The Basics: A Crash Course for Parents



Welcome to the Helix Instrumental Music Program! This nationally recognized program has demonstrated consistent musical excellence throughout its 62-year history. The Helix Instrumental Music Program is considered one of the top programs in all of Southern California and is the largest in San Diego’s East County.


Many of the top academic students at Helix Charter High School participate in our music program and consider it a highlight of their high school experience. These are the nicest and best students at Helix Charter High School and the type of students you will want your child to be around and make friends with.


Looking ahead: Why should my child sign up and stay in Instrumental Music or Color Guard all four high school years?

College admission boards have told us time and time again that students who stay in their high school music program in classes like Helix Instrumental Music/Color Guard all four years have a great advantage for college admission over the typical students with the same GPA (grade point average).This is also true for music students compared with those who have taken the same number of AP (advanced placement) classes without being in a four-year program like Band or Orchestra. College admissions are actively looking for students who can show a four-year commitment to a high school program. College admission boards know that the chances of students participating in college campus life and activities and finishing college is much higher for music students than for typical students who only take AP classes in high school and do not show involvement in extra activities.

The Helix Instrumental Music Department encourages its students to take AP classes throughout their tenure at Helix and they are able to do so and stay in music all four years. It is important to understand that your student does not have to sacrifice being in music/guard all four years at Helix Charter High School for taking an “all-AP” class schedule if they are planning to go to a top-tier college. College admission boards attach great weight to staying in a music program of our caliber and involvement in music/guard will help in the College Board’s decision process. More of our music students are admitted to their first or second choice of college compared to the average Helix student who does not participate in a four-year program such as instrumental music.

“Taking music elective courses is a better indicator that a student will stay in college than high SAT scores or high GPA.”

- Dr. Denise C. Gardner, Effect of Music Courses On Retention, Georgia Tech, 2000.





Band is open to all interested students who play a band instrument, including brass, woodwinds, and percussion. Students are expected to play at a good level of proficiency because the program is focused on learning to play as an ensemble, not on learning beginning basic music skills. Taking private lessons outside of school is strongly encouraged, even if only bi-weekly or once a month.


Color Guard/Winter Guard is open to any student at Helix who is interested in dance, movement, and choreography while using a variety of props such as flags, imitation rifles, and sabers. The Color Guard wears a variety of costumes to enhance the visual representation of music and performs with the Helix Highlander Band during the first semester. When the fall season ends, the team becomes the Winter Guard for second semester. The class works on a new show that is performed with recorded music and competes with other schools at Winter Guard shows around Southern California, which are held in different school’s gymnasiums.


“The Marching Band is for the blind man to hear while Color Guard is for the deaf man to see!”


Marching Season runs from July through November:

All Band and Color Guard students participate in Marching Band during the marching season. There are two performance “events” for marching bands: the street march (parade) and field show (football halftime show). During the marching season, the marching band is focused on learning the music and marching/choreography for these two events. This music is performed during field competitions and parades on Saturdays as well as noncompetitive events such as football halftime shows, which are normally on Friday evenings. Marching Band is much like a sport and is very exciting for performers and spectators alike!

Both street and field marching involves precision marching and maneuvering, in addition to playing music. Much of the instruction during the marching season focuses on this aspect.


Orchestra is open to all orchestral string instruments. Students are expected to play at a good level of proficiency because the program is focused on learning to play as an ensemble, not on learning beginning basic music skills. Taking private lessons outside of school is strongly encouraged, even if only bi-weekly or once a month.


Concert Season – December through June

During Concert Season all students will be placed into one of these two groups, based on auditions:

Wind Symphony – This is the top group of our most elite musicians. Members are chosen through an audition process throughout the previous year and instrument coach and staff recommendation. This ensemble is open to 10th-12th graders only. This ensemble plays the most advanced college and professional-level repertoire. Generally, all students in this ensemble study with private music coaches. Students who wish to eventually become members of this ensemble are highly encouraged to take private music instruction to attain this high level of musicianship, even if only bi-weekly or once a month.


Concert Band/Symphonic Band – This is the entry-level group during the concert season and is open to all new band students. This group is made up of mostly 9th and 10th graders with a few 11th and 12th graders. The focus is on developing the skills needed to play the student’s musical instrument with the expectation that the student shows improvement and a desire to advance to one of the Wind Ensemble groups in the future. Students are highly encouraged to take private music instruction so that improvement is made throughout the year, even if only bi-weekly or once a month.


In addition, there is a special group called Symphony Orchestra, which is a combination of instruments from the band and the string orchestra. This group is made up of all string players and director-selected musicians from the band program (mostly from Wind Ensemble) and practices on occasional Wednesday evenings during the concert season.


Concert season events consist of multiple community concerts plus the possibility of one or two main festivals adjudicated by the SCSBOA (Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association) or CMEA (California Music Educators Association).


Jazz Band: Jazz Band meets only second semester. Director-selected musicians from the band  and orchestra program make up this group. The Jazz Band features the best of the best of the Helix Instrumental music program. The Jazz Band performs at several concerts during the year and at least one or two jazz festivals. Students who wish to learn jazz improvisation in depth should study with a jazz private teacher. Students are highly encouraged to take private music instruction so that improvement is made throughout the year, even if only bi-weekly or once a month.


The Incredible Pep Band: The Pep Band is open to all band musicians in the program and performs for some basketball and football games, assemblies, and special community events. Member’s are responsible for learning all the Pep Band tunes and need to be available when the Pep Band is needed to perform. This is a really fun group and also a great social activity for students and an easy way to earn community service hours.


Pipe Band: Our traditional Scottish Bagpipe Band is the only one of its kind in San Diego. This is a yearlong commitment and open to anyone, regardless of experience. The Pipe Band has a busy performance schedule and can be seen at many San Diego community events.


Winter Percussion Ensemble is an audition-only and staff-recommended group. This ensemble practices after school, on weekends, and over spring break. The class works on a new show that is performed with recorded music and competes with other schools at Winter Percussion shows around Southern California, which are held in different school’s gymnasiums. Students must be enrolled in an academic music course to participate.


Our website calendar contains a listing of upcoming events. Check this website in addition to signing up for our email list and our other social media.





As with all our music programs, students are HIGHLY ENCOURAGED to take private lessons! See this website for a list of recommended private instructors.




It is important to attend all performances, competitions, festivals, and practices!
In this “sport/activity” every member is “first string” and missing students greatly impact the ability of the group to perform.
Band Camp is held two weeks before school starts at Helix Charter High School from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day during week 1 and 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day during week 2 (see posted schedule on this website).
Horn line, Color Guard, and all percussionists have sectionals throughout the summer. (See calendar on website.)
When enrolled in Marching Band and/or Color Guard, your student will also be enrolled in Marching PE freshman year only.
During marching season there are additional rehearsals as follows:
Full Marching Band rehearsals each Wednesday night in the Helix Stadium 5:30 PM- 9:00 PM.
Predetermined after-school sectionals each week (each instrument section – e.g., trumpets – practicing together). Each section will determine the best day for them.
Occasional special rehearsals as needed (see schedule and calendar on the site).
There will be various field show competitions almost every Saturday in October and November. Locations will be throughout the San Diego area. 
The Marching Band, Color Guard, and Pipe Band also perform in the Helix Stadium for each home football game.
Schedule commitments are reduced during the concert season for students who do not choose to participate in the winter ensembles.




The Helix Instrumental Music Program has very strong parent support through the Helix Instrumental Music Association (HIMA). It is important to realize the value of parent help – it would be extremely difficult to achieve the high standard that is expected of the Helix Instrumental Music Program without the support and commitment of parents throughout the year.


All parents are asked to attend the monthly HIMA meetings in the band room, usually the first Wednesday of the month, at 7:30 PM.


There are many ways to get involved. Check the website and contact the president or specific chairperson if you’d like to help out. Some of our main needs are as follows:


Maintaining band uniforms, assisting students in dressing for competitions, looking out for the students’ health and well-being, and making sure students follow the competition dress code.


Providing meals to students during camp and at performances throughout the year.


Transporting instruments and equipment to and from events using the booster-owned trailers. Maintaining trailers and constructing show props as requested by the director. During the late summer we clean and prepare our trailers and equipment for the new year.


There numerous other jobs and committees that we need parent help with. The more parents decide to get involved with our association, the lighter everyone’s tasks will be. This is also a great social medium for parents and a perfect way to stay involved with your students through their high school years.


Competition Attendance: Parents are strongly encouraged to attend performances and competitions and MANY do! We are famous for our large cheering section.



Helix Charter High School provides very little financial support to fund our outstanding program. The music parents decided years ago that they wanted the very best Instrumental Music and Color Guard education possible for their Helix students. The Helix Instrumental Music Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (HIMA), supports a fully staffed and funded program.

Our parents are proud and willing to support our students and this is one of the reasons Helix Charter High School is known nationwide as a leading powerhouse music school. For more information about program funding and how HIMA operates, attend the monthly HIMA meetings in the band room. Please get involved and work with HIMA to support our program and our students!


To keep this high-quality program running, we accept tax-deductible donations and conduct various fundraisers throughout the year.

Feel free to make a donation below.




What about sports? Can my student be in Instrumental Music/Guard and still participate in sports?

The answer is absolutely! We have had music students in almost every sport at Helix, from the football team to cross-country to water polo. We encourage our Instrumental Music/Guard students to be involved in sports and as long as we are given enough notice when times overlap, we can always work out a compromise. The key to making music and sports work is checking both schedules and notifying coaches and the directors as soon as possible. Many of our Instrumental Music/Guard students do four years of band and four years of sports. Contact the directors for any questions regarding sports and band.

The first semester of Marching Band/Color Guard (the marching season) counts as PE credit. Band and Orchestra count toward the Arts requirement for UC schools and A-G requirements.

Some instruments are provided by the school. Please check with the staff for details.

We compete in what is known as the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association, or SCSBOA, which is the organization that administers the competition events and sets the judging rules.

Marching competitions are arranged by various “classes” or categories. Helix currently competes in Class 4A.

There is an awards ceremony at the end of the competition events. Our Marching Band and Color Guard leaders accept the awards on behalf of the groups. Program awards are displayed in the band room.

The top award for any marching competition (street or field) across ALL classes is called “Sweepstakes.” A Sweepstakes award supersedes any individual-class award.

The top award at a festival is “Superior,” meaning the students attained the highest degree of musical performance.