When one thinks of the use of technology in music education one does not often think of the marching band field as being a very high tech area. However, many of the same technologies that we use in the music or general education classrooms are now finding their way onto the field as well. Here are just a few of the ways that the well orchestrated use of tablets, apps, computer software, and other techno gear can breathe new life into traditional outdoor marching rehearsals and performances.
Preseason and Pit Technology Tools
For many schools the use of technology comes into play long before the marching band season even begins. A case in point is the Hempfield High School Marching Band in Landisville, PA under the direction of Adam Gumble. “Technology plays an important role in nearly every aspect of our marching band program. During the early planning stages, our staff utilizes Google Docs to stay connected and share ideas. Then we storyboard the whole show and digitally construct it using programs notation programs like Finale and drill design software like Pyware. Since our music arrangers use Finale we then generate audio files of the arrangements and individual parts so that students can have reference material to listen to when they are practicing over the summer.” As the season begins he also shares the drill and music files with students via their band website, social media sites, or through a Dropbox account so that students can have anytime access to their materials and allow them to be as prepared as possible when they enter the first rehearsal.
Rigging the Marching Band With Electronics
Even the band itself gets a performance boost from technology in many ensembles as the growth of the use of electronics and amplification in the pit ensembles has become more commonplace. Far more than an electric bass player with a battery powered speaker, today the pit ensemble can be just as wired as any modern band room. Jared Daubert, Band Director at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, PA says that “For performances we use a pretty hefty sound system. We mic all of our pit equipment and synths. We have some parent and student quartermasters whose job is solely to organize and set up the electrical equipment but the shows are designed so that they can be performed without the electronics if the need arises. It might be a little thin but the show is not totally dependent on it.“
For Gumble the pit setup goes even farther into the technology realm with the use of a digital mixer that can be controlled via an iPad remotely. “It allows our staff to make adjustments to the volume of the front ensemble and any audio samples that directly impacts the overall ensemble balance that is experienced by the audience. The mixer is synced through a program running on a MacBook Pro. We then have a wireless network that connects the laptop to the iPad with no Internet access needed.”
For more details on how electronics in the pit is changing the sound of some bands check out the technology article in the October 2010 issue of Teaching Music.
Drilling The Marching Band
Just as the iPad has changed the indoor music education classroom so to has it changed outdoor marching band rehearsals. Instead of carrying around dozens of pages of drill and sheet music in a large, bulky binder many programs are encouraging the use of tablets and smartphones to simplify things. Jared Daubert uses technology in many ways throughout the season but he is never without his iPad, loaded with a copy of APS Music Master Pro, an app inside of which he carries all of his drill charts, music scores, and other important documents. Daubert has plans to expand iPad use significantly in the coming years. “Our goal moving forward is that the whole leadership corps and all of the principal players of the band will eventually have an ipad to use during rehearsals.”
As you can tell the iPad just keeps popping up as a tool for a wide variety of music education applications. None more so than for Jon Waters, Director of Marching and Athletic Bands at Ohio State. At OSU the iPad has allowed the band to transform into a nearly paperless ensemble. “We used to go through almost half a million sheets of paper annually to print drill charts, music, and other materials for the students. With the iPads in use we have already saved over twenty-five thousand dollars a year in paper costs alone.” As a result their program now outfits all of the members of the ensemble with a school owned iPad, which is signed out as the responsibility of the student for the entire season.
Some may look at this and expect that the use of iPads or tablets in an outdoor environment might be fraught with problems but for OSU their success with the iPad is the result of proper planning and research. The band has outfitted the group with special weather resistant iPad cases as well as special shoulder straps that allow the iPad to hang at the side when not in use but can be easily flipped up to refer to when needed. These special accessories together with several specialized apps (see sidebar) have completely changed the way OSU rehearses and performs.
Marching Band Recording and Evaluation Tools
Today almost every portable smart device has a built in camera of some kind, allowing many opportunities for staff and band members to take quick clips of rehearsals, drill segments, and other important events that can then be used as individual or small group instructional materials.
As with many directors Gumble says that this easy access to video is essential to their success, “Staff members are able to video students during rehearsals and give students immediate feedback on their performance. Likewise, many staff members like to create "judges' tapes" during full ensemble rehearsals that can be shared with students online (Dropbox, social media groups). During championship week, a parent volunteer records the run-through at the end of each rehearsal. The video is posted on YouTube and is then dissected during a film session at the beginning of the following rehearsal. Students are then able to process their process their performance and create goals based on that feedback.”
At OSU, Waters uses a specialized iPad app called Coach’s Eye to give students and leaders very precise and instant feedback on their movements and performance. Using the app they can move forward and backward frame by frame through a video allowing them to see minute details that get missed with full speed video.
Communication and Management Tools For The Marching Band
The technology behind a solid, well functioning band program is not used solely on the field however. Sometimes the logistical technologies that operate behind the scenes are every bit as important as the tech that is used on the field. While many bands make due with using a simple website to collect and distribute information there are also specialized tools that make tedious non-musical chores much less frustrating. A case in point is the use of a software product called Charms Office which both Daubert and Gumble have plans to incorporate into their programs in the near future. Charms Office bills itself as a complete management, communication, assessment, and financial system package that allows a director to manage almost every aspect of a band’s operations in one convenient place.
The Charms system allows a manager to track student and parent contact information, uniforms, fundraising, event scheduling, and many other activities. It can produce bar code labels to use on printed music allowing students to check in and check out sets of literature for which they are solely responsible. The program also provides many easy phone, text, and social media communication options allowing a director to send a text message or email to all of their members, their parents, booster groups, to specific sections of the band, or even to individual students with just a few clicks.
While the success of any band still ultimately hinges on the dedication and effort of its members the well planned and executed implementation of technology tools like those shown in this article can go a long way toward helping a group reach its full potential.
TECH APPS FOR THE FIELD
APS Music Master Pro (iPad)
An all in one swiss army knife of music tools. Includes a sheet music reader, metronome, tuner, audio recorder, timer, and fingering charts all in one easy to use app.
Drill Book Next (iPad and Android)
An iPad app that imports and displays drill coordinates from a standard PyWare, EnVision, or Field Artist drill file. Students can view step by step drill animations on their tablet as needed.
A well respected sheet music storage and annotation app. Import files into ForScore from Dropbox or other sources and allow students to view or write on top of the music using their finger or a stylus.
Dropbox (iPad and Android)
An app that allows you to share folders of documents and other files with students almost instantly. Upload your drill pages, music, handbooks, or trip itineraries to a Dropbox folder from your PC or Mac and in a few minutes it will be available to everyone else in the ensemble.
OwnCloud (iPad and Android)
A free, do-it-yourself Dropbox competitor that allows your tech department to set up a dedicated file hosting service on your own server. Better if you want more control, lower costs, and no limits on storage space.
Coach’s Eye (iPad)
Although intended for athletic teams Coach’s Eye provides a specialized video camera app that allows a user to instantly move forward or backward through a video frame by frame. Great for allowing group leaders to zero in on problem areas and show students exactly what needs to be fixed.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Teaching Music Magazine. It is reposted here by the original author with permission from NAfME.