Squad Spacing

And you thought your band uniforms were bad...

And you thought your band uniforms were bad...

When we talk about "old school" marching band we are really talking about shows involving Bill Moffit's Patterns of Motion.  There is another post that discusses what patterns of motion is in greater detail, but I felt like I should devote an entire post to squad spacing because it is so vital to marching old style drill.  Another great thing about squad spacing is that it can be used as a point of reference when marching even the most modern drill.  

Spacing is EVERYTHING!

When I'm working with bands and drum lines, I seem to yell about spacing more than anything else.  Spacing is everything when it comes to any activity involving a group trying to achieve the same goal.  Turn on a team sporting event, or even sports talk radio, and just count how many times they talk about "spacing on the floor" or "the spacing on the offensive line" or "do you see how they just can't get the spacing right?"  As a hugh fan of the LA Lakers I can tell you that I hear about "spacing on the floor" so much that it has worked it's way into everything I do on the field or floor.  As a tech, it's important that you spend a considerable amount of time thinking about spacing.  Really think about what that means "spacing."  It's not just some buzz word, it actually means something.  

Spacing: the distance between any two objects in a usually regularly arranged series
Wow, so that's what it means!

To put it in the context of our activity, spacing is the distance between two people on the field, or maybe even between a marcher and a marking on the field.  And when we get further into it what we are really talking about is uniformed spacing throughout a form.  In other words, the distance between person A and B is the same between person B and C and the same between C and D and...okay yeah you get it.  Without this uniform spacing the forms look weird.  Another term we use for this is interval.  However, I do think there is a difference.  Spacing doesn't necessarily have to be an exact measurement, we do not have to relate it to a set distance.  We can simply say, "see that space there, now make your space the same as that space."  Interval to me is a defined distance that is absolute.  A 2 step interval is always a 2 step interval no matter what.  That being said, the average 15 year old kid with braces and a horrible case of acne isn't going to hold you feet to the fire on this slight discrepancy  and besides as long as he (or she) ends up in the right spot who really cares what word you used to describe it right?

Okay can we please get to the point

We sure can!  Squad spacing is set spacing between four marchers.  We will define them as marcher A, B, C, and D and they are all members of squad 34.  Squad 34 takes pride in their spacing and since they've read this post they never screw up (although B is a freshman and still can't quite halt correctly every time, but we will pretend that he nails everything.

Let's say squad 34 is set between the right 40 and 35 on the font hash.  They would be parallel to the font sideline.  From here, A would be 1 step outside of the right 40, B would be 3 steps outside the right 40, C would be 3 steps inside the right 35 and D 1 step inside the right 35.  (See Fig 1)

To further analyze it: A is 1 step from the 40, B is 3 steps from the 40, C is 5 steps from the 40, and D is 7 steps from the 40.  OR A is 7 steps from the 35, B 5 steps, C 3 steps,  D is 1 step.  Bored yet?

Basically, all 4 marchers line up in between the 35 and the 40 at a 2 step interval with the outside guys 1 step off the yard line.  THIS IS VITAL: no one is on the yard line, and no one is splitting the yard lines.  This is a key principle to squad spacing.  

When in doubt, use the field

Football fields have all kinds of markings on them to help officials call a game.  In fact, any lines or marks you see on any sports surface are there solely for the refs, umpires, judges, whatever you want to call them.  You can play basketball, baseball, football, rugby, and even lawn bowling without a marked court or field, but in order for the game to be judged appropriately these marking exist.  And to blow your mind even more, no matter what field you go to all of these markings are the same and for the most part are always in the same place (with the exception of hash marks between high school, college, and pro).

Squad spacing becomes easy when you use the markings on the field and it becomes a great tool to teach your band members how to use the markings on the field to guide a show.  

 Holy Crap!  Look at those yard marks!

Holy Crap!  Look at those yard marks!

First a little math:

  • the length of one step at 8 to 5 marching is 22.5 inches
  • There are 36 inches in a yard
  • splitting the yard lines is 90 inches or 2.5 yards (duh)
  • At a 2 step interval the marchers are (hold on let me get my calculator) 45 inches apart or 1.25 yards apart

Now let's clear this up too, if you look at the front sideline of a football field their are 4 yard ticks in between the yard lines (that's because you don't need a 5th tick since the yard line is there [incidentally you'd be surprised how often people get screwed up by this]).  

So if we go back to squad 34:

  • A is 22.5 inches off the 40.  This is not a full yard but also a little more than half a yard.  Therefore, they should be centered just a touch closer to the first yard tick  (13.5 inches away to be exact)
  • B is 3(22.5)= 67.5 inches off the 40.  This is 1.875 yards from the side line (so close to be centered on the 2nd tick but just a little outside of it (4.5 inches to be exact).  An easy way to visualize this is to say that his left pinky toe would be touch the outside of the 2nd tick.
  • C would be like B except related to the 35
  • D would be like A except related to the 35

If you know how to use the field it makes it even easier to guide, especially when now you have the field and the form to guide too, pretty cool if you ask me!

Wait, I forgot why we should use squad spacing...

Well the easiest way is to say, so you can teach a patterns of motion show (which by the way is super cool when you think about it).  But it also is a great way to set a block, line up in squads (4 marchers) at squad spacing and take off.  It's great for individuals to get used to what 2 steps feels like, and it's great to teach how to use the field.  Most importantly, it makes it easy to keep track of the band.  If you have a large ensemble you can split them into squads of 4 and then have a squad leader who is in charge of the other 3 guys.  This makes attendance and accountability so much easier.

But I think when it really comes down to it, it's about putting the marchers in a position to learn what spacing is and what it feels like.  It's a great tool that you can implement into your own program.

"When I was 17, I was a Lakers Girl; I was the youngest girl on the squad." -Moon Bloodgood (yeah I know this realtes in no way but I did mention the Lakers...)


Circle Drill

The greatest marching drill EVER!

Photo used without permission...I am above the law!

Photo used without permission...I am above the law!

Circle drill is great because you can adress almost every aspect of marching with it.  The set up is simple, it can accomodate almost any size group, and the tech or caption head can watch and analyze from the center!

The set-up

  • Put a group of marchers (it could be the brass line, or just the trumpets, or the guard, or the whole battery, or the woodwinds and guard, or the whole horn line, or the whole band if there is enough space, etc...you get it) in a circle.  This can be  tricky at first because for this to really work it's important to have a well formed circle.  If you can, paint a circle on the field or if you have a basketball court you can use the center court circle.
  • Have them face in and then dress right and dress left.  This is good also because they will begin to recognize guiding a curved form.  

Starting the drill

  • I always like to start by marking time for 8 clicks and then 16 clicks.  I'll do this 8 and 16 segment 3 to 5 times at a moderate tempo (say 108-120).  This gets the group used to hitting the heel with the click.  This is your chance as the tech to address the carriage and posture while also making sure each member is capable of feeling the time in their feet.  Have them halt at the end of every 8 and 16 click pattern and dress left or right (switch it up).  This gets them used to halting with the click and in the habit of dressing the form at the end of any sequence be it circle drill or running sets on the field. 

Basic drill patterns

During these drills make sure to check the carry, address guiding with the eyes, toe heights, etc.  Also, VARY THE TEMPO!  Don't stay at 120 the whole day, everybody will be bored!!!

  • Backward march 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Forward march 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Backward march 16-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Forward march 16-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Backward 8-Forward 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Backward 16-Forward 16-halt-"dress"-"ready front"


  • Backward 8-Forward 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Backward 16-Forward 16-halt-"dress"-"ready front"

Lets rotate!

These are designed to get the ensemble used to changing direction during sets.

  • Rotate right 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Rotate left 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front
  • Do the previous 2 but with 16 counts

Let's make it even cooler!

  • Backward 8-Rotate right 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front"
  • Forward 8-Rotate left 8-halt-"dress"-"ready front
  • Do the previous 2 but with 16 counts

You get the idea?  You can get real creative with this too!  Challenge the band with instructions, encourage them to help each other out with the counts.  Have them yell the counts and maneuvers as they do them.  Don't just give commands and have them execute the same way every time.  Say "here we go, help each other out and count out loud."  Then the next time do the same drill but, "it's on you!  count in your head and focus.  We are looking for zero mistakes, you got this!"  Stay excited, and positive reinforcement is key.  Push-ups don't hurt either!

Wow, let's get advanced!

Now you can incorporate all kinds of things into the drill.

  • Have them march a back 8, rotate right 8, back 8, rotate left 8, forward 16, rotate left 8 and halt.  BUT have them snap the horn up and down at the beginning of each segment.
  • Add a hip switch during a rotation: back 8, rotate right 16 with a hip switch on 8, forward 8 and halt
  • Add halts in the middle of a drill: back 8, rotate right 8, halt 8, rotate left 8, back 8, halt 4, forward 16, and halt
  • Have the members guide the circle in a direction: move the circle to the right 16 (note: not a rotation, literally moving the circle 16 steps at an 8x5 stride)
  • Move the circle in the middle of a drill: back 8, rotate left 8, guide circle right 16, and halt


Circle drill can be used to check every aspect of marching.  From the carry of the horn to touch and go's to step size, guiding, etc.  Make it a regular part of your marching warm up and watch how much better you group gets!

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal."- Henry Ford



Hey dummy!  BREATHE!!!

Hey dummy!  BREATHE!!!

Breathing is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of making the music sound good.  You MUST spend a significant amount of time on breathing if you want your group to play at a high level.  The great thing about breathing is that it is a natural event that our bodies do, the hard part is that almost everyone fails to breath correctly, utilizing a shallow breath.

Types of Breaths

  • Shallow Breathing= Good for sitting and watching TV
  • Deep Breathing= Perfect for playing an instrument and sounding great doing it

The "Home" Breath

This type of breath seems to work well as it opens the throat and sends air to the lowest point of the air column.  It also does well to fill up the entire air column in a short amount of time.  The reason we call it the home breath is because the creation of the word home by the mouth puts the body in the correct position to breath.  When you say home but breathe inward (I know seems counterintuitive) you will notice how the air drives to the bottom of the air column.

To teach:

  • Have everyone say "home" several times
  • Have them say home and breath in several times (take time in between otherwise a lot of people are gonna pass out)
  • While listening make sure the breath is silent (or almost silent).  If you hear any hissing or gasping this means that the throat is closed off...this is bad!
  • "Horns Up!": Have them breath and then play a concert F in the staff and hold for 4 clicks.  Then 8 clicks, then 12, 16...you get where I'm going here
  • Start incorportating the breath in the count off to get the ensemble used to breathing in time ie: 1-2 and breathe 2-3-4.  (Get it, when you say breathe it's count 1 of the 2nd bar of the count off so they breathe through counts 2,3, and 4.
  • Note: I don't like to have them set on 4, this implies to many players that they sound hold their breath for a count.  This is bad!  A good breath should flow directly into the note, there is no stop.  Think of it like a good golf swing or tennis swing or bowling toss or basketball shot.  It's continuous, fluid, and has a tempo to it.  DON'T HOLD THE BREATH!

Exercises for Breathing

Utilizing a click:

  • In for 8, out for 8
  • In for 6, out for 8
  • In for 4, out for 8
  • In for 2, out for 8
  • In for 1, out for 8

Experiment further with these tempos and check out The Breathing Gym


Spend a lot of time on breathing!  It's easy to forget to do it or feel like the extra 3 minutes not doing it will be better spent working on an extra set or 8 more bars of music   This is a bad mental place to be, when the breath works the sound of the group is WAY better and in the end this is THE most important part of the music.  If you play the right notes and rhythms but sound terrible, no judge is going to give you high points.  A good breath means a loud, full, in-tune, and balanced ensemble.  Get to work!

"Here again, air to sound"- Boyde Hood (Trumpet LA Phil, Professor of Trumpet USC)


Not the bopping we are talking about...but it's some real good bopping!

Not the bopping we are talking about...but it's some real good bopping!

Bopping is one of those exercises that everyone hates, yet is seems to yield the best results in terms of cleaning music.  The purpose of bopping is to clean up the attacks of the ensemble to ensure that the entire group is attacking together.  This covers one of the two important parts of a group playing clean, the other being releases. 

How to Bop:

Bopping occurs at a pp volume level and is achieved by playing short staccato eighth notes where each note starts.  This technique can be utilized in sectionals, hornline rehearsals, and field rehearsals.  It also is a vital tool to use before entering the competition field to ensure that everyone's ears are open and an internal pulse exists.

How to Introduce Bopping:

  • Start with a major scale (B-flat major is a good one)
  • Have the hornline play to a click (either Dr. Beat, woodblock, clapping, etc.) at a moderate tempo (q=110)
  • The group plays whole notes ascending and descending the scale tounging each note at a mf volume.  
  • Now have the group play the same scale at the same bpm but now have them play staccato eigth notes at a pp volume at what would be the beginning of the whole note (beat 1 of a 4/4 bar)
  • Tell the hornline that the goal is for everyone to attack together and they need to listen.  It will become obvious who is not attacking properly on the beat.  

Other Ways to Use Bopping

  • Before a contest, run parts of the show with bopping to open the ears
  • Have the drum major conduct without the taps and have the hornline bop
  • Run segments of the show on the field with the drill and bop the musi
  • While in and arc or circle, count the group off and have them bp without any audible or visual tempo.  This is useful to help the group internalize the beat
  • Juxtapose scales between playing long notes and boppin

Bopping is not much fun, until your group does it well, but it is a valuable tool to clean up the music your group is performing.  Make it a habit within the group's rehearsal times and you will see the difference.  Since the technique is slightly advanced it will take your group time to get good at bopping, however the learning curve of getting good at bopping seems to coincide with the music getting progressively cleaner.