Marches: Rehearsal Techniques and Performance Practices

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Nothing in the band world is more inspiring, thrilling, and musically satisfying to band audiences than a stirring march, when performed by a superb band under the direction of vital, inspired leadership. Select marches carefully, rehearse them thoroughly, and perform them with life, vitality and observe your audience reaction.

-William D. Revelli
The University of Michigan


Should 21st Century bands, wind bands or wind ensembles program marches? Of course! Marches are a legitimate musical form with the same construction as the third movement of a Classical symphony, a minuet and trio. While it is true that American marches do not usually di capo the first two strains the concept is the same. In addition, most “serious” composers (Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, etc.) wrote marches. The march in all its various reincarnations is a historic legacy of wind ensembles and must be prepared and performed with the same seriousness and rehearsal care as other musical forms.

  1. General Performance Considerations
    1. March tempo varies based on several factors:
      1. The style of the march, i.e. military, circus, nationality.
      2. The technical limitations of the ensemble.
      3. The acoustical properties of the performance hall.
      4. Military marches do not, traditionally, change tempo.
    2. Rehearsal suggestions (tempo):
      1. Have a snare drum play sixteenth notes on the rim of the drum, evenly and with a slight accent on the beat, while rehearsing the winds to help with subdivision and the internalization of the pulse.
      2. Rehearse without the percussion as wind players must be able to maintain the pulse and rhythmic energy without the percussion section.
      3. If there is a passage which is not being articulated in a unified and precise manner have students speak the articulation without instruments.
    3. March style is detached style. Notes must not touch each other. There should be a slight separation on the release of each tone before articulating the succeeding note (William Revelli).
    4. It should be stressed that to achieve marcato style, the tongue should not be used to stop the sound. Students should use “tah” or “dah”, not “tut” or dut.”
  2. Accents are essential to characteristic march performances.
    1. Emphasize accented notes by playing the notes that precede and follow accented notes with extra lightness and finesse to highlight the contrast. The shift in emphasis gives the performance the necessary drive and energy.
    2. In the very common march rhythm quarter-half-quarter in cut-time, the first and third note should be played lightly with the stress on the second note (half note). [Measures 2 and 4]
    3. In march style a measure with a short note on beat one and a longer note on beat two requires that the stress fall on count two. [Measures 3 & 4]

3. As much care should be given to the preparation of a musical line as to any other composition.

  1. As with all music, great care should be given to the shaping of the musical lines. Possibilities include:2. Create obvious style contrasts between legato and marcato passages.
    3. Counter melodies and other secondary lines should be given as much rehearsal importance as the melody.4. The soft end of the dynamic spectrum should be exaggerated for the sake of contrast.
    5. It may be helpful to alter the instrumentation of a passage to achieve contrast.

    1. Delete specific instruments.
    2. Lower a part an octave.
    3. It is sometimes necessary to create opportunities for dynamic contrast.

4. Balance of harmony is essential and will take extra care.

  1. The bass line provides the harmonic foundation and rhythmic stability.
    1. The bass line should be rehearsed slowly and with length to the pitches emphasizing the tonal aspect of the part and harmonic changes.
    2. Perform the bass line with a slight stress to the first beat of each measure helping to generate forward motion and the natural “Left – Right” of a march.
  2. In traditional marches the complete chord is, at times, only present in the horn parts.
  3. Horn parts (after beats) and bass line should be rehearsed carefully in chorale style, slowly and with length to emphasize the harmonic importance of the parts.
  4. Let the horn players know that the after beats are an important component of the performance.

5. Individual parts may need to be edited.

  1. For the sake of balance when there are less than ideal instrumentation it may be desirable to rewrite specific parts.

    1. A frequent example in older marches when a publisher needed to add parts for instruments not in the original score was the changing of the designation on the Tenor Saxophone part to Bass Clarinet. This part is often not appropriate for the new instrument. An appropriate part should be written for the Bass Clarinet.
    2. If the published first clarinet part is identical to the flute part, as is the case with many older marches, the second clarinet could be marked as first clarinet; third part designated as second clarinet and a new third clarinet part written based on other existing parts used to reinforce weaker sections.

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As a public-school music educator who has arranged and composed music for students throughout his career, Gene makes music that is grade level appropriate while being musically interesting.