General Effect – Timeline and Combination of Elements

When you are watching one of your favorite shows, do you wonder how they made it all work? 

Occasionally, it happens by chance…and by occasionally, I really mean 1 out of every 100 times.  Maybe even 1 out of 1000 times does it all come together just by a great idea in rehearsal, or a “wow, how did that happen?”  If you get nothing else from this article, get this:  PLAN YOUR EFFECT!

So, how do you do this?  You start at the beginning. 

1.  Make a timeline of what you want to achieve. 

–  Start by looking big picture.  What is the concept that you want the audience to leave with?  Do you have a story to tell?  Do you have a particular emotion or concept to share?

Example:  The Seasons of Nature

–  After you have the over-arching idea, break that idea into sections.  Remember, you only have about 8 minutes max in a high school show.  Too many ideas in this area will lead to a poorly developed concept (or overly developed).  Think 3 to 4 segments to get your point across.


  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Winter
  • Fall

–  Next, describe what is to happen in your points so that a logical order can be produced.  Brainstorm here, you can use as much or as little as you have to work with.


  • Spring – A new beginning, the leaves are turning green, new life is begun
  • Summer – A hot day, relaxed on the beach, fun music, carefree
  • Fall – Leaves change colors to beautiful earth tones, the weather begins to turn cold
  • Winter – The arrival of cold, symbolic of death, snow, Holiday times

What order should I put these in?  Logically, it would need to progress in a way that is similar to how time passes.  I could recommend many possibilities, but it is important that you can logically explain your order with your words.  Try to keep the thematic elements similar for each season (in this example).  
2.  Now that you have a timeline, think about how each part of your ensemble can combine to create the effects that you are trying to communicate.  Here are different types of ensembles and ideas to consider (not exhaustive):

  • Brass
  • Woodwind
  • Percussion
  • Guard
  • Props and other objects
  • Solos
  • Small Chamber Groups
  • Guard – Weapons
  • Backfield winds
  • Spread out winds
  • Clustered musicians
  • Integrated guard and band
  • Front Ensemble moments
  • Battery Moments

Now think, how can you combine some of these elements above to create a joint enterprise for effect?
Once you have those ideas, write them on your timeline.  
3.  Consider how the effects you have lead an audience member progressively through your show.   Plan on some sort of eye catching (or ear catching) experience every 15-20 seconds at least.  However, if each impact moment (or effect moment) has the same strength, then the last moments will be diminished.  
Think about someone who yells all of the time.  We all know people like this.  If he or she continues down this path, will the effect of the yelling be the same?  
Progress your effect to grab AND release the audience.  Build to the ends of your segments (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and have each of those be a contributing part to the overall idea.
4.  This does not happen by chance, nor does it happen easily.  If you think that just having “fun” music will make this happen, it won’t.  The combination of elements (Music, Drill, Choreography, Pacing, Theme, etc) working together creates effect!
5.  You still have to march and play well.  Nothing detracts from a wonderfully designed show more than out-of-step marchers, poor playing, and poor timing.  You will add to your effect in amazing ways just by having a well executed show.
6.  It is more than just the combination of elements, it is also the meshing of the performers, teachers and ideas together to PERFORM the concept!

This has been a quick overview, but I hope that it is very helpful to those working on planning a show currently.  I will continue to add to this as time goes on.

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