How to Join a Drum and Bugle Corps

For your average high school marching band kid, high school band is just a nice way to make friends, spend some time, and maybe learn a bit of music along the way. There are, however, some people that wish to go further. Normally, the next step would be a college level marching band. But what if you want something totally different, something more focused on your instrument, but still something musical? For the brass, drummers, and color guard members looking for something along those lines, drum and bugle corps may be the way to go. Woodwind players will want to consider learning a brass or percussion instrument. Keep in mind, the terms and regulations are all for North America. Here's a guide to joining, and making, a drum corps.


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    Make sure your instrument is allowed in a drum corps. Drum corps are relatively exclusive when it comes to instrumentation- no woodwinds of any sort are allowed to march, including all variety of saxophone. In the brass family, the DCI and DCA (more on them later) both have rules only allowing bell-front valved brass instruments into drum corps. That means trombonists, French horn players, and Sousaphone players will want to learn trumpet, mellophone, baritone/euphonium, or contrabass/tuba. Percussion instruments offered generally shift from corps to corps, depending on their style or show each year.
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    Learn the terminology. Drum corps is a world with a different vocabulary than that of the rest of the world. Some of the more commonly used terms are listed here.
    • DCI is short for Drum Corps International, which is in charge of junior drum corps. Junior drum corps are drum corps that allow members between the ages of 13 to 21, though they may be more exclusive if they chose.
    • DCA stands for Drum Corps Associates, and is in charge of all-age drum and bugle corps. While not as popular as DCI drum corps, all-age corps are starting to be more popular.
    • "Phantom" style is a reference to The Phantom Regiment's marching style, which is unique. You may hear any other corps name inserted, though, as nearly all corps have their own unique style. Spirit, for example, has a "rolling walk" style, while Cavaliers have a "high walk" of sort, and Phantom has a "sharp" style.
    • World class/open class/international class are the different classes of drum corps as of 2008. World class corps have exactly 150 members, while open class corps has 30-150 members. International class is the class for corps based in countries outside of North America that wish to tour the DCI circuit.
    • "Contra" normally refers to the contra-bass, which is the tuba of drum and bugle corps. They look rather like very large baritones, slung over one shoulder, as seen in this picture.
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    Look into (relatively) local corps first. Since practice schedules are often extremely difficult to follow, but time commitment is a huge part of making a corps, when looking into joining a corps, look at the local ones first. You may be surprised what isn't that far away- in 2008, there were 24 different drum corps in the World Class of DCI alone, almost all from different states.
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    Notice gender-specific corps. Currently, in DCI, at least, there are no corps that are female-only, however, the Cavaliers and the Madison Scouts are male-only corps. In other countries, female-only corps are, while not common, existent, at least.
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    Look into dues once you've found a corps you're interested in. In today's global economy, fees may be the deciding factor between you marching in a corps, and you just watching the show from the stands. If you have financial problems, but are talented, some corps offers scholarships to help with dues. After you've marched a year or two of corps, though, it's much easier to get money for marching.
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    Get into shape. Regardless of what corps you decide on, when the audition weekend is, how your marching, playing, or attitude is, if you're even considering getting into corps, you must be in shape. You're not looking to build that much muscle mass, though, so standard workouts may not be exactly what you need. You should be looking to be lightweight, true, but quick and nimble. Running, biking, and swimming all help out with this without weighing you down with extra muscle mass. Push-ups and crunches are also recommended, as they will help you build the endurance you will need to survive drum and bugle corps.
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    Check your calendar. Drum corps schedules are demanding, to say the least, and there is very little room for error when first going out for a corps. People understand, though, that everyone has lives outside of drum corps. As long as you are upfront and clear about any conflicts in your schedule, and they don't conflict too often, of course, you can normally have a bit of "wiggle room", though that really depends on the corps most of all.
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    Find the audition music/routine. Also, look into what else the audition exactly entails. A standard audition for drum corps includes prepared pieces of some sort, a piece of your own, sight reading, basic marching skills, and a section in which you have to march and play at the same time. It's obviously best to practice as many of these things as possible, especially if you are particularly weak in any of these areas. Range, lip setting, dynamic ability, posture, and tone are all major factors for brass players. Keep in mind, meanwhile, that many drum corps also judge attitude! Be positive, polite, and don't make excuses for yourself.
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    Look into the corps marching style. Each corp, as previously mentioned, has their own style. You don't have to know this prior to auditioning, as the instructors will teach it later, but it can't hurt to be one step ahead.
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    Show up on the audition weekend, prepared. Make sure that, a week or two prior, you registered for the audition, if that was required, and paid any audition fees. Instrumentalists should bring their instrument to the first camp (normally corps-owned instruments aren't distributed until at least the second weekend), a folding music stand, their music, and any oils, tuners, metronomes, etc. that may be needed for the weekend.
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    Audition. At this point, there's nothing that should be said. If you have practiced enough, have the talent and ability, and just a bit of luck, you should do just fine. If not, there's always next year!


  • Corps sleep on gym and lunchroom floors when on tour, shower in locker rooms, and the members almost never see family members over the summer. If you're still really attached to home, or don't quite think you could get over sleeping where people's sweaty feet go, think twice about going out for a corps.
  • Keep in mind that very often, corps members curse a great deal, and it's not just one corps or another- practically every corps does it, so you should be prepared.
  • Be healthy! Being in shape is a requirement, but being healthy is just common sense. Eating trash will make you feel lousy, and it's harder to pay attention in auditions and performances when you're not feeling one hundred percent.
  • Trombonists wishing to go into drum and bugle corps should learn baritone- while it's obviously not the same, the mouthpiece is a relatively close size, and it's an easier switch for most than going to any other brass instrument from trombone.
  • You're going to be showering with others. You typically sleep at high schools, which have group showers. Despite what you may think, people don't pay much attention to you in the showers. They only worry about getting clean
  • If you're always trying to be your own person, consider if you really want to spend an entire year working towards just being like sometimes hundreds of other people around you. That's exactly what drum corps is, and it is very literally a whole other level from high school marching band.


  • Drum corps can be dangerous, and not just for the sabre-spinners in the color guard. If you get hurt at any point in drum corps, always tell someone! That is basic knowledge that corps members forget time and time again.

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Categories: Marching Bands