How to March in Marching Band (Basic Steps and Techniques)

You have decided to join your school’s marching band and are about to attend “band camp.”  You may not know how marching band camp works, but the central part of it is marching.

Everyone in the band knows it is your first time in the marching band. They all have been in your shoes and are not judging you as you learn.

Usually, nobody comes to their first marching band camp knowing how to march. It is likely that the other older band members haven’t done any marching since football season ended. They, too, need to refresh their muscle memories.

You will learn and review over and over how your band marches during your time in band camp, but we are here to give you a peek at some of the basic steps and techniques you will learn for marching band. 

Note: Please keep in mind that every marching band is different. The names of steps, commands, and style elements will vary by band. If your school doesn’t learn or use some of the steps or techniques mentioned below, that’s okay.

These are some of the most basic steps and techniques to march in the marching band. Try them out at home to boost your marching confidence before your first day of band camp!

Marching Band Stationary Commands

Stationary commands are some of the first marching skills you will learn on your first day of band camp (or marching practice). These steps are done in place, and you do not move from where you stand.

The basic stationary commands include:

  • Attention Position
  • Parade Rest
  • Mark Time
  • Dressing/Cover Down

1. Attention Position

Attention Position is one of the most used stationary commands you will learn in the marching band. Before your halftime show begins, your drum major will call the band to Attention Position. This signifies the show is about to start and that everyone on the field is focused and ready to step off when the drum major conducts the first beat of the song. 

Attention position requires you to stand with your heels together and toes either facing parallel or in a pie-wedge/V  position. A pie-wedge or V position means that your heels are touching and your toes are open,  forming a 45-degree (or smaller) angle, much like a slice of pie. Below are images of the pie-wedge or V position for feet and parallel feet positions.

In Attention Position, your ankles should be aligned with your heels, and your knees are straight. Straight knees are not the same as locked knees. Locking your knees to force straight legs while in Attention Position restricts blood flow and can cause you to faint.

Keep your hips in line with your legs, and stand straight and tall. Your shoulders should be rolled back, with your head facing front and your eyes focused in front of you or towards the drum major.

Once called to the Attention Position, you should not move or talk. Check out the video below from Stony Brook University on what a typical Attention Position will look like! 

2. Parade Rest

Parade Rest is used to communicate that the band members do not need to be standing in Attention Position but should be ready to snap into Attention Position quickly.

Note: Parade Rest for the marching band is very similar visually to military Parade Rest. A band member will stand with their feet hip-width apart, with their weight evenly distributed between both legs.

A band member’s right hand will be held at or on the lower back with the palm facing outward, fingers connected in a blade shape. The right elbow is pointed directly to the side and should not droop.

The left hand and arm will be pinned to the left side of the body at a 90-degree angle, and the instrument shall be held in the left hand, perpendicular to the ground.

Some bands may ask students to tilt their heads toward the ground slightly in this position or remain facing front with a fixed gaze. Other bands may have students hold their horns with both hands at their waists in front of their legs. Check out the video below that demonstrates how a band member transitions into and out of Parade Rest.

Standard Parade Rest Position

3. Mark Time

The third stationary command you will learn in marching band is how to Mark Time.

Your band may use one of the two primary Mark Time styles: Low Mark Time or High Mark Time. For the first form of Mark Time, the Low Mark Time, a band member will stand in attention position and lift their left heel off the ground while keeping the ball of the foot connected to the ground.

This will be the first count; on the second, the left heel returns to the ground while the right heel lifts. All odd number counts will raise the left heel, and all even counts raise the right heel off the ground. 

Note: Marking Time is a way to feel the tempo/beat of the band physically. When standing and rehearsing your show music, your director may ask the band to play while Marking Time.

It can feel a bit odd at first to be trudging your feet while standing in place, but it soon becomes second nature. Think of a Low Mark Time as the marching band version of tapping your toe along to the music in a concert or orchestral band setting. Check out the video below to see what Marking Time looks like!

The second variation of Mark Time your band may teach is a High Mark Time. This is a common way bands that use the high-step marching style will learn to mark time.

High Mark Time

For the High Mark Time, you will draw your left foot up the inside of your right leg (sometimes called “dragging the track”) while keeping the big toe or the arch of the left foot touching the right leg.

The chair is at its highest when the foot’s arch is level with the right knee. Then like the standard Mark Time, on the second beat, the left foot moves down, and the right foot lifts to the side of the left leg.

The toe of the foot in the air must always be pointed downward. The toes will be the last part of the foot off the ground and the first part of the foot to touch the ground when the next count starts.

Note: Since all bands are different and use different marching styles, a High Mark Time may stop at the knee, calf, or ankle.

Check out the video below to see how the Indiana University Marching Hundred execute their High Mark Time (and note that the band does not connect the arch of the foot to the leg. This is simply a stylistic choice).

4. Dress/Cover Down

One of the most critical parts of a successful marching band performance is executing the drill and making clean shapes on the field.

To achieve that, the band must dress the lines or cover down to maintain straight lines. Dressing or Cover Down refers to how a band member uses their peripheral vision to see if they are in line with the marchers on either side of them or with an entire line (when in a diagonal line). 

The rule of thumb for dressing is if you can’t see the person directly next to you in your peripheral vision, you are out of the line. When looking at a diagonal line, the line is not straight if you can see other people in the line, either in front or behind you. You should only be able to see the person standing in front and directly next to you on the field. 

Note: You will hear your director and drum major constantly calling out for everyone to Dress or Cover Down countless times during every marching band practice. Even if you think you are in line, when someone calls to Dress the line or Cover Down, always check and adjust your position accordingly. 

Marching Technique and Steps

Once the band has learned and mastered stationary commands, the band will move on to learning moving steps and basic marching techniques.

Before we break down some of these basic steps, there are a few things we must first discuss.

Note: Every step in a marching band will start with the left foot. Always. This dates back to marching band’s origins as military bands and has not changed since. How you march varies by band, but one thing is universal, you always lead with your left foot.

Another concept in marching band relates to step size, known as 8 to 5. This means it should only take eight steps to move five yards across the field from one-yard line to the next. By the count of four, a marcher should be in the middle of the space between the line on which they began and the line in front of them. 

The concept of 8 to 5 ensures all members take even-sized steps every time. The proper step size is 22.5 inches. It is impossible to know if each step you take is exactly 22.5 inches in length which is why marching step size is simplified to 8 to 5.

Remember the rule of 8 to 5 because it controls how you execute forward and backward marching steps, which we will discuss below! The basic steps in this section include Roll Stepping (used to march forward), High Stepping (used to march forward), Backwards Marching, Right and Left Slides, Crab Stepping, and Jazz Running.

1. Roll Stepping 

If your school does not use a high-step marching style, they will use a marching maneuver known as Roll Stepping. Everyone must walk the same way as you move 8 steps between each five-yard line on the field.

When you Roll Step, you will roll through the foot that steps out in front of you, starting from the heel and ending with the toe. To begin Roll Stepping, your left leg will extend straight in front of your body with the edge of your heel touching the ground.

The toes will be flexed or pulled back to point at the sky. As you step, you will roll through the arch of the foot, the ball, then the toes. 

Roll Stepping, when done correctly, creates a smooth gait that doesn’t bobble or run the risk of becoming unbalanced.

Tip: A trick to mastering the Roll Step is to imagine holding a shallow bowl of boiling soup in your hands, and you need to move it from the stove to the table. You have to walk carefully to prevent the soup from spilling and burning you.

To do that, you will roll your steps. Don’t worry if your calves hurt after your first day of band camp. This means you are activating those muscles and using them to give you a perfect-looking Roll Step.

Many people naturally walk with a rolled step, and this way of moving may not feel any different on a field which is ok. The main thing to remember is to keep your toes up at the start of each step. You will use Roll Stepping when you march forward and to the side.  To see a great example of the Roll Step technique, check out the video below!

Marching Band Tutorial Part 1

2. High Stepping 

For bands that do not use Roll Stepping and instead use military-style marching, the way to march forwards is by High Stepping. To execute a proper high step, the left leg will lift and come to rest in a “chair” position. The chair position means your thigh is parallel to the ground at hip level or just below hip level, bending at the knee. 

Your shin should be perpendicular to the ground in a straight line from the knee, and the toes should be pointed toward the ground, just like in a High Mark Time step.

Again, the left foot always steps first, and care must be taken to maintain the 8 to 5 step size (22.5 inches). When moving from one leg to the other, the movements should be smooth, and the ball of your foot should never slam down into the ground.

Caution: You will bruise the ball of your foot or cause a stress fracture in your metatarsals if you are too aggressive with your High Step.

 If you intend on marching while in college, many universities will use High Stepping during their pre-game shows but use Roll Stepping during halftime or in parades.

A great way to perfect your High Stepping is to go home after band camp or rehearsal and stand sideways in a mirror while marching. It will be easier to see the position of your legs and can help correct issues like leg height or extending the shin too far forward.

Check out the video below to see the Florida State University Marching Chiefs perform their high-step style, “Chief Stepping,” which is done for every pregame show.

3. Backward Marching

Forward Marching is a walk in the park thanks to the 8 to 5 method then there is its evil twin, Backwards Marching.

Backward Marching requires balance, taking steps that you can not easily see the length of (since it is behind you), and you must remain on the balls of your feet the entire time. Everyone struggles with Backwards Marching at first, but we promise the more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

To begin Backward Marching from an Attention Position, you must rise up onto the balls of your feet and keep your heels lifted as high off the ground as you can. Once you are on the balls of your feet, your left foot will step with a straight leg behind you while keeping the heels raised, and your weight will shift to the left leg.

Your right foot and leg will swing like a pendulum behind you, just like the left did as you take the next step. Your knees should not bend when marching backward, and you should not lean back; instead, move with a long and tall spine. Your heels should never touch the ground while Backwards Marching.

Note: When Backward Marching, you have to follow the 8 to 5 rule and to ensure each step size is 22.5 inches, you will want to take a step back that feels larger than it actually is.

The steps may feel massive because your weight and center of balance have changed, and you cannot see your leg or foot with your peripheral vision. The lack of visibility takes some practice to get used to, but that is why you attend band camp, to learn how to do challenging steps like Backwards Marching. 

Like with Forward Marching on the Roll or High Step, your body should not bounce up and down with each step. Instead, you should maintain as smooth a gait as possible.

Tip: When Backwards Marching, engaging your core and glutes is important for stability. This is going to sound silly but when you march backward, imagine you have a grape between your butt cheeks. 

You want to squeeze your glutes as you step and make grape juice, but you can’t drop the grape. “Making grape juice” as you Backwards March automatically aligns your hips/pelvis and engages the core muscles.

Your balance and gait will be 10 times better when you think about the grape juice when learning how to Backwards March. Hopefully, it is weird and silly enough for you to remember it.

Check out the video below to see what Backwards Marching looks like. As the step is demonstrated, pay close attention to how high the heels are lifted off the ground. 

4. Left and Right Slide (Sideways Marching)

In marching band, you always want the audience to hear you as well as possible. This means playing with your shoulders and horn facing the stands as much as possible. With your shoulders facing the front sideline, you can watch the drum major and stay on tempo.

Note: If you have to march sideways towards or away from the 50-yard line, you must keep your shoulders facing the audience, which requires bands to use a Left or Right Slide. 

After you have mastered Forward and Backwards Marching, it is time to twist it up, literally. When performing a Left or Right Slide with a Roll Step, your lower body (hips, legs, and feet) will point to the side in the direction you are moving. At the same time, you have to rotate your upper body 90 degrees to ensure your shoulders are facing the front sideline. 

Left and Right Slides are difficult to describe with words alone, but they are easier than they sound. Sliding is a bit uncomfortable, and you will 100% feel it in your back while learning it at band camp.

Caution: It is awkward and will make your back ache, but it should never be painful. Over-rotating to the point of pain is dangerous and causes injuries in the back, your abdominal muscles, and even your hips and thighs. 

The goal is to twist your upper body 90 degrees away from your feet, but it may only be physically possible for some people to do that. For brass players, focus instead on keeping the bell of your horn pointed directly at the crowd.

For woodwinds, pretend you have the name of your school in big block letters across your chest.  Focus on twisting your body so everyone in the stands can read your school’s full name no matter where you move on the field. Take a look at the video below to see a demonstration of Left and Right Slides and how much to rotate your upper body.

5. Crab Stepping 

If you are a member of the battery or drum line in the marching band, you will learn a technique used for marching laterally that is called Crab Stepping. Crab Stepping is used because, unlike the brass and woodwind members of the band, who can rotate their upper bodies easily, your harness prevents you from twisting. The Crab Step is how you should execute Left and Right Slides every time.

To perform the Crab Step moving to the right, your left foot will always cross in front of your right foot. To move to the left, your right foot will always cross in front of your left foot. Check out the video below by Vic Firth to learn more about Crab Stepping and to see what it looks like! 

6.  Jazz Running

Jazz Running is a unique marching band step you may have to learn depending on the drill you must perform.

Jazz Running is a way of running long distances at speeds faster than standard marching. If you need to travel 30 yards in 16 counts, you may need to Jazz Run in order to get to your next set.

When you Jazz Run, your legs are bent the entire time, and you will dip in height slightly when you move. Jazz Running is all in the quads and lower legs, leaving your upper body still enough to play as you run. 

Note: It is popular to use a few ballet exercises to prepare for Jazz Running. They are super beneficial for learning the running technique.

The two exercises are tendus devant and a demi plié in first position.

They are super helpful for learning the body positions used in Jazz running. Tendu means “tight or stretched,” and devant means “in front of.” To execute a tendu devant, stand in the pie wedge position and extend your left leg in front of you, keeping your pinky toe touching the ground. 

You want to rotate your leg in your hip socket so the outside edge of your pinky toe connects with the field, and your heel is lifted. The only part of your body that should move is the left leg (aka the “working leg”), and your body should not lean forwards or backward. Only the leg moves. Return to the pie wedge position and do the same with your right leg a few times.

The next ballet exercise for Jazz Running is the demi plié in first position. Demi plié means a slight bend of the knees. In your pie wedge position, bend your knees halfway while keeping your feet on the ground.

Do not tilt the upper body; you simply will go down in height, but nothing other than the knees move. This is not a complex exercise; it only requires a bit of balancing.

When Jazz Running, you want to stay in the demi plié position and take strides forward.  Use the tendu devant, starting with your left leg first, transfer your weight onto that leg and extend the right leg in the same position. It feels and looks a bit ridiculous, but you can travel far down the field using a Jazz Run.

To see the tendu and plié exercises and what a Jazz Run looks like, check out the video from the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. Watch the following video to see DCI band members from the Blue Devils Jazz Running. 

These stationary commands and marching band steps/techniques will be things you learn while at band camp, and it is ok if any of these are challenging.

You may be using new muscles, twisting in different ways, or holding your body in a different position than you usually do. It gets easier as camp continues and why marching bands rehearse one to two (or more) times a week on the field. 

Again, not all marching bands perform these commands, steps, or maneuvers the same way or call them the same terms. However, these are some basic steps and positions you will likely encounter. You can practice these marching band basics at home on your own if you want to before you attend band camp to help you feel more confident.

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