Top 10 College Marching Bands

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This post is sponsored by The NAMM Foundation.

As you join the swarm of fans heading to the football stadium, you notice the distinct sound of brass and percussion in the background. Preceding the team, the school’s marching band makes their way to the field with flashy instruments, top-notch routines and catchy songs. We come for the game, but we stay at halftime for the band. The ultimate bands practice 30 hours a week and perform nationwide throughout the year. Beeline to band camp this summer and high-step with one of these stellar collegiate marching bands. If you’re enrolled in a college music program, register for GenNext at The 2017 NAMM  Show in Anaheim, California January 19-22,  2017. This is the global gathering of the music industry where your music dreams become reality.

10. All-American Marching Band—Purdue University

Purdue’s 1995 Sudler Trophy winner earns its “All-American” title with the band’s pre-game performance, “I Am An American” and the National Anthem. During this patriotic tribute, the booming voice of the Purdue marching band reads off a freedom tribute as they march to the tune of “America the Beautiful.” The band strikes formation as the shield from the United States coat of arms. Both the American flag and Indiana’s state flag stand proudly on the field. Besides this display of patriotism, Purdue claims to have “The World’s Largest Bass Drum.” And nothing is more entertaining than watching the Big Bass Drum Crew frantically push the enormous drum across the field.

9. The University of Wisconsin Marching Band—UW–Madison

As Badgers step into Camp Randall before a football game, they see tubas and the drumline marching slowly with the one-of-a-kind University of Wisconsin-Madison high-step. Out of nowhere, the rest of the band runs onto the field with fast-paced footwork and a continuation of high knees as they dart around the field. While the band plays during the pre-show, halftime and breaks, they devote a whole 15 minutes after the game for the Fifth Quarter show. “Sometimes I think it’s more fun than the game because you get to dance around with friends while the band plays all the favorite songs,” UW–Madison senior Katherine Lasocki said. Win or lose, the band stirs up the student spirit with songs such as “Tequila,” “Roll Out the Barrel” and the school’s time-honored “Varsity.”

8. Marching Royal Dukes—James Madison University

In Harrisburg, Virginia, a hidden gem at James Madison University wows the audience with loud and rich sounds of brass, percussion and woodwinds. With around 450 band members, JMU has the largest collegiate marching band in the nation. To join the Marching Royal Dukes, band camp seals students’ fates as they complete auditions based on music and marching fundamentals like basic formations and posture. Mastering these formations are critical because as soon as the drumline sounds the Dukes sprint onto the field in excitement for the pre-game show. Even with the rowdiest college students in the stands, the Marching Royal Dukes maintain their perfectly straight-line movements and melodic tone instrumentals.

7. Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band—Stanford University

Sometimes called the “World’s Largest Rock and Roll Band,” the number constantly changes because members choose their own commitment level. They can play every single performance or just once a semester. The Stanford Dollies, a group of five, dances along with the band during every performance too. “I have never felt pressure to conform to anyone’s standards in band, and that in itself is a beautiful thing,” said Stanford junior and former Dollies member Claudia Aber. And the band kicks it old school with classic rock songs like “All Right Now” by Free and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen. “The band wears random, fun clothing and ‘rocks out’ not only by jamming along to the songs, but by incorporating choreography into every song.” Musical humor, frantic scrambling around the field and, of course, the dancing Stanford tree mascots keeps spirits high at every game.

6. Human Jukebox—Southern University

As soon as Adele released “Hello,” the world exploded and the jam took over every radio station. Human Jukebox, from Southern University, only fueled that obsession with its cover of the top hit. Watch the band “Nae Nae” as you jump to your feet with around 230 students who joyously dance to the beat during performances. The unique “Jaguar Rock” marching style uses high-steps and precise drills bringing them to five Super Bowls and to the Louisiana Superdome to perform during the first New Orleans Saints home game after Hurricane Katrina. The Dancing Dolls dance in unison with the band and even boogied with Madonna during Super Bowl XLVI and Beyoncé in Lemonade’s visual album. Talk about an impressive rap sheet.

If you’re a college music student then you cannot miss the chance to attend GenNext at The 2017 NAMM Show happening January 19-22, 2017 in Anaheim, California. GenNexters have an exclusive, all-access pass to the tradeshow floor where more than 1,700 music products exhibitors reveal the next big thing in band, orchestra, and pro-audio gear.

5. Michigan Marching Band—University of Michigan

When Queen B herself introduces a marching band, you know spectators kill their phone battery sending as many Snapchats as possible. The University of Michigan Marching Band’s one-time Beyoncé performance included big hits like “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies.” As soon as lights in the Big House go down, the largest crowd in the history of college football illuminates the field with cell phone lights and excited cheers. A team of students and staff start designing extensive shows, like the Beyoncé one, in January. The Block M formation still remains flawlessly iconic (like B herself) for the marching band even with its showy halftime numbers. This long-standing marching band set the standard for other bands across the nation after winning critical fame as the first Sudler Trophy winner in 1982. “You spend so much time trying to make the program better, and then suddenly you take a step back and realize it has made you better,” University of Michigan senior and drum major McKenna Thayer said.

4. Longhorn Band—University of Texas

The largest marching drum in the world, “Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band,” aka Big Bertha, has stunned crowds since 1955. Through the use of the taps stride, the “Show Band of the Southwest” gets into some uniquely Texan formations such as the longhorn, “Texas” spelled out in cursive and the outline of the state. Social Media Manager of the Longhorn Band and UT junior David Parella said the band is like a family. “Texas has about 50,000 people students on campus, and I can walk around campus any day going class to class and in five minutes I’ll see two or three faces I recognize just from band.” With an alumni band over 3,000 strong, the band’s legacy continues to grow in numbers and in sound.

3. The Marching 110—Ohio University

The Marching 110 originally used the name to represent the number of members in the band, but now it represents the amount of effort expected of its members. As a way to help new members transition to college life, the band requires a two-hour study hall each week. No wonder this band keeps going viral with performances of top hits like “What Does the Fox Say?,” “Gangnam Style” and “Party Rock Anthem.” Apart from the well-known songs, the band dances and sometimes even disarms their instruments to rock-out to the beat, earning them title of the “Most Exciting Band in the Land.”

2. Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band—Texas A&M University

Consider your mind blown at the sight of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band’s signature crisscross formation. The band moves precisely as four different sides come to the middle of the field in a massive “X” formation.  According to MyAggieNation, a drill-charting software, the drills are impossible because the movements require multiple people in the same place at the same time. #MindBlown. Besides the mind-boggling military marching formations, the 2001 Sudler Trophy winning band stands out for its size. To join their ranks, the band requires high school and marching band experience along with a music audition and a sight-reading test. But with 400 students, they easily earn the title of largest military marching band in the nation. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

1. The Ohio State Marching Band—The Ohio State University

The Ohio State Marching Band, aka “The Best Damn Band in the Land (TBDBITL),” consistently wows crowds with intricate and impressive performances. The “Michael Jackson Tribute” has more views on YouTube than the number of people living in Ohio. The band members used their Jackson Five-esque teamwork to transform into the legendary King of Pop, complete with a white glove and iconic hat, as they moonwalked across the field to “Billie Jean.” “TBDBITL is a huge family. I don’t know another group of people who support each other daily, not only on the field, but off the field,” OSU Marching Band alumna Larisa Grants said. TBDBITL practices 20 to 30 hours a week, and every week all 225 members compete for a spot to march because only 192 members get to perform on Saturdays. Where else could you see band formations like Superman saving a building from falling, Harry Potter flying on a broomstick or a T-Rex stomping across the field? Only The Best Damn Band in the Land can pull them off.


If you’re passionate about playing music and you’re ready to take the next step toward a career in music, register for GenNext at The 2017 NAMM Show. As a GenNext attendee you have access to carefully curated sessions developed by the College Music Society as well as an all-access pass to the largest music products trade show in the world!

This post is sponsored by The NAMM Foundation.

Maija is a senior Journalism, Strategic Communications and French major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can most likely find her running around Madison, eating lots of cheese curds, dancing at Zumba, singing spontaneously or baking banana bread.

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