Music teachers tend to have a love-hate relationship with marches.
In my experience working with many music teachers, they tend to either think fondly about their time in a marching band or they hate it.
I loved it! And using marches with my students is my favorite type of activity to do every time.
Whether we’re simply making some beat motions, playing along, or talking about the history of the music, each one is a blast and an essential part of any music education.
Today, I decided to share my 15 favorite marching songs for schools.
On this list, you’ll find some to sing, some traditional American marches, and others too!
Happy teaching and music-making!
Pride Of The Wolverines
This is a lesser-known march by John Phillip Sousa, but it’s my personal favorite.
This one, in particular, seems to lean itself toward beat motions.
During the break strain, I stop making beat motions and instead do some angry fist-shaking matching the melody.
My kids love it!
I find it helps to connect your activity with a real-life marching band.
Don’t just tell them to copy you. Make it fun.
I talk about how a marching band has a leader called a Drum Major. The band has to follow the lead of the drum major.
They’re the college marching band, and I’m the drum major.
After a few lessons of doing the game, I’ll often pick an “assistant band director” to take over my leadership job, and this new student gets to make the motions.
Plus, I’m from Michigan, so we love to talk about Wolverines.
The Ants Go Marching One By One
This march isn’t a classically recorded march, but it is a staple in music programs worldwide.
This song hits so many positives, and young students love it. Here are some reasons this song is unique and great for teaching music:
- Counting for kindergarten and preschool
- Strong steady beat feel for pretending to be in a college band by moving and/or playing instruments
- In triple time
- In minor!
- Reinforces rhyming
- Well-known by parents too (letting you build musical connections between families)
Stars And Stripes Forever
It doesn’t get more iconic in the march world than the Star and Stripes Forever.
It’s even the official national march of America.
With this march, I make the normal steady beat moves and play along with it, but I’ll also use it with my older students.
This particular march has a lot more supplemental materials and information out there in the world.
One of my favorite things to do with this march is to talk about texture, instrumentation, and form.
Each section is so dramatic in its contrast.
Plus, this video shows the song and also highlights the different parts in a very visual way.
Henry Fillmore is a lesser-known march composer, though some of his music is still amazing.
In the community band my wife and I co-direct in northern Michigan, the people are obsessed with Fillmore.
We even do a fundraiser challenge to determine who is the march king, Sousa or Fillmore, and this last year Fillmore won!
The Footlifter is one of his best and most famous marches, and it includes a cool drum line section.
I’ll try to add something special for this song by getting a bass drum and bringing it in for my students to play on.
You can imagine how much they go wild over it.
Here is another John P. Sousa march, and this is another popular one.
The Thunderer was written to match the percussive sounds of fireworks with different instruments in the band.
Besides the standard beat play-along or moves, I love to discuss how some composers use instruments to emulate other sounds in life.
It’s a great lead-off into students making their songs or parts that match something in their lives.
Royal March Of The Lion
The Royal March Of The Lion isn’t a marching band song in the traditional sense, but it fits the bill.
As part of the Carnival of the Animals, it fits in with many lessons around the different movements.
What I love about this particular movement is the contrast between sound and the absence of sound.
It’s a great starting part for talking about rest in music, and it also perfectly demonstrates how silence is as much a part of the music as sound is.
On top of this, it’s good for discussing again how some music matches things in real life.
I started using this movement when I read my Kodaly Level I and II pedagogy and materials teacher Joy Nelson’s book The Music Effect.
(Link goes to book on Amazon.)
I love the activities in the book for this song.
Johann Strauss’s classic piece here is great for steady movement and an example of a marching song you wouldn’t normally hear.
One of the special things about this piece is how it’s expected the audience to clap during the piece (specifically on the second and louder repetition of the chorus).
Sure, it’s more of a piece you’d find in an orchestra or concert band than a marching band, but it’s still great to use.
National Emblem March
E. E. Bagley’s march is actually one of Sousa’s favorite marches.
The March King, Sousa, once said of his three favorite marches ever written, The National Emblem March was one of them (the other two were his own).
This march has a couple of unique elements to it.
First, the piece borrows from the opening of the Star-Spangled Banner in the A section with the low brass. Once I point this out to my kids, they freak out and think it’s cool.
The other cool element is the story behind it.
The story goes Bagley was writing the march while on a train with the marching band he directed.
He decided on finishing it that it was terrible, so he threw it in the trash.
One of the members found it and showed it to other members. They all liked it, so they practiced it and surprised him by performing it at their next concert.
Now, it’s his most famous marches and widely considered one of the greatest American style marches of all time.
And it almost never was.
March Of The Toy Soldiers
For another alternative to the “normal” march, we can turn to this piece from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.
Many kids have heard this march somewhere before, even if they don’t know what it’s from.
I loved doing different expressive movements with this song, but this one is one of the best I’ve found.
Plus, it’s always good to talk about how cool ballet is.
If you think of traditional marches in America, you’ll think of Sousa, but right behind him was Karl King.
This guy was known as the Circus March guy, and his music is always such fun to listen to.
The Walking Frog is one of my favorites, and the name lends itself to some fun animal movements with the younger grades.
It’s also a good launching point for discussion into music’s role at the turn of the 1900s and how people consumed music back then compared to now.
Plus, King literally ran away to join the circus, which is always fun to talk about.
The British Grenadiers
This is perhaps one of the oldest marches or at least one of the earliest we know of that shows off what a march sounds like.
The melody has roots in music that can be traced back to as early as 1622, and we know that song was used in military marching bands later that same century.
My students love to hear about how old pieces of music are, and it helps to build a connection with the past.
Source: Walker, Ernest (1907). A History of Music in England. Forgotten Books. ISBN 1334045305.
The Imperial March
OK, so this isn’t a “real” march, but what really constitutes a march?
A strong, steady beat? This has it.
Militaristic style? Yup, this has it too.
Contrasting sections? You guessed it.
Yes, this is one of the pieces from the soundtrack of Star Wars, but students can instantly recognize this, and then you get the chance to talk about how composers use themes to represent characters or feelings.
Second Suite in F (March)
I’m a huge fan of Holst, and I think pretty much every piece he ever wrote is pure gold.
But in an unbiased view, this March movement from his Second Suite in F is awesome to use in classes.
It shows how marches can be different while still being different.
With my older students, I like to use this with a compare and contrast activity with some group work and a Venn Diagram.
(Admin loves it when you do stuff like this, and it’s good for the kids either way!).
Into The Thick Of It
OK, who knows if this oddly popular song from the Backyardigans will stick around as popular music, but for now, I’ll use its popularity to get all of my students motivated to talk about marching, form, and practicing the steady beat.
Emblem Of Freedom
The last on my list is a Karl King march, and probably one of his most famous.
Like most of the traditional marches on this list, you can make steady beat motions, play along with the beat, talk about the instruments you hear, and much more.
Another idea I haven’t mentioned yet is to make up several ostinati patterns using rhythms your class knows.
Then, you play these patterns matching the form of the piece on instruments.