From Self-Starters to Inspiring Student Leaders

Learn about these student leaders.

Sponsored by BAND:


Empower student leaders to tackle more responsibilities in school music programs.

From operating sectionals to planning social events, student leaders handle a wide variety of tasks within music ensembles—particularly within marching bands. Scott Lang, music education leadership training specialist, and Mike Howard, director of bands at Vandegrift High School—the 2019 Bands of America Grand Nationals Champion—in Austin, Texas, share their tips for effective student leadership.

Create a Robust Application Process

A photo of Mike Howard.Lang and Howard have created extensive application processes for selecting potential student leaders. When Lang taught at Tempe (Arizona) High School, he required each applicant to submit his or her resume, find solutions to a problem, interview someone about leadership, complete a service project, and “dazzle” Lang.

To “dazzle” Lang, the students were held against a high standard. During his time as a band director, students arranged a call from composer John Williams, made a coloring book created from photos of marching band students distributed to a homeless children’s shelter, and displayed the word “band” in giant letters on top of a mountain.

“The application process was a mirror of the leader I wanted them to be: a self-starter [who is] organized, someone who’s an advocate, who can solve problems, who’s service-oriented, and is fun to be around,” Lang says.

At Vandegrift, aspiring student leaders undergo a three-round application process, comprising paperwork, then an audition, and finally an interview for finalists. In the paperwork alone, each student submits answers to essay questions, a resume, peer recommendations, a teacher recommendation, and a listing of prior service to the band. Drum major candidates also have a conducting portion.

While the submission process helps staff make the best decisions, the exercise provides students with important experiences that prepare them for college, scholarship, and job applications, Howard says.

Find the Right Fit

Student leaders don’t just have responsibilities during rehearsal. At Vandegrift, students take an active role in every aspect of the organization. “My thought regarding student leadership is that if a student can do it, they should do it,” Howard says.

A photo of Scott Lang.Students teach music and visual fundamentals, help with administrative work, navigate equipment logistics, and plan and implement social activities. “The more you empower students to do these tasks, the more ownership they will have in the band program,” Howard says.

Lang encourages students to ask directors how they can help before and after rehearsals. He says directors shouldn’t have a “one-size-fits-all” approach to student leadership.

“Don’t try to change the kid to meet [your needs]; figure out what the kid is good at and put them in that role,” Lang says.

If students don’t see an existing job within the band that fits them, have them design their own, Lang suggests.

Communicate Clearly

In organizations of often hundreds of students, parents and staff, success can only be achieved with effective group communication. Lang defines effective communication in three words: clear, consistent and concrete.

Vandegrift, which has nearly 400 marching members, has established a “tree of communication,” beginning with drum majors and branching out into all leadership roles, Howard says. Directors meet with student leaders often to discuss logistics and gauge how general members are doing. Howard also uses a communications app, particularly to relay information about events and game days.

Howard and Lang both underscore the importance of relationship-driven leadership and the essential role that communication plays in achieving it. To realize success, student leaders should create short-term goals—achievable within 12 hours— that they convey clearly to their peers, Lang says.

Lang and Howard respond to the students’ efforts with praise, constructive criticism, and further action.

“Our most successful student leaders are able to create strong connections with others and provide meaningful feedback on desired results,” Howard says.

About the Sponsor: BAND

BAND is a free group communication app and private social media hub for teams of all sizes. Schools, music directors, and leaders within the marching arts use BAND to better collaborate and manage their team’s activities. Schedule events, share documents and videos, organize by section, take attendance, send announcements, initiate RSVPs, communicate by chat, post, or live stream, and enjoy a number of other uses.

Photos of Vandegrift High School by Ken Martinson,, from the 2019 Bands of America Grand Nationals.
Photo courtesy of Mike Howard.
Photo courtesy of Scott Lang.

About author

Kacie Brown

Kacie Brown was a member of the Pride of Broken Arrow from 2012 to 2016. She is now an associate instructor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where she is pursuing a Master of Music degree in saxophone performance as a student of Dr. Otis Murphy. She completed a Bachelor of Music degree with a certificate in journalism at Indiana University in 2020. In 2019, she won the inaugural Elise Hall Competition for Emerging Saxophonists and has performed at the U.S. Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium, North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference, and the Society of Composers, Inc., National Student Conference.

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