“What is your system for rehearsing?” If you were asked this question by a high school senior auditioning, a new staff member being interviewed, or a colleague visiting your program, what would you say?

On Saturday, June 4, 2022, I co-presented a session at the CBDNA Athletic Band Symposium with Mark Spede entitled, “Building and Sustaining an Excellent Marching Percussion Ensemble.” Following is an excerpt from our presentation:

According to sports leadership expert Jeff Janssen, “A system includes all the processes and procedures that help your team consistently produce a result.” What rehearsal processes and procedures do you use that help you band consistently produce excellent performances?

“Everyone wants to win on Saturday when the game is played. It’s what you do the other six days that decides the outcome.” -Lou Holtz

Several years ago, I was walking down to the practice field when one of my drumline members caught up with me. It was Wednesday and we had a home game on Saturday. He asked me a very innocent question, but one that has stayed with me ever since.

“Hey Dr. Buyer, so what are we doing in rehearsal today?”

I didn’t know what to say…I was just, stunned. It was Wednesday and we had a home game on Saturday. I’m thinking to myself, “what are we doing? How could he not know? We have SO much to work on.” But I didn’t say those things. Instead, I collected my thoughts and replied, “Well, we’re going to rehearse. Today’s our memorization deadline so we’re going to get over the hump on the music, we’re going to clean the show, we’re going to clean the drill, and we’re going to work toward excellence as we prepare for the game.” My answer seemed to satisfy him, and off he went.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about his question, “What are we doing in rehearsal today?” It occurred to me that there are two mindsets our students can have when it comes to rehearsing – mindsets that must be carefully managed throughout the season.

Mindset #1 is “It’s just rehearsal.” This mindset is casual and apathetic. It takes rehearsals for granted and does not value the role they play in your drumline’s (or band’s) success. It’s about going through the motions and failing to understand that the quality of your rehearsals adds up and “stacks,” resulting in the quality of your performance. Drumlines that have the “it’s just rehearsal” mindset lack intention, urgency, and purpose.

In my book, Drumline Gold, one of my interview questions is, Does your drumline ever experience the “It’s just rehearsal” mindset and if so, how do you overcome it?

Amanda Muse, former drumline staff member at Western Carolina University, author, performer, and composer put it this way: “There have definitely been drumlines I have taught that have run into the ‘it’s just rehearsal’ slump. This is normal, because we are in fact human. We can lose focus, get comfortable with routine, and become tired. For me, this is where student leaders must step in. I truly believe one of the most crucial aspects of a drumline are the section leaders and their ability to relate yet be that person who drives the section forward. They are responsible for pushing their sections, so that I in turn can push the ensemble as a whole.”

This is a great tip. It’s not a matter of if your drumline develops this mindset, but when. It’s their default. When this happens, we have to lean on and call on our section leaders to step up, speak up, and say, “it’s not just rehearsal. Our rehearsals count, they add up, and they will influence our performance.”

Your section leaders have to help change the drumline’s mindset to what I call the ideal mindset, or mindset #2.

Mindset #2 is “It’s an opportunity to improve.” This mindset is intentional and uplifting. It’s about being grateful for your time together and valuing the role quality rehearsals play in your success. It’s about taking advantage of the opportunity to get better, working toward excellence, and pounding the rock as you slowly chip away at your goals. Drumlines that have the “it’s an opportunity to improve” mindset act with intention, urgency, and purpose.

A good acronym that aligns with this mindset is CANI, which stands for Constant and Never-ending Improvement. So, the challenge is to instill mindset #2, or CANI, into your drumline members, but how?

The best way is through the standards, goals, and values you have established in your culture, and then holding your students accountable. Saying to them, “Alicia (or bass drums), this is how we think about rehearsing. This is our mindset. This is our approach. This is our philosophy. This is our attitude.

Once your drumline members change their mindset, their behaviors will change. And once their behaviors change, it will positively impact their performance.