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made early in the season—as you went from have very little of your show on the field to having most of it out there—has been replaced by the slow pace of working on the details.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