Transitioning to College Band

The Pride of Oklahoma drumline celebrating a touchdown.

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If you’re a high school musician preparing to try out for college marching band, particularly for a spot on the drumline, put your best foot forward by implementing these tips.


Transitioning from high school to college band is one of the most exciting times in a marching musician’s career, but it can also be one of the most daunting. Glen Buecker, percussion coordinator for the University of Oklahoma Bands, shares tips for matriculating students.

Halftime: What advice do you give to students about having an open mindset and learning about their new environment? 

Buecker: We find the biggest issue that they run into is that when they go to enroll, a lot of people will tell them, “Oh, you’re not going to have time for band.”

[Since elementary school] they’re going to school eight hours a day probably. When you get to college, our average workload for a freshman is 15 hours per week divided over 5 days. So you’re going from an eight-hour day of school to just three hours a day [on average]. As long as you can manage your time properly, band fits into everybody’s schedule.

Once they sign up for band, the big thing that we reinforce is to make sure that you’ve got the fundamentals down. Everybody has people who come in to audition, particularly for drummers, that can just play the latest and greatest lick that they learned on YouTube, but they lack that foundation.

They may worry like, “I was the big fish in my pond, and now I’m a freshman and going to be a little fish,” but if you just focus on those fundamentals, that’s the big transition.


Halftime: How much research and preparation should they do?

Buecker: If you’ve got a school that you know you want to go to, you should check out some videos and see if you can determine their style. Just as long as they realize that the schools know that people are coming in from all different schools of thought.

We’re going to start from scratch in terms of our skill and technique and what we look like. Because we’re a school that does six shows a year, we just really break our marching style down to the different nuts and bolts. It’s different than high school, but as long as you come into it with the mindset of, “I know this is going to be different, and I just need to adjust,” then it works for us.


Halftime: Obviously every school is going to be different, but tell us about your school’s audition process.

Buecker: We used to do it all in August, and then we started to get the feeling that there would be lot of apprehension over the summer. We switched to spring auditions. We’ve got a couple of rounds.

Everybody submits a video or comes to campus for a live audition by the middle of May. From that point we invite people in to a June camp. It’s not mandatory because we know people are doing drum corps, vacations or internships and things like that, but having them come in gives us an opportunity to see how they play in a group or line setting. And if they can’t make it, then they can submit another video that will have a little more advanced exercises.

From that point you will know if you’re in the band or not and will get an official invitation to come to band camp.

The video process is to allow us to see people that might not be successful. And we don’t want to lead them on. We want to give them feedback upfront that, “Hey, this might not be something that you’re ready for,” and because we do it in the spring, they can maybe choose another college. We’re not trying to run people off, but we’re not trying to string them along either.


Halftime: What about people who might not get the part or instrument they wanted, especially in the drumline?

Buecker: What we do upfront is ask them flat out if they’re willing to play anything else, and they select all the instruments they want to audition for. If they don’t audition for it, we won’t put them in that section.

I always try to relate it to my own life experiences. When I started out in drum corps, I was on cymbals, and I was 14 years old. And what I learned from just being around the other sections was way more than I could have learned by being in private lessons once a week or something.

We won’t put people in a position where it’s not going to be a win-win where they get better and the band gets better because of that. A kid who’s gonna flunk out of his math and English because all he’s doing is trying to drum and learn his music doesn’t benefit anyone.


Halftime: What about students placed in alternate, reserve or B-band spots?

Buecker: We have alternates in the band—not too much in the drumline—but when I was a grad student at another university, they had alternates in the drumline.

They’ll do challenges. Every week the entire band plays off their music for their squad leaders. If they don’t pass that, then they get to play off again the next day, but they’re going to have to do it for staff or faculty members.


Halftime: How do you help students adjust from competitive marching band to spirit-based athletic band supporting the football team and pumping up the crowd?

Buecker: We try to tell them upfront that we’re not a competition-based band. Competition’s great, but we’re here to support the football team, the university, be great ambassadors. So it’s a different kind of gig, so to speak.

It doesn’t mean that we expect less of them. We still expect the same level of excellence.

We offer a lot of variety. Each [show is] different. They might not like one show, but it’s over in two weeks. And they’ve got a new challenge. Also, there are opportunities for them if they want to do winter drumline or guard for that competitive aspect.


Halftime: What advice do you give to students about balancing band with schoolwork?

Buecker: We actually sit down with all the freshmen and talk to them about maintaining calendars and making a daily schedule and being able to block time out for things. Part of that is recreation that they’ve got to have time away from everything including band.

Now some students just can’t figure that out, and within the first four to five weeks you notice, “OK, I need to sit down with this person, and I need to literally go through their schedule and plan it out for them during the week to help them.”

We’ll do that. They’re here to get an education first, and that has to happen.


Halftime: Anything else?

Buecker: Just to be open-minded, take a deep breath, relax, but don’t wait until it’s too late to reach out and get information or help. Sometimes people get audition packets, and they’re too afraid to ask questions. Ask, reach out, just don’t assume anything, and don’t wait until the last minute!


Photo Courtesy of the Pride of Oklahoma

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.