The Tribe That Walks as One

If you are looking to guide your kids toward academic and social success in school, forget football and get your kids into the school marching band.

Wait. You don’t believe me, I can tell. It’s okay. Let’s talk about this.

First, I’d like to clarify that I’m not disparaging other music programs like Orchestra, Chorus or Concert Band. A 2014 study at the University of Kansas showed that music programs in general engage students in school and can motivate them toward greater achievement. From the KU Study:

“One of the key findings that shouldn’t get lost is how important music is for creating a sense of belonging and purpose for the students who participate,” said Eason, associate director of CPPR. “They identify themselves as musicians, as being in the band or chorus, and they’re motivated to come to school so that they can participate in music. The students also believe that music participation teaches them skills like discipline and concentration that they can use to their benefit throughout the school days.” — See more here.

Those music programs are nearly as awesome as Marching Band, but not quite. All of them can build what the academics called “a sense of belonging and purpose.” But Marching Band builds a tribe. Properly led, a band becomes a tightly connected, interdependent community/entity with common goals. There is powerful mojo there, especially when you consider that we’re talking about young people in their teens.

In our midwestern American hometown, summer Band Camp starts in early August, a bit more than a couple of weeks before school begins. Once school starts, these kids voluntarily drag themselves out of bed at dark-thirty to be on the field for early-morning practice. The students cut their summers short and get out of bed early to be part of the the band. To play music? No not really — it’s to rekindle relationships.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the strength of the social bonds this tribe can establish. Regardless of gender, I saw a mutual respect based on discipline and contributions to the collective success of the band. In the band, there is a singular and collective pride in excellence. A taut drumline solo is a remarkable experience, reminiscent of a percussion-infused version of the All Blacks famous tribal Haka pre-game ritual. Precision moves, combined with a fierce emotional intensity demonstrate the dedication of these performers. If you can be on the field to witness this, I recommend it.

The band is led by senior students. One or sometimes two Drum Majors are selected based on talent and experience to lead the group. They have earned and get the respect of the band. I’ve been in corporate America for many years, and have never seen a manager at any level inspire a team with the spirit and energy of a high-school band Drum Major.

It’s important to note that success is not merely a correlation. It’s too easy to dismiss the idea by asserting that “smart kids join the band.” I believe there is a causal relationship where kids actively engaged in band and similar music programs do well because of their engagement.

Yes, it’s this much fun. (Apologies to the now mature adults who recognize themselves in this photo.)

So do your kids a favor, expose them to music education. But don’t wait until 9th grade to put a horn or clarinet in your child’s hands. In elementary school, instructing students in music lays an essential foundation. Later, Middle School experience develops the skills to allow the kids to be successful with their instrument.

Ultimately, this experience can have a life-long benefit. From a career perspective, musical experience also influences additional capabilities in mathematics and even coding skills. The physical exercise is an added bonus, as students reap significant benefits from these physical, social, emotional and intellectual challenges. And along the way, they are likely to make some pretty good friends.


Special thanks to all the music teachers out there who help make this happen.
I suspect there is a special corner of heaven set aside for you.

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