While I proclaimed myself to be the 40 year-old WGI virgin, I’m really not new to the whole scene. I’ve been a member of several marching organizations, both winter and summer, since 1991. I’ve also had the privilege of working on the instructional staff of a few groups. One thing a new instructor can do correctly out-of-the-gate is being prepared. Here is what is in my bag that I bring to every rehearsal. There are some extras that you can include for summer drum corps & marching band as well.

Gock block

The Latin Percussion Jam Block Medium (Red) is the gold standard of all things pageantry.

Drum stick

You’re going to need something to hit said gock block. I picked up a pair of marching snare sticks at a drum corps show. They’re much beefier than a normal snare stick and you can tape them with electrical tape for even more durability.

Hearing protection

Some people say they can’t hear all the detail with earplugs in. It’s probably time for an upgrade. I have a set of Earasers and they’re amazing. Yes, they’re $50 and they’re worth it. Also, if you loose one, you can buy the missing side for $25. Personally I can hear more detail with them in as it filters out a lot of the background noise and echo.

If $50 is too steep, at least get a free pair of the foam plugs offered at literally every music venue. It will save your eardrums from all that gock-blocking you’ll be doing.

3-ring binder with drill and music score

I’ve tried electronic drill books on e-readers and tablets, but a printed score and drill sheets never run out of battery. Also, they’re visible in bright light and you can easily annotate them with changes. Sometimes old school is the way to go. Even if it’s not your preferred choice, it’s a great back-up. I put my pages in sheet protectors and always print double-sided to keep the weight (and waste) to a minimum.


For making annotations, duh. Also good to have if your members forget one – and they will.

Competition Badge

Being on staff, you probably have a badge to get into shows. They don’t give out replacements, so always put it back into your bag so you have it on contest days.

Valve Oil

This is more of a courtesy to brass players. Yes it’s their responsibility to oil their own valves. But inevitably someone will need something in the warm-up arc before a contest, when their case is a million miles away. I bring this to warm-up at the contest as extra insurance.

9v Battery

This is for Dr. Beat. Love him or hate him, the doctor is in the house, and he’s here to stay. If you are a percussionist, you probably already have a Dr. Beat – if not, get one. If you’re everyone else that relies on someone bringing a Dr. Beat, do them a solid and bring an extra 9v battery for it. That thing can go through a 9v like nobody’s business.

Pro-tip: instead of clicking “stop” on your Dr. Beat at the end of your rep, get in the habit of pressing the power button for extra battery savings.

Smartphone Apps

Here are my favorite apps:

Peterson iStrobosoft – Best, easiest to read, stand-alone tuner app. Period. Yes, it’s expensive at $10. Best $10 tuner you’ll ever buy.

TonalEnergy Tuner – Wicked awesome app. Fantastic tone generator for getting your drone on. Great for members as well – put it on a tablet and start practicing and it will tell you what is out of tune.

Metronome – I find myself using TonalEnergy (TE Tuner) for the metronome more and more.

Competition Suite – A service for judges tapes. Make sure you’re set up with the right permissions before you go to your first competition.

Voice Recording – whatever voice recorder app is included is fine. Useful for making rudimentary recordings or even doing a mock judges tape.

Spotify – Or something else to play music if you want to do a visual warm-up to music (or just jam out in general).

Band App / GroupMe / Facebook Messenger – Something to keep in touch with the other staff.

Notes – An app to make notes for things you’d like to fix (and how) and ideas for next rehearsal. I like Simplenote.

Engage / Drillbook Next – I prefer printed charts, but that’s me. If you’re going all-in with paperless make sure everyone is on board.

Headphones & Adapter

Bring your headphones if you want to listen to judges tapes before critique. If you’ve got an iPhone, don’t forget the 3.5mm dongle adapter in case you want to plug it into a sound system and blast to some tunes.

Bluetooth Speaker

Useful for listening to judges tapes aloud with staff or for sharing them with the members.


I’m old school. I love DCT for keeping lips working. I keep it in my winter bag because it can be very dry, even indoors. A must for summer – bonus that it has sun protection built-in.

Summer Stuff

These are things I add to my bag when summer rolls around. Most of this is for weather – in particular the sun.


Must have – keep that sun off of your face.


There are some dummies out there that are still looking to work on their tan. Skin cancer is real. If you’re planning on marching or teaching for multiple summer seasons and you want to have a normal lifespan, put some damn sunscreen on, and do it on the regular. I consider SPF-50 to be the minimum, 30 if there’s absolutely nothing else available. If I can, I go for SPF 70-100 broad spectrum.


While you’re at it, protect those baby blues.

Sun sleeves

These are the best inventions ever. Put on a t-shirt, then put on your sun sleeves. Columbia has these wicked Freezer Zero sleeves that have a cooling sensation when they get wet (from sweat). Fantastic, 💯, A+, would wear again.

Rain Poncho

This doesn’t have to be fancy, just something that will keep you dry. Ideally it can roll up and be stashed in your bag without taking too much space.

Extra socks

For when it’s rainy. Never underestimate how miserable you’ll feel with wet feet. Fresh, dry socks are the answer to a rainy day’s misery.

Anything else?

Did I forget something? A small first aid kit comes to mind, but I bet there’s more. Let me know in the comments what you consider essential.

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