felt like that? Me, too! You might express your feelings in a blog, or maybe a diary (if you know what that is!), or maybe you’d write a poem or a song.

Now imagine you’re so deeply attached to someone that you think about — even dream about — him or her all the time. And in your dreams, you’re found to be so uncommonly passionate that a judge and jury find you guilty of a new crime, of being criminally ‘In Love.’ In your dream, it’s 19th Century France, and the punishment for your crime is to face the guillotine. Well, it just so happens that such a person existed. He was never actually executed for his obsession over this woman, but his passion haunted him so greatly that he imagined it to be a criminal act. In an effort to reveal his emotions, he set his feelings to music and, if you listen closely to what he wrote, you can hear his footsteps as he marches down the street to the scaffold. Then you hear the music build as he ascends to what will be his final living moment on this earth. Now, you hear a musical depiction of his final thought of this woman, interrupted by the swoosh-slam of the blade racing downward. And next — as morbid as this is — you hear his head bounce into the basket as the crowd cheers this ultimate act of atonement. This man was Hector Berlioz and his composition is entitled, “Symphony Fantastique.”

I think you’ll agree, by going through the back door and using a “sneak attack” approach, the lesson becomes engaging and, perhaps, even relevant. This approach doesn’t diminish our lesson. It capitalizes on the very thing that music does so well: it tells a story. And if a story doesn’t exist, then we, the teachers, might have to create one!

As a young teacher, I often thought I had to bring the kids to me for them to learn. Now I know that I must start by going to them, and then lead them gently and persuasively in my direction.

What Are GTG’s And How Can They Help Me?


System Blue brass instruments have Graduated Tuning Guides.  The guides themselves do not affect the horn while you are playing and performing.  The GTG’s come into play after you’ve started to learn your tendencies in different temperatures and playing environments.

When you are in your practice room, and you have gotten yourself in tune and centered, jot down where the tuning slide is for future reference.

Doing this in every playing environment will get you “in the ball park,” closer to being in tune and centered, so you can get on your way to practicing and performing sooner.