Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sample Practice Schedule For Winter Guard

It's important to have a plan for each practice before you start. Make a list of realistic goals and an achievable schedule to keep you on target.  Here is a sample schedule to help you get started:

Most winter guard practices tend to be three hours, in my experience.  The first hour should be dedicated to warm-ups and basics.  Start with a dance warm-up and stretch to get your muscles moving. Many guards begin every practice with some cardio like jogging around the gym. Then go over dance basics and across-the-floors. If you have a dance basics routine you do each rehearsal, pick one move or section to really focus on and improve each day. Then do the whole routine while implementing those improvements. Do the same thing with your flag basics routine.  Go over tosses - basic tosses plus specific ones with preps from your show.  Finally, do the same thing with a weapon warm up and basics.  All of this should be covered in the first hour and will absolutely improve the performance and technique in your show.  Time spent improving basics is always time well spent. 

The second hour of practice will involve something different, depending on what stage of the season you're at.  In the beginning, this hour will be spent learning new drill or new choreography.  Later in the season this hour can be spent reviewing, cleaning, or changing existing choreography and staging.  This is a good time to address some of your judges' comments.

The final hour of practice should involve putting the show together.  Run sections or "chunks" of your show that include parts you worked on during the previous hour.  Include time for run-throughs at the end, but also during this hour so your guard doesn't get too exhausted doing multiple runs in a row.  Plan which sections you can run and work on beforehand when you're scheduling your practice.  That way you'll be sure to get to everything you need to work on.  This is also a good time to work on transitions.  Before you start competitions, this is also a prime time to practice setting your equipment and exiting the floor so your team is prepared.

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Top Costume Sources For Color/Winter Guard

Here's a list of some of my favorite places to look for a winter or color guard costume.  They're in no particular order but I've added a quick blurb about each to help you find what you're looking for.  I have had good experiences with all of these sites and would recommend any of them.  Choosing a costume for your guard depends on budget, show design, and style! Good luck!

The Band Hall is probably the best place to go for traditional guard costumes. They will also work with you to create custom designs. Several big name drum corps and winter guards use this company for their costume needs.

A Wish Come True is a newer company that has really grown and offers a wide variety of costumes for guard and dance. They have some very unique fabrics you can choose from when personalizing your order.
Discount Dance Supply has basics, tops, bottoms, and some dresses all at a great price. These will cost quite a bit less than typical guard costumes.

Fred J. Miller is another big name with typical guard costumes and big name clients.

McCormick's is one of my favorite companies to order from because it's a little smaller.  You get great customer service and fast delivery. They only have a few costumes available in stock, but they will work with you individually to create custom designs.

Guard Closet is a website where you can buy used equipment, flags, and costumes. Color guards can post items for sale on this site and they are often at a steep discount but still in good condition.

Style Plus offers several costumes in stock which is good if you wait until the last minute to place your order! They also have some very fun and modern fabrics to choose from, even if they don't have the largest variety.

Dancewear Solutions sells mostly dance basics and practice wear but has some gorgeous performance pieces to choose from. They have low prices and excellent shipping costs.

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Outline Your Winter Guard Show

When writing a winter guard show, it pays to be organized so all the components of your show come together.  Drill needs to match the choreography and it all needs to match your music.  Once you have your music picked out, the next step is it make an outline of your show. Begin by listening to your music. A lot. Over and over.  Discover the different layers and timing of the piece. Now you can write your music map.

The first step is to make a list of counts and which part of music it corresponds to. Like this:

1-16: intro
1-32: verse 1
1-32: verse 1
1-16: bridge
1-32: chorus
1-8:   transition
1-32: verse 2... and so on.

Next you can add details about what is happening in each section of music.  You can list the timing of big hits, cymbal crashes, quiet parts, or even lyrics. Like this:

1-16: intro (piano)
1-32: verse 1 (cymbal crash on count 9)
1-32: verse 1
1-16: bridge (building bigger)
1-32: chorus (big!)
1-8:   transition (instrumental)
1-32: verse 2 (says "turn around" on counts 13-15)... and so on. 

Finally you can outline what will happen in your show for each section of music. Like this:

1-16: intro -- solo dancer
1-32: verse 1 -- small group of flags enter. flag toss on count 9
1-32: verse 1 -- continue flag work
1-16: bridge -- add-on flag work, adding more members on floor
1-32: chorus -- large ensemble flag feature
1-8:    transition -- rifle line exits floor to exchange equipment. feature small flag line
1-32: verse 2 -- rifle line enters. performers turn or face back on counts 13-15... and so on.

Once you have this outline all laid out for your show, it is so much easier to write your drill and choreography. You'll know all the important counts to hit and where each toss or feature should occur.  You can also share this outline with all the other instructors so everyone can work on different sections of the show and not be confused about where each part it.  This extra work before you start is a great way to keep your show organized and will facilitate a smooth process. Good luck!

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tips on Choosing Winter Guard Show Music

Picking the right show music can make or break your show. It is very important to pick good music for several reasons. Here are a few suggestions to follow when choosing music for your indoor show.

1. Choose music with plenty of dynamics.  Show music should have ups and downs; layers of sound; and definitive sections like a beginning, middle, and end.  Music that is too repetitive or monotone is not only boring to listen to, but it is also difficult to write to.  Natural dips and changes in the music lend itself well to drill movements and choreography.

2. The length of a song should also be considered when choosing show music. Be sure to check the timing guidelines for your class before finalizing your music selection.  A song that is significantly longer or shorter than the allotted time will be difficult to cut. You can easily add on about 30 seconds to most songs by looping an introduction or repeating a single verse or chorus.  However, cutting or adding on more than that becomes repetitive or can lose the meaning of your song choice.

3. It is a good idea to double check that your song hasn't been used in the past five years, at least.  If you use the same music as another group, your show might be compared to theirs.  You don't want judges to have a bad memory of the song you chose -- nor do you want to live up to their high expectations of that song if that's the case.

4. Current Top 20 songs don't always make a good choice for two reasons: a) other groups may have chosen the same music; and b) it may be too overplayed on the radio and disliked by the time performances start.

5.  Considering the tempo of a song is a very important part of choosing music! A tempo that is too fast will be hard to keep up with, but a tempo that is too slow will be difficult to clean and performers will tend to speed up. A tempo of about 120 (two beats per second) is a good speed to stick with.  Practice doing comfortable drop spins with the song as a test when you're not sure.

6.  Time signature is also important to consider.  Counts in 3/4 time might be confusing to more inexperienced performers.  Sometimes it is easier to find a song in 4/4 time with even, 16 count phrases.  A song with a strong back beat will be easier for beginners to count, and easier for you to clean once the choreography has been filled in.

7. Finally, pick music that is pleasant to listen to.  It should appeal to the judges, the audience, the performers, and the staff because you'll be listening to it for months! Make sure it's not a song you'll soon tire of.

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sample Winter Guard Audition Schedule

It's that time of year again - winter guard auditions! There is a lot of information to get across; skills to go over; and decisions to be made at winter guard auditions - but not a lot of time. For a beginner guard or a new director, this can be an overwhelming process. Here is a sample schedule that will help you get through the process with a little less stress.  Adjust the times as needed to best fit your group, depending on time allotted and amount of weapon you intend to have in your show.

1:00-1:15 - Start your auditions with a short, informational meeting.  Let your group know your process and philosophy.  Give a brief history of your guard's accomplishments. Introduce staff members and if you have time, have potential members state their name, experience, and what school/group they are from. 

1:15-1:30 - Begin with a nice stretch and dance basics, including across the floors. This should be a condensed version of your typical warm-up.

1:30-1:50 - Learn a short dance routine that will be part of your audition process.  You really only need about 32-64 counts.  It should be to music and include styles of dance you intend to put in your show.

1:50-1:55 - Water break / transition to equipment.

1:55-2:15 - Now go through a simple flag block to touch on many basics and a variety of tosses.  Again, this can be a shortened version of your typical flag warm-up. Take special notes on which potential members are particularly strong on tosses.

2:15-2:35 - Teach a short flag routine to music that will be part of your audition process.  Only about 64 counts is necessary but be sure to include a variety of skills in your routine.

2:35-2:40- Water break / transition to equipment. Performers that are interested in spinning weapons should come out with rifles and/or sabres.  Others that are not interested should remain on flag and go with another staff member to review the routine and basics.

2:40-3:00 - Go through a short rifle warm up block, including tosses. Basics will be difficult for many beginning spinners so don't focus too long on basics.  Sometimes they can perform a routine better than doing fifty drop spins. You'll have more time in your season to strengthen basic skills if your group doesn't already have a good grip on them. Learn a short rifle routine, about 32 counts.  Don't focus on basics in this routine.  Instead, make it more about how well a perform can move with or control their equipment.  Definitely include at least on toss.

3:00-3:20 - Repeat the weapon process on sabre. 

3:20-3:30- Give everyone an open time to review in groups or on their own. Be available to answer questions, but also use this time to take notes and speak with other staff members about their thoughts.

3:30-3:55 - Finally, go through your official audition process. Call out a small group at a time to perform the dance routine, flag routine, and weapons routines (if they participated).  Take notes during each performance.

3:55-4:00 - Make your final remarks and thank everyone for coming.  Answer questions that anyone might have and let them know you will make the final decision with the full staff and contact each attendee that week. 

Good luck!

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Top 10 Comments from an Auxiliary Adjudicator

I have judged several shows over the years and continue to see many of the same mistakes. Here is a list of some of the most common things I see on the field and some quick tips to fix them.

1. EVERYONE needs to perform, all the time. Even if you're in the back or on the goal line we can still see you.  Don't stop performing even during a transition and you are on the sideline getting equipment. No fixing hair or adjusting costumes; no messing with equipment or just running off like a pedestrian.  This should be an easy fix but makes a big difference to your overall show!

2. Be careful of your shoulder facing as you move through drill and spin equipment. If your shoulders are facing to the side or even on a slight angle instead of straight to the front, your equipment will spin on a different angle and look wrong or dirty. Specify to the performers which way their shoulders should be facing for each drill move - for example "to the audience"; "to the left end zone"; or "following the leader."

3. Transitions when you exchange equipment should be built into the show. Do not run off of and then back onto the field between songs to change equipment. Similarly, avoid having all members of your auxiliary exit during a song at the same time to change equipment. An easy way to fix a transition is to either stagger the auxiliary's entrance so not everyone is exiting and/or entering at the same time or have a soloist introduce a new flag silk while the others are still at the sidelines.

4. Add lower body choreography to your show, even when you are moving through drill forms.  Having the equipment spinning while you are traveling AND utilizing your body is considered the Triad and should be your goal.

5. If you have a small auxiliary, please do not split them up in your drill. Having three members on one thirty yard line and three others spinning on the other thirty yard line is a very split perspective and not very effective.

6. Another note on color guard drill, please incorporate the auxiliary into the band forms.  It is not a good idea to keep them in an arch along the back of the band for your whole show. 

7. Try to stage equipment changes in different places around the field. If you always exit to the front sideline your show will become repetitive. Plus, your equipment can be mixed up or damaged if it's all thrown together. It also takes away from the effect of your show if your equipment becomes messy and distracting.

8.  Clean up your technique.  Clarify where hand placements should be. For example, are you supposed to be covering the tip or at a cheater tape? Hit your angles and catches a exact angles and be strong with them. Also, release a regular toss from inside the silk, and pay attention to free hands. All these little details should be addressed during basics rehearsal and need to show through in your performance. Even a small deviation in angle or height is amplified to the judges.

9. Watch your equipment pathways! It is not only important to make it to the right angle, but also you need to pay attention to how your equipment cuts through space. Do you slice on an angle? Stay in the toaster (lateral plain)? Your equipment pathways need to be clean so your choreography is readable.

10. Finally, do everything full out. Straighten your arms, lower your lunge, and use full energy in everything you do. You may be far away from the judges in that press box, but we can still see every detail of what you do.

THANKS FOR READING! For more tips and fun stuff about the marching arts OR if you are interested in custom Winter Guard show design, drill, and choreography or Marching Band drill and Color Guard choreography, check out my website at