I am doing marching band for the first time for a small parade in my town. I am having trouble keeping tempo while marching. I stand right behind the percussion and while they are playing cadence I have trouble marching with everyone else. Does anybody have any tips to help me stay in step with everybody else?
- In working on rhythm, and especially beat, the metronome is your friend. Do practice with it regularly. You're particularly lucky that all the songs are at 120; you can just focus on internalizing that exact bpm.
- I imagine much of the difficulty is with how the rhythms interact with the beat. Even in your own part, to march on the beat and play any rhythm other than solid quarter notes is its own "rub your stomach, pat your head" challenge. If you play 8th notes, you're tempted to move your feet in 8th notes too. Practice your playing with the metronome, so you can hear where the beats fall within the rhythm and get used to the distinction. Practice simply marching at 120. Practice simpler rhythm patterns while marching—maybe a measure of quarter notes, then a measure of 8th notes, etc. Rhythms that explicitly subvert or conflict with the beat, like syncopation, can be even more challenging. Try to first get your feet moving "on autopilot," then keep them going without much conscious effort while you focus on the rhythms of your part. This is a learned skill, and you will get better at it the more you practice it.
- Meanwhile, the percussionists behind you are "clouding" the beat even more. Marching band percussion parts are often intricate and complex, with a lot of syncopation and multi-beat tuplets. I realize how funny this sounds, but try to ignore them. Focus on something that can provide you with the simple beat. Surely you can see the feet of the people around you? Try to simply follow them.
- Ideally it would be great if you could get used to the percussion parts enough to "find" the beat in them. I realize it might be challenging in the average "BabadababadababadaBUMBUMbadaBUM" marching band percussion section, but if you can play along with a recording you can at least get used to playing over it.
This is a problem common to marching bands, and maybe someone privy to that culture can give better advice than I can as a violinist. I know bands regularly practice together with a metronome blasting over a PA.