There are a number of upcoming patriotic holidays, so it’s a good time to enjoy some activities on marching bands and their special brand of music, including marches and other patriotic tunes. Here are some suggestions to “strike up the band” and enjoy the occasion.

  • Show a nostalgic photograph of a band and play sounds of a marching band outdoors. Ask: Do you enjoy listening to marching bands? Name some occasions on which you have seen or listened to a marching band, e.g., parade, patriotic or political event, football half-time show, or pep rally.
  • Everybody loves a parade! Spectators – young and old – enjoy colorful floats, strutting horses, classic cars, military units, fire trucks, clown brigades, and marching bands. Bands are a part of the American tradition, and their familiar music is likely to trigger many memories. Who can forget the sounds of a marching band delivering a rousing rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”? Ask: What was the occasion? Were you with family and friends? How did the music make you feel?
  • Display an old high school band uniform and band sheet music. Ask: Did you ever play in a school band? Did you ever march in a special parade? Did your band enter any competitions? How difficult is it to march and play an instrument at the same time?
  • Invite a music teacher to demonstrate some of the instruments in a marching band. Ask: What instruments are used in a typical marching band? What is your favorite instrument to watch? Did you ever learn to play a musical instrument? Who taught you to play the instrument? Challenge your group to name instruments in the percussion, brass, and woodwinds families.
  • Reminisce about town parades in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring Drum and Bugle Corps sponsored by the American Legion and VFW. Describe your favorite hometown parade with a community band. Wave small American flags and sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
  • Play some of John Philip Sousa’s march music (“The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “El Capitan,” “Washington Post March”) and march in place.
  • Watch the 1962 movie musical The Music Man , featuring the song “76 Trombones.”
  • Reminisce about college marching bands and their inspiring half-time shows and pep rallies. Ask participants if they are familiar with the “Big Ten” or “High Step” marching style. Enjoy a CD of popular fight songs, such as “Anchors Aweigh” – U.S. Naval Academy, “The Victors” – University of Michigan, or “Notre Dame Victory March” – University of Notre Dame.
  • Show photographs of the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps. Invite a historian to speak about the role of military music in the American Revolution. Listen to a fife favorite, “Yankee Doodle.”
  • Listen to the official march of America, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Share favorite memories of the Fourth of July holiday. Ask: What kind of patriotic music did you hear as you were growing up?
  • Highlight “The President’s Own,” the United States Marine Band, founded in 1798 as a band of fifes and drums. Enjoy a CD of their marches and patriotic tunes. Ask participants to describe how the music makes them feel.
  • Host a party with a patriotic theme. Here are some suggested activities as part of that: Don Uncle Sam party hats; decorate bikes or wagons with red, white, and blue; strike up a band by marching with noise makers; compose an original patriotic song or poem; eat classic picnic foods; challenge your group to an American history trivia quiz.
  • Listen to Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Talk about the city of New Orleans and its rich tradition of jazz marching bands.
  • Learn some basic marching steps and conducting gestures from a local marching band drum major.
  • Ask participants if they enjoy marching bands with baton twirlers and majorettes. Arrange for a baton twirling demonstration.
  • Listen to the show tune “Strike Up the Band,” composed by George and Ira Gershwin. Assemble a “kitchen band” and parade around the room.



Here’s a trivia quiz on the topic of music. You’ll find some questions related to the theme of “marching band” music. You can use them as a tool for recalling musical memories as well.

  1. Who invented the Sousaphone? John Philip Sousa
  2. What famous band did John Philip Sousa direct before starting his own band? U.S. Marine Band
  3. What kind of instrument is the fife? A small flute
  4. What instrument is used to play “Reveille” and “Taps”? Bugle
  5. What is the common name for the tympani? Kettle drum
  6. What song, from the musical play The Music Man, is about a marching band? “76 Trombones
  7. What is a glockenspiel? A set of bells
  8. What is the official march of the U.S. Marine Corps? “Semper Fidelis”
  9. Which classic march is usually played at graduation ceremonies? Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”
  10. What does a drum major use to conduct a marching band? Baton or mace

“MARCHING BANDS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2008 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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