Marching band halftime shows are a staple of American football and a highlight of Game Day for many fans. When halftime rolls around, football players hit the locker rooms while the band takes the field – it’s their time to entertain and shine. It’s the flashy uniforms, the articulate steps, and amazing choreography that gets everyone going. Whether you enjoy experiencing the fanfare from the stands or you dream of being part of it, watching the top 10 college marching bands in action will leave you mesmerized.
How We Chose The Top 10 College Marching Bands
Choreography, instruments, and crowd enthusiasm all come together in a great marching band performance. Every routine is filled with school spirit, a fast cadence, detailed script writing, and more.
There are hundreds of amazing marching bands all over America, but we wanted to highlight some of the best. We’ve considered animated formations, choreography, famous performances, and crowd enthusiasm to showcase our favorites. So, whether you’re a casual viewer, or a hardcore marching band fanatic, here are 10 of the most famous college marching bands.
The 10 Best College Marching Bands
Everything is bigger in Texas and the marching bands are no exception. The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band is a 400+ member military marching band – the largest of its kind. The band members practice their music and their moves for up to 40 hours every week. It’s a full-time job, and their dedication shows every game day.
The band is known for its big sound and precise, traditional marching style, known as the corps style, which involves highly complex formations and patterns. The band’s signature crisscross formation is particularly impressive with all the band members approaching the center of the field from four different corners in precise formation. This culminates in a gigantic X formation in the middle of field, all while continuing to play.
Known as the “Hollywood’s Band” the Spirit of Troy has been featured in dozens of movies and TV shows, including Forrest Gump, the Little Rascals, and Hello Dolly! Even off-screen, this band is seriously impressive. It also boasts the most performances at the Rose Bowl than any other college band–at 34 times!
The Trojan Marching Band is easily distinguishable from other famous college marching bands by its signature Trojan fanfare and unique low brass playing style.
Even those without in-depth marching band knowledge probably know about the famous “Dotting of the I” that the Ohio State University Marching Band’s pregame show is known for. This is a tradition that goes back to the 1930s, where one of the band members stands as the dot of the I in the Ohio script formed by the band. The ensemble is one of the largest all-brass and percussion bands. The 225 band members put in about 20 to 30 hours of practice a week.
The band is famous for its astounding drills that have gone on to become viral videos seen by people around the world. One of the more popular viral videos includes that of the band members doing the Michael Jackson moonwalk across the field complete with the trademark hat and white gloves. Other viral band formations include Harry Potter flying on a broomstick and T-Rex stomping across the field. With spectacular performances such as these Ohio State University Marching Band has more than earned its nickname as ‘The Best Damn Band in the Land’.
This University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band started out as a cornet-only ensemble over 110 years ago but has grown into a full-fledged marching band. Today, this historic band has earned a spot among the top 10 college marching bands in the country. They’ve performed for the presidential inauguration every year (except 2013) since 1965.
This amazing band is well known for entertaining audiences with elaborate halftime performances including high-energy drills, kaleidoscope-like formations, and stunning pyrotechnics. These are the exact elements that wow any audience who sees them.
Back down to Texas for another massive band! An especially intriguing instrument in this band, which draws spectators from all over, is ‘Big Bertha’ or Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band – the largest marching drum in the world. This massive marching drum has been part of the band since 1955.
The Longhorn band is one steeped in tradition. They favor a traditional style of marching along with performing classic tunes. “Rawhide”, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “William Tell Overture”, and “Deep in the Heart of Texas” are among some of the favorites. Full of pride and tradition, the band is also known as the “Showband of the Southwest” for a good reason. Some of the band’s signature formations include many that are uniquely Texan. Like, the state written in cursive, the longhorn, and the state’s outline.
Believe it or not, Purdue’s marching band was formed a year before the football team! Since then, Purdue’s All-American Marching Band has been going from strength to strength. It is the most prominent Big Ten marching band and boasts a few impressive alumni. The alunmi include Orville Redenbacher and Neil Armstrong who played the tuba and baritone respectively.
True to their name, the band always starts every pre-gam performance with a patriotic rendition of ‘I am an American’ and the National Anthem. As part of the patriotic tribute, the band marches to the tune of ‘America the Beautiful’ and ends in the formation of the shield from the United States coat of arms.
At every performance, spectators are treated to the entertaining sight of the band’s Big Bass Drum Crew frantically pushing a gigantic bass drum across the field. This is in fact the largest bass drum in the world and is the All-American Band’s pride and joy.
The “110” in its nickname is in honor of the original 110 members of the band, which is now 245 members strong. Today the 110 represents the “110% effort” that goes into memorizing music, drill, and performing. The Marching 110 has performed in over 40 NFL halftime shows, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade twice, and on several international stages.
The Blue Band had very humble beginnings – in 1899 it was founded with only 6 members total in the drum and bugle corps. Now 320 members strong, the Blue Band is among the most respected college bands in the nation, well known for their athletic performances executed with utmost precision.
The Penn State Blue Bland features instrumentalists, silks, majorettes, a featured twirler, and of course a drum major. The band has performed in many bowl games, concerts, community outreach events, and pep rallies. They have also been featured in fashion shows and magazines. Talk about fame!
The University of Michigan Marching Band has some accomplishments to admire. They were the first Big Ten marching band to perform at the 1948 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the first Big Ten band to perform at the 1973 NFL Super Bowl, and the first marching band to perform in both the Rose Bowl and Yankee Stadium in the same season in 1950.
They were also the first marching band to win the Sudler Trophy – known as the Heisman of the marching band world in 1982. The University of Michigan Marching Band often gets invited to play at away games and community outreach events.
10. Honorary Mention: University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band
Of course, we have to give a little shout-out to the Hawkeye Marching Band since College Raptor is located in the heart of Hawkeye territory—Iowa City (and a few of the writers, including yours truly, were members of the band—Go Hawks!).
With bright yellow uniforms, it’s hard to miss this fun-loving band. HMB entertains every crowd and showcases both nostalgic and new music. The band has earned some high praise. CNN says they are “One of the top ten best college marching bands in the nation!” Kirk Ferentz, head coach of the Hawkeye Football team, says, “We gain a significant advantage playing at home in familiar surroundings with friends, fans, and the band cheering us on!”
Known for its tight formations and catchy tunes, the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band performs at all home football games. In addition, the band often travels across the nation to perform at parades, away games, and Super Bowls.
College Marching Bands Enhance the College Experience
Whether you’re watching a pregame or halftime show, marching bands are an awesome part of college sports. In colleges all around the country, marching bands perform crisp drills and blare incredible music until the whole stadium is rocking. Combined with the cheerleaders, mascot, and fans, the ensemble truly creates the game day culture.
Whether you’re at a home football game or an away game, a marching band performance is always entertaining.
Eager to march with or cheer on any of these top 10 college marching bands? Enter your information into our college match tool! You’ll see your admission odds and potential financial aid packages for any college in the country!