How to Conduct a Marching Band

How to Conduct a Marching Band. There is nothing quite as much fun as a marching band and nobody is quite as charismatic as a marching band conductor. Learning to conduct a band could well be one of the most satisfying and impressive feats you will ever undertake.

Get to Know the Band

Determine whether the band will march along a street, with you as its leader, or whether it will play from a fixed position, like a football field. This determination will become important when you learn basic conducting gestures.

Learn where each group of instruments--brass, woodwinds and percussion--is normally positioned within the band.

Listen to each group of instruments to understand the sound and volume range of each.

Pay attention to pitch. Notice whether any instruments or groups of instruments are playing off-key.

Study the Score

Select the piece of music you will be conducting. A piece of music in 2/4 time is best for a beginning band conductor. A fast tempo is more forgiving for a novice conductor, because it allows for more general conducting gestures.

Read through the entire score to get an idea of the overall tone and rhythmic structure of the piece of music.

Identify the main melodies and the instruments that will play these melodies.

Identify the harmonies that will accompany those melodies and the instruments that will play those harmonies.

Learn Basic Conducting Gestures

Stand with straight legs, feet about 12 to 18 inches apart and 1 foot slightly in front of the other.

Keep your elbows out and slightly away from your chest and body. Your forearms should be parallel to the ground, and your hands should be visible to all band members.

Use your right hand to mark the beat. For a march in a 2/4 time signature, move your right hand up and down in a vertical line to mark time. Your hand's uppermost point is the first beat, and your hand's lowermost point is the second beat.

Use your left hand to indicate any changes in mood in the piece and to point to the groups of instruments that should begin playing.

Adapt Your Conducting Gestures Based on the Type of Band You Are Conducting

For a band marching in formation, remember that you will be marching at the head of the band, with your back to the musicians. Hold a baton or mace vertically in your right hand, and use it to mark time. Use your left hand as described in Section 3, Step 4.

For a band standing in a fixed position, stand on a podium high enough that you are visible to all band members. Practice clapping your hands or blowing a whistle to supplement the gestures of your left hand. When you are not clapping, your right hand should still be marking time.

Make sure your hand gestures are broad enough to be visible to the marching band members.

Conduct the Band

Stand confidently on the podium or at the head of a band ready to march.

Raise both hands, either with or without a baton or mace in your right hand.

Wait until the band members are quiet and aware of your presence.

Signal decisively for the band to begin playing.

Follow the score and key signatures and lead the marching band through the entire piece.


Project confidence in your conducting stance. A marching band responds better to a confident band conductor, and an audience enjoys watching someone conduct with self-assurance. Practice conducting with a metronome to make sure you're able to keep a steady beat. Practice conducting in complete silence. The "Stars and Stripes Forever," by John Philip Sousa, is written in a 2/4 time signature and is a good piece for a beginning marching band conductor.


Refrain from tapping your feet while conducting. Foot-tapping indicates insecurity on the part of a band conductor. A raised podium can also amplify foot-tapping sounds, making them unbearably loud for an audience. Try not to blow your whistle or clap excessively when conducting a marching band in a fixed position. The members of the band and of the audience will appreciate being able to hear the music clearly.

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