Colleges have completely changed what it means to be a “band geek” by turning them into entertainment machines. Now, they compete to be the best college marching bands.
When they were in high school and carried around big tubas and saxophones, they were nerds. Now, as they march onto the fields, thousands of screaming fans are watching to see what they’re going to do next to surprise the crowd.
Will there be lights? A moving version of the famous Moon Walk by Michael Jackson? Or, the band might spell out a word or picture that the whole stadium might not like.
All of this and more is what those “band geeks” are doing while getting national and international attention. They are in viral videos watched more than 10 million times.
If you didn’t take the band in high school, try not to get too envious as you read this list of the 10 best college marching bands. Keep reading.
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Table of contents
- What are the Types of College Marching Bands?
- What are the Top College Marching Bands Styles?
- 15 Best College Marching Bands
- #1. University of Alabama- Million Dollar Band
- #2. Auburn University- The Auburn University Marching Band
- #3. University of Georgia- Redcoat Band
- #4. University of Iowa -Hawkeye Marching Band
- #5. University of Illinois- Marching Illini
- #6. Jackson State University- The Sonic Boom of the South
- #7. James Madison University- Marching Royal Dukes
- #8. Louisiana State University- Tiger Marching Band
- #9. University of Michigan- The University of Michigan Marching Band
- #10. Michigan State University- Spartan Marching Band
- #11. University of Minnesota- The Pride of Minnesota
- #12. Ohio University- Marching 110
- #13. University Of Oklahoma- The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band
- #14. Penn State University- Blue Band
- #15. Purdue University- All-American Marching Band
- How to Join the Best College Marching Bands?
- Step 8
- Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Types of College Marching Bands?
Marching bands have groups based on their main purpose, the instruments they use, and their style. The different types of college marching bands are:
College Military Band Style
In the past, military bands were the first type of marching band. Instrumentation varies, but brass, percussion, and woodwinds are usually used. Given that their original purpose was to move forward in a straight line, military marching bands rarely make curves.
Active-duty military marching bands often march in parades with other military units and play music at the same time. The speed of the music stays the same so that other military units can keep time with it. Almost none of the military marching bands that used to be in schools in the United States are still there.
The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band from Texas A&M and the Highty-Tighties from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets stand out as two of the few exceptions. East Texas is also home to about 80 high school military marching bands.
The National Association of Military Marching Bands has these bands. Its goal is to keep the tradition of military marching alive.
The main job of show bands is to play at sporting events and competitions, like American football games. They usually put on a show on the field before the game starts and at halftime.
Most show bands march to the music, and they may also take part in parades and competitions.
Showbands have brass and percussion instruments, and they may or may not have a percussion pit or woodwinds. Usually, the show is more than just marching in lines. As the music changes, the dancers make designs, curves, letters, and other moving illusions.
Carnival bands are a type of show band that came from Britain. Showbands also come in the form of scramble bands. Some of the time, they don’t march in time with the music.
Instead, they jump from design to design and often add funny parts to their shows. This style is mostly used by the bands in the Ivy League.
HBCU college bands
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) bands are a kind of high-stepping band that is different from the traditional kind. HBCU bands started as a way to cheer on football teams.
Now, they play at movies, professional sports games, and political events. They are popular for their traditional high-stepping style and music.
It ranges from Top 40 hits to classical marching band music, and cutting-edge choreography. There are currently over 100 HBCU bands.
Drum and Bugle Bands
The drum and bugle corps is a type of a marching band that grew out of military signaling units. There are two types of drum and bugle corps: classic and modern. Both groups have been around for a long time and have grown in ways that are different from marching bands.
As the name suggests, the corps’ music is on bugles and drums. However, modern competitive drum corps also use other brass instruments and orchestral percussion.
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What are the Top College Marching Bands Styles?
Some bands, especially military bands, just walk while they play. They do this to follow military rules about how to march and to do “what everyone else is doing”. This way, everyone looks more the same. Other styles are-
The Glide Step
Many bands also used the glide step, which is also called the roll step in different ways. In this step, the heel is gently placed on the ground while the toe points up. The foot is then rolled forward onto the toes before lifting foot.
It gives the drilling fluid and smooth look and makes it easier for bands that roll steps to control their hard formations and different kinds of music. Also, roll stepping is at a much wider range of tempos. If a roll step is right, a player marching at 40 beats per minute will have the same smooth tone as a player marching at 180 beats per minute.
With the right form, the wind player won’t have to bounce and move around unnecessarily.
Most marching percussionists only use a roll step because they can’t take a high step with their drum harnesses. This is especially true for marching snare and tenor drums.
There is also a “high step,” which is different from the roll or glide step. The Ohio State University Marching Band, the University of Southern California Spirit of Troy, and The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band all use this style, as do most Historically Black Colleges or Universities. Some high schools that have been doing marching bands for a long time also use a high step. Parade marching
Bands usually form a marching block for parades. It has ranks (rows) and files (columns). Each member tries to stay in his or her place and keep an even distance from the other musicians.
Most of the time, the people at the end of each rank and the front of each file are responsible for being in the right place. This lets other band members point to them.
Most of the time, a drum cadence, also called a walking beat or street beat, gets played when the band is marching. Sometimes, it plays in between songs. The band keeps time this way. On the odd beats, the band can also keep in step with a drum click or rim shot.
A roll is usually given between songs and cadences to show what beat in the measure the band is on. The beats per minute vary from group to group but are usually between 112 and 144.
During a farewell ceremony, a military brigade combat team forms a logo on a field. During a field show, the band makes a series of formations on the field. These formations can be pictures, geometric shapes, curvilinear designs, or blocks of players. These moves are drills as a whole.
Most of the time, each band member has a set place in each formation. As many ways as there are bands, there are many ways to get from one formation to the next:
Many bands use a mix of the above methods. Sometimes they also add dance choreography, done while standing still or marching.
Extras can also improve the way something looks. On the field, you can use backdrops and props that go with the theme of the show or the music played.
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15 Best College Marching Bands
#1. University of Alabama- Million Dollar Band
Fight Song: “Yea Alabama”
College football fans are well aware of how well the University of Alabama football team is over the past years. Maybe not as many people know about the university’s great Million Dollar Band.
It is just as much of an Alabama Crimson Tide tradition as football. The band is the largest student group at the University of Alabama.
It has more than 400 members. The band has been playing at university events, especially football games and other sports, for over 100 years.
It has become one of the most respected university marching bands in the United States. The Million Dollar Band is one of the best college marching bands.
In 2003, the Million Dollar Band won the Sudler Award (college and university band equivalent of a national championship). They also played at national events like bowl games, exhibitions, parades, and other events all over the country.
In 2017, the Million Dollar Band went to Indianapolis to take part in the Bands of America Grand Nationals.
#2. Auburn University- The Auburn University Marching Band
Fight Song: “War Eagle Glory to ‘Ole Auburn”
We don’t need to say much more than, “This is the Auburn University Band.” Their music is good, their drills are precise, and they give off a good impression. Under the leadership of Dr. Corey Spurlin, the Auburn University Band has become one of the best college marching bands in the country.
The 380-member band won the 2004 Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy. It has f people who had to audition to join. They have played in many high-profile places and at several bowl games, making fans in the stands and home happy.
In 2008, the band went to Ireland to take part in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade and play music. In the same year, the band got chosen as one of only six college bands to take part in ESPN’s Battle of the Bands.
The Auburn University Marching Band shows school spirit by playing at more than thirty events every year. Their season goes all the way through the bowl games, and it includes both football games and other shows.
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#3. University of Georgia- Redcoat Band
Fight Song: “Hail to Georgia”
The University of Georgia’s Redcoat Band has been marching and performing for well over a century. The band started in 1905 with only twenty marchers. Since then, the number of marchers has grown to more than 430. The band has become known as one of the top college marching bands.
The Redcoats play all football games at home and some games away from home. The Redcoats were the first SEC marching band to win the Sudler Trophy. They did this in 2000. In 2006, the Redcoats went on tour to China and played shows there.
The Redcoat Band is currently led by Dr. Mike Robinson, Dr. Brett Bawcum, and Rob Akridge. They have played at national bowl games like the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game. The Redcoats were also at the 2018 College Football National Championship in Atlanta.
#4. University of Iowa -Hawkeye Marching Band
Fight Songs: “On Iowa,” “Iowa Fight Song,” and “Roll Along Iowa”
Hawkeye Marching Band is one of the top college marching bands. There are 260 people in the Hawkeye Marching Band. They march and play in front of more than 70,000 fans at every Hawkeye football home game. In 1881, the State University of Iowa Battalion started the marching band so that it could have music.
By 1936, the band was a part of the University Fine Arts department. It is now a part of the University School of Music. The Hawkeye Marching Band won the Sudler Trophy in 1990 as the best college marching band in the country. Morgan Jones was in charge of the band at the time.
CNN Headline News said in 2012 that the Hawkeye Marching Band was “one of the best ten college marching bands in the country.” In 2014, the Hawkeyes’ marching band got named one of “7 Big Ten Halftime Shows Worth Watching” on the Sports Illustrated website.
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#5. University of Illinois- Marching Illini
Fight Songs: “Illinois Loyalty” and “Oskee Wow Wow”
One of the oldest college marching bands in the country is the Marching Illini from the University of Illinois. This group has about 375 members and has been around since 1867. Like the other bands, the Marching Illini’s main job is to play at home football games to boost school spirit.
But that’s not the only place you can see and hear the band play. The band plays an indoor concert once a year and has played at Chicago Bears games during halftime. The group has also gone to Ireland more than once to march in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Illini has its leader Barry L. Houser. Compared to other marching bands, they focus on drills and are a bit more traditional. They are one of the best college marching bands. This is mostly because of the quality of their musical sounds, the precision of their drills, and their long history.
#6. Jackson State University- The Sonic Boom of the South
The members of Jackson State University’s marching band gave it the name “Sonic Boom of the South” in 1971. They play a wide range of styles in many different places. The Sonic Boom has played for several NFL teams in addition to marching for the university.
The 250-person band has done covers of popular songs and been in The Smithsonian. It became the best halftime show of 2016 by HBCU Sports. This band is also one of the top college marching bands.
The Sonic Boom, which was sometimes called “Hollywood’s band of choice,” had its leader Dowell Taylor, Roderick Little, and Lowell Hollinger. They played in a TV special celebrating Motown’s 30th anniversary. They also played in the 34th NAACP Image Awards.
#7. James Madison University- Marching Royal Dukes
The Marching Royal Dukes of James Madison University is often called “Virginia’s Finest and America’s Favorite Collegiate Marching Band.” This is because of their unique “jazzy” fight song and the energy and precision of their performances.
The Marching Royal Dukes not only perform for college football fans. They have also played at presidential and gubernatorial inaugurations and many NFL halftime shows.
The band has also done work for Walt Disney Productions and played at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in 1988 and 1991. Due to their many tours all over Europe, the Marching Royal Dukes have a lot of fans all over the world.
The band got the Sudler Trophy in 1994. Keith Urban’s “Love, Pain, and Whole Crazy World Tour” in 2007 and 2008 featured the Marching Royal Dukes drum line.
The 483-person band also marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2013. The Marching Royal Dukes set the standard for marching bands. They are one of the top college marching bands.
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#8. Louisiana State University- Tiger Marching Band
Fight Song: “Fight for LSU”
The Tiger Marching Band has 325 members and has been around since 1893. It is the largest single group at the university. Over 80% of the band members come from fields other than music, and they got in my auditioning.
The band became famous all over the country in 2002. This was when the John Philip Sousa Foundation gave it the Sudler Trophy for its outstanding work. The Tiger Band plays at full-band away games, bowl games, and all home football games.
The band won first place at an ESPN band competition in 2008. The Tiger Marching Band got added to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame the following year.
In 2012, Huffington Post named the Tiger Band one of the “Top Ten College Marching Bands in the United States.”
This brought the band more national attention and praise. In addition to playing at university and national events, the band played at the Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong in 2010.
It also played in Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2014. Tiger Marching Band is one of the top college marching bands.
#9. University of Michigan- The University of Michigan Marching Band
Fight Song: “The Victors”
The Marching Band had its first practice in 1896, and the next year was the first time it played in public. Since then, both the band’s size and reputation have grown. The band has 400 members and is one of the best college marching bands.
For more than a century, the band has played for Michigan football fans. This made Ann Arbor a place with a long history of great marching bands. The band won the Sudler Trophy for the first time in 1983.
The University of Michigan Marching Band has a lot of fans all over the country. As such, they travel a lot to play at sporting events and band shows all over the country.
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#10. Michigan State University- Spartan Marching Band
Fight Song: “Victory for MSU”
The Spartan Marching Band is the oldest in the Big Ten conference. It started in 1870 by ten students and is the oldest marching band in the conference. Since then, it has been wowing crowds with its impressive performances and precise choreography and music.
The band, which now has more than 300 members, plays and marches at MSU home games. They have also kept up the tradition of taking their show on the road. The Spartan Band has played at venues in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
In 1988, the Spartan Marching Band won the Sudler Trophy as the best college marching band in the United States. The band is popular for its complicated and highly technical programs. The band has played for several U.S. presidents, as well as at two World’s Fairs and five Rose Bowls.
The Spartan Marching Band continues to amaze people with its complex percussion cadences and overall high level of musical and organizational quality. It is one of the best college marching bands.
#11. University of Minnesota- The Pride of Minnesota
Fight Song: “Minnesota Rouser”
The Pride of Minnesota is not only the best band on campus but also the best band in the country. The band has been around since 1892 and now has 320 members. It is currently one of the top college marching bands. They play at University of Minnesota football games and some away games, bowl games, pep fests, and other shows.
In 2018, when the Super Bowl was in Minnesota, the Pride performed with Justin Timberlake during the halftime show. The Pride also performed at Super Bowl XXVI in 1992. Since 2016, Betsy McCann has been in charge of the Pride of Minnesota. They still have one of the longest and hardest programs of any college band in the country.
In addition to playing at sporting events, the band gives two indoor concerts at Northrop Auditorium. And every other year at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota. There are also parades with the Pride.
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#12. Ohio University- Marching 110
Fight Song: “Stand Up and Cheer!”
The Marching 110 is the “most exciting band.” The Ohio University marching band is one of the best college marching bands. They have played at more than forty NFL halftime shows and get the crowd going at every home football game. The Marching 110 is popular for its “unique marching style and choreographed dance moves.”
They have marched and performed at Carnegie Hall, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade to the delight and amazement of the crowds. Named for the number of people who were in the band when it started, the Marching 110 now has more than 240 people in it.
The band has not only marched at home football games and big parades. It has also gone on tours to Canada, Ireland, and Italy and played on international stages there. The band has also played for presidents and first ladies of the United States. Party Rock Anthem and Gangnam Style are two of the band’s songs that have become very popular on YouTube.
#13. University Of Oklahoma- The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band
Fight Song: “Boomer Sooner”
The Pride of Oklahoma marching band has been making Sooner fans proud of their team for more than a century. Now led by Brian Britt, the Pride continues to emphasize hard work and success in music, and school. The Pride is one of the best college marching bands.
In 1987, they won the coveted Sudler Trophy. The band marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2007 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Oklahoma. The 320-member Pride marching band is now in its second century of performing.
It marches into the future with a program that changes over time and brings the past into the present.
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#14. Penn State University- Blue Band
Fight Song: “Fight On, State”
“Fight on, State!” by Penn State University’s Blue Band gets Nittany Lions fans excited to cheer for their football team in the best way possible for college sports. The Blue Band started at the end of the 1800s with only six members. It now has more than 300 student members and is popular as one of the top college marching bands.
The band has played at 40 bowl games and has been written about in newspapers and magazines all over the world. The Blue Band has been in the Rose Parade in Pasadena and the movies Rudy (1993) and Something for Joey (1977), both for TV. The Blue Band won the Sudler Trophy in 2005 because they were the best band in the country that year.
The band plays at all of Penn State’s home football games and other sports events. The “Floating Lion,” the band’s most famous drill. In this drill, the band spells out the word “LIONS” across the field. They then turn around halfway through, giving the word “LIONS” a full 180-degree turn.
#15. Purdue University- All-American Marching Band
Fight Song: “Hail Purdue”
The Purdue University All-American Marching Band has a long history of being one of the best college marching bands in the country. Since almost the beginning of 1882, the Purdue marching band has been open to new ideas. They are also willing to try new things, and willing to push the limits.
Since its directors think ahead, the All-American Marching Band has done and used many “firsts” in intercollegiate marching band programs. In 1907, the band was the first to break military rank and form a block P for Purdue. Since 1919, the band has played at the Indy 500 every year. Neil Armstrong, a former member of the band, was the first person to walk on the moon in 1969.
In 1995, Purdue’s marching band was the first at a school without a music school to win the Sudler Trophy. The Chinese Ministry of Culture asked the band to perform in China in 2008.
They were the first college marching band to do so. In 2010, the All-American Marching Band of Purdue University was the first band from a Big Ten conference to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
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How to Join the Best College Marching Bands?
Find out if your school has a marching band and who runs it. The person in charge of the band is the director. Their job is to make sure that everything goes well and moves forward. If you want to join, you should talk to them.
Talk to the director about playing an instrument and joining the group. There is a marching drum line, pit percussion, brass, and woodwinds in a marching band. If you don’t know how to play music but like to dance, you could also join the Colorguard.
Talk to other marching band members. If you want to join a band, being outgoing will help you feel more confident. Most of the time, they love what they do and will give you a good idea of what it’s like.
Find out what instruments the director needs. If any of those sound interesting to you, join! But if you don’t like any of them, just ask to play the one you do like.
Take private lessons before the marching season. Private lessons will help you learn what you need to know to take your music to the next level. They help you get better at the game. Most schools offer lessons, but if yours doesn’t, you can look for private lessons at a community center. You can also ask your band director for suggestions.
Find out when practices will be. Most bands practice during the summer (sometimes called “band camp”), on Saturday mornings, and once or twice during the week after school.
Sometimes, they practice every day after school. Most likely, you will compete against other bands in your county, state, or even country in marching competitions all through the year. You may also have to be in the pep band at football games in the fall.
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Pay attention at the first practice so you can learn the different commands and the right way to march. At first, this task will seem hard. If you work hard, you’ll get better in your first year.
Try to make it to every practice. Remember your music and learn how to march. So, the band will be able to set up the field show.
Always act right and pay attention to your drum majors, directors, and section leaders. They have been around the longest and are almost always right.
Give it you’re all. Even if you aren’t very good yet, people will learn to respect you if they see you working hard instead of complaining or being lazy.
Also, keep in mind that you’re not perfect, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t give up if it’s hard. Instead, try even harder to get through it.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The Trojan Marching Band from the University of Southern California.
The marching band from Ohio State University.
The Pride of the Southland Band is from the University of Tennessee.
The Longhorn Band of the University of Texas.
The “All-American” Marching Band of Purdue University.
Marching 110 from Ohio University.
Some of the best marching bands in the country are from Texas.
The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band has been around since 1894. It is a military marching band with more than 300 members, making it the largest band of its kind in the country.
As the best marching band in the Big Ten, Penn State’s Blue Band beats out Ohio State, Michigan, and Purdue. Traditions that the “Blue Band” does include the “Floating Lions Drill” before the game and the “drum major flip.”
In Division I, the best band is the Florida A&M Marching 100. In Division II, the best band is the Benedict College Band of Distinction. FAMU is at the top of the list for the first time in the poll’s history. FAMU came in seventh place in the final 2019 top 10 list.
The Allen Eagle Escadrille is a Texas marching band made up of high school students. It says it has over 800 people in it, making it the largest marching band in the world.
If you haven’t already noticed, each school’s marching band might be different from the others. There are some bands that are big and some that are small.
Some may give band members scholarship money, while others don’t. Some might want you to try out, while others will take anyone who can play and march. We hope you have learned of the top college marching bands.
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- collegeraptor.com– 10 best college marching bands
- onlineschoolscenter.com– 25 Outstanding college marching bands
- fanbuzz.com– Best college football marching bands
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