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The different types of color guard competitions are indoor winter guard competitions, solo and small-group competitions, and marching band or drum corps competitions, in which the color guard is scored as part of the overall performance. Most high school marching bands include a color guard, which makes up an important visual element of their field shows, and many larger college marching bands have one of these flag-spinning sections as well. These groups usually compete and perform during the first half of every school year from August until December. Additional color guard competitions also take place during other times of the year.
Indoor color guard competitions are typically held on basketball courts, and performers usually stage their show on top of a vinyl floor cover large enough to be spread over this space. The cover is normally custom designed with colors meant to match the theme of the show. Each winter guard group begins each performance with a set-up that includes unfolding and spreading out its floor cover and setting up any backdrops they have chosen to include. Most competitions have strict time limits for this preliminary set-up with point penalties for exceeding them.
A noticeable difference between winter color guard competitions and summer color guard competitions is the type of music used. Winter guards perform their show routines to recorded music that can range from classical to rock to movie soundtracks. Many indoor color guard shows incorporate short clips of more than one song or music piece with common themes. Live instruments are generally not used in winter guard performances and some types of competitions may even prohibit them.
Marching bands and drum corps include flag-spinning teams as an integral part of their shows. The color guards in these groups perform routines with flags, wooden rifles, mock sabres, and often intricate dance steps to the live music that the band or corps plays. A drum corps performs in competitions throughout the summer months and often travels to various other performances as well.
Some color guard competitions include optional solo and small ensemble contests as a separate part of a winter guard or drum corps competitions. These extra performance options are often part of a regional or national championship, and they give talented performers a chance to show off their creativity. Solo performers usually choreograph their own color guard routines. A few members from the same color guard can also collaborate on their own small ensemble performance.