Is poor posture hurting your sound?…
Yes, poor posture ranks right up there with inadequate breath support as a main cause of poor sound quality. Poor posture leads to tension, and a tense body produces an unsupported, shrill, and thin tone. When you make the choice of committing to improving your marching band’s sound by focusing on marching technique, you are making a season long commitment of improving your bands posture. It is a very important aspect of marching technique, and I’m going give a few pointers and checkpoints for you to think about.
Attention: the foundation of marching technique.
Attention is your marching technique foundation. Without a solid foundation your marching technique program will crumble. Attention should be the most relaxed position your band makes, and I will venture to say that 99% of directors and instructors teach a from-the-ground-up method. You start with your feet and draw a line from the ankles to the ears. Telling the kids to roll the shoulders back and to squeeze a grape. Am I right?
What we need to do is reverse the rounded shoulder, head forward, weight into the hips posture that we have. Breaking everyday-life bad habits is one of the major keys in improving marching technique. I found the best way to do this is from the top down (sans the feet). I do explain foot positions first, and go over the term “platform” (the platform is the ball of the foot area that one typically marches backwards on), but after that, I tell the kids to fall into a position of standing tall. From there, I begin to fix the problems.
First thing: the ears! Yes, not only do the ears play a part in the music, they are important in marching technique. The marchers ears must be over the back of the shoulder! This is done to correct the head-forward posture that we have developed over time. You will see about 95% of your members move their head back about 3-5 inches.
Next, I move to the neck, and begin to stretch out the spine. A simple “lift you head like God has a string tied to it and is pulling straight up”. This will produce a sense of lightness with the head.
Shoulders: Chances are that they are rounded forwards, creating tension we don’t need. I focus on moving the shoulders back and down. Zero tension and 100% relaxed. Right after they find that “magic spot”, remind them of their head and neck. You will see a one inch backward movement of the head. Arms are to remain down and relax to the side of the leg. Just let the hands be, don’t make a fist as I find that this creates added tension.
Body center: I have an area that I call “center,” and it is the area right bellow the sternum. The center must be “lifted” and “over the platform” . This will add about another inch to your members height, and keeps their head back and lifted. This also opens up and relaxes the ribcage, easing tension that will lead to a more relaxed and full breath. Like I said, this is really about sound.
Another point about awareness of center. This will come in to play when you begin to move as the majority of straight-leg marching techniques involve the center moving at step off. I’ll save this for future series as we dig deeper into marching technique .
Pelvis: The key point is to emphasize “getting your weight out of your lower back,” and they way you do that is to lift and lengthen the spine. You will now see members add another inch in height. Also, we need to address the classic butt-poking-out posture. I tell members to bring their pelvis forward and under. I don’t ever say “tighten you rear end” or “squeeze some tiny fruit”. Simply tell them to tuck the pelvis under… while lifting and lengthening your spine! Now if you have techs, I recommend one male and one female (or more) to go around and point out pelvis issues. Use your own judgement if they are to be hands-on.
Legs/Hips: This is very simple, the legs are straight, but not locked. Also, I point out that there should be no settling the weight in the hips. Once you point that out, add another ½ inch to the height of your band.
As you see, the three main words you use are: lift, lengthen, and relaxed. This will be your “go to” words for the season, and you will soon see drastic improvement with your marching technique.
Adding the instrument
Now it’s time to train that 8th grader on how to hold a marching baritone! All I can say is…
Just kidding, it is not that hard to do. I’m not going into detail now on how to hold a horn ( but will in a future article on marching technique), but what I am going to tell you is that you need to break some habits and start some new ones.
First thing, stop using attention and horn holding as a form of punishment! When you start treating and teaching members the way you want to be taught, your results will sky rocket. This is advice DCI Hall of Fame member, Todd Ryan (aka.. the god of feet), has shared over the years. For some reason, us visual people tend to yell a lot. I was one of those types, but I changed my tune and my kids started to enjoy learning marching technique in basics, results happened at a quicker pace, and scores went through the roof.
Next, don’t add weight to the horns!!!! This is stupid on many levels, and I hope you realize why. The key to holding your horn correctly is to simply hold the horn… while maintaining proper posture. You don’t need a boot-camp worth of push-ups to make that happen.
Like I said at the beginning of the article, this is a season long commitment. Talk to your band and have them commit to focusing on proper posture, at all times, 100% of the time.
My last piece of advice is about addressing the “at all times, 100% of the time” issue. I bet maybe only a handful of directors do this. I’m recommending to put the chairs away till you rehearse concert band music. The best way to perform with proper posture is to practice with proper posture!
I hope this article helps you and your students for seasons to come. My next article will be about maintaining proper posture on the field. We will introduce upper body posture during slides, and put in place new exercises and routines for your program
If you wish to read more into posture, I recommended doing research into the “Alexander Technique.” You will discover how many music professionals have taken Alexander-based classes and workshops as a way to improve their musical performance. If it is worthy enough for world-class opera singers, it is worthy enough for your band. It really is about the music.
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