Field Show Design

Mike Lawson • Technology • May 1, 2002

In the high profile work of the marching band, it’s nice to know there are time-saving options to relieve your stress and stretch your creative energy. First of all, you can purchase good “stock” marching band shows from Warner Bros., Arranger’s Publishing Corporation and MSConcepts, among other reliable companies that offer modifiable software with coordinate music routing. You could also hire a show designer to create an original show for your band with original arrangements which also have modifiable software at a premium fee. The third option is to write your own show from scratch and perhaps hire a show designer to add some sparkle.

There has never been a better time than now to create with show designing software. The speed of Pentium IV computers is necessary for writing sophisticated halftime shows with ease. Color printouts with graphic instrument IDs for individual students (instead of dots) are attractive and easy to read. Coordinate printouts provide text instructions for individual marching routing, saving more time and paper than before, especially when you start teaching the show to your students. You’ll no longer need to hire the show designer to also teach the show.

Making the transition from handwritten to computer-generated shows can be a big step for many band directors, so here are a few points to ponder. Hand-written shows are inflexible as designed for a specific number of marchers/musicians, and any drop-outs during marching band season can cause you time-consuming grief. If your show designer is out of town, he may need to FedEx the handwritten show to you instead of e-mailing it in a few seconds along with an attached data file. Hand-written shows do not provide individual coordinate instructional sheets for each student like the computer-generated shows. A good way to get started is to play with the software during the off-season. Take one of your past shows and put it into a show-designing program to practice the software entry procedures.

You’ll probably be using Pyware 3D or other products (Virtual 3D and 3D Java) by Pygraphics ( because it is the only show-designing software on the market today. As you become familiar with it, here are a few exciting discoveries waiting for you.

The fast animation will let you present your drills and music in “real” time because music can be coordinated with the drills in either MIDI or .wav files. Students can see and hear the show before learning the show and before you take it to the field. Your printouts can display a stadium view as well as the view from the marcher’s perspective with a different view for each student. Simulated videos can be generated for students to study their marching band assignments. Pyware also has an inexpensive player that allows directors to play back any published modifiable halftime show, modify it where necessary and print out instructions for teaching the show before you’re ready to commit to owning an expensive show-designing software application.

Drill Design Software Applications Through the Years

In the early 1980s, when Apple was the new kid on the block, only a few software companies developed and sold products to the music educator. Prominent companies among these were ECS, headed by Dr. David Peters, and TAPS, headed by Roger McRea. One dedicated to marching band software was called Pygraphics headed by Py Kolb. There were two obstacles for these early software companies; one was the cost of computers and the other was the acceptance by educators of the computer and software. This was, after all, very new to everyone. With the advent of more powerful IBM and Macintosh computers toward the end of the 1980s, more software companies arrived. Passport Designs, which sold notation software to professionals and hobbyists, decided to enter the educational market. Other companies, new and established, decided to “test” the educational market in the hope of riding the technological wave through music education. 
The earliest marching band design programs were limited to predetermined forms and movements. Using these programs without supplemental hand charting was very constricting. Pyware’s Charting Aids, Drillquest, MEI, Wenger’s ShowWriter, Advantage and others began to add more features, expanding their capabilities to include a wider range of styles, movements and stagings. Pyware seems to be the only program that has survived, probably due to the extensive costs and time of keeping up with rapidly advancing technologies.

Gary Smith, noted marching band pioneer from the University of Illinois, shared his thoughts about early computer show designing.

“As soon as computers were invented, I knew it would be a short time before someone would devise a way to save many hours of charting by hand,” he noted. “Prior to computers, when I charted a show, one page included 285 symbols to indicate the starting positions of each person, another 285 different symbols to indicate ending positions, arrows and knobs to show paths and facings, text for instructions and symbols for horn angles. A template was used to mark each symbol. There were approximately 40 pages in each show with five different halftime shows and one pre-game show. I calculated that it took about 250 hours to chart each show. Needless to say, I could not wait for a program that would do all this on the computer. The first time I was able to configure a computer to chart the symbols, it was on a plotter. It took about 30 minutes to develop each page, reducing the total time down to about 20 hours to complete an entire show. I was so excited! I could not see how it would ever get any faster than this. Now you can print out an entire 40-page show in about two minutes. The next step will be for the computer to read your mind and just print out the charts. In the future, maybe you will be able to hook the computer up to the sound system and let the computer teach the drill.”

Dan Ryder, another show design specialist, recollects his early years in marching band technology.

“I have come through the whole transition as a professional designer from the years spent writing drills by hand to the latest Pyware Java program. The most important change in my designing is that when I was charting by hand, most of my time was spent drawing the forms and labeling individual positions. Since using the software, most of my time and energy is focused on the creative part of designing, and very little on the mechanics of drawing. I also use a graphics tablet and stylus which draws the formation into the computer program. Therefore, I am able to create better shows than in the past.”

During the 1990s, the technology landscape seemed to change exponentially. Apple IIGS “graphics and sound” computers were quickly replaced by Macintosh, and numerous PC clones had several operating systems to choose from. New products such as 3D (Dynamic Drill Design) from Pygraphics used motion picture animation technology and notation products such as Finale and Sibelius that are now used to write and produce most of the music published today. Many other programs for theory, pitch and ear-training and administrative software became readily available for the educator.

Bob Buckner, another pioneer show designer, has seen many changes in show designing software. He recalls that the mid- to late 70s was the beginning of “outside” designers and directors writing shows for other band directors. Of course, this was before the computer. The “modern” thing back then was to write with acetates using overlays to show the transitions and movement. With the Apple IIe and Pyware’s Charting Aid, design started to change because of the ability to “show and teach” the designed movement. The most important contribution of the computer was to help get the designer to produce a totally professional show that was very easy to teach. Some good designers still design by hand because they can “design” faster than with a computer but it then takes them most of the summer to teach the drill because they have to place the students by hand or with antiquated drawings and it takes a long time. With the computer printouts and ability to show movement and animation, students can learn a show within days – not weeks or months.

Twenty years ago, the emphasis in marching band was music and sound. Now the emphasis extends to the “visual.” In the 80s to early 90s, a halftime show would probably have 32 sets. With design changes moving more toward drum corps-style marching as well as the fact that there are larger stadiums and much more area in which to move, a show can now be much more elaborate and have upwards of 100 sets. Much more movement and less musicality is today’s style. The visual change has affected the velocity of the marching step. Steps used to be 22.5 inches but today you find 45-inch steps or four steps to five yards.

Pyware: The Lone Ranger of Show Designing Software

Only one show design software company has survived the turbulent tide for 20 years. This company is Pygraphics, founded by Py Kolb. Kolb started playing in bands at age 10 and wound up playing with the University of Texas Longhorn Band in Austin. With a background in computer science and an emphasis in software, he saw a need for marching band directors to have an easier and faster way to design drills and believed a computer could help like it was doing in other fields. He developed the first drill design product called Charting Aid. Using the Apple II, it required a plotter to print out the charts. As with computers, Pyware™ software rapidly improved over the last 20 years. Today, 3D Java is used by many marching bands, drum corps, and pageantry groups all over the world. Creative production groups for the Olympics and Walt Disney World have used 3D Java for ceremonies, special shows, and commercials. Pyware software products were used for the 1980 Los Angeles Olympics, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and, most recently, the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. In the fall of 2002, 3D Java will be featured in a full-length movie being released by 20th Century Fox called “Drumline.”

Ease of use and power are the best reasons for the success of Pyware’s 3D and 3D Java show designing software. 3D Java is a “count by count” application (rather than page by page), which makes it very easy to create “sub routines” for sections, allowing other sections to move in continuous transition. 3D has become so universal that resources now abound for the director who lacks time or ability to design their own shows. Directors can purchase completely adjustable drills created with 3D, alter them and print them out with a Pyware player.

Designers can draw any shape they desire because once a form is drawn at the beginning of the drill, 3D can adjust the shape on every count. The designer simply molds the existing shape on the chosen count of the drill and 3D takes it into a continuous evolution of shapes. With this new animation technology, forms are easily “morphed” into one another, creating an even flow throughout the drill.

And Java programming language is cross-platform compatible with Mac or PC. This compatibility allows the show designer to attach data files to an e-mail and the band director gets the show in seconds. You can start the show in the middle or at the end of the show and even work backwards. The multi-functional printouts save you a tremendous amount of paper! Flexible print formats accommodate professional football fields, high school fields and college fields, plus you can design a parade routine. Also, Craig Harms ( has developed an optional font for the basic 3D application and a new font for 3D Java. In addition to the letters and numbers, actual characters in the shape of specific instruments, flags, rifles, and drums are incorporated into the font set. It can be obtained through Craig Harms or your Pyware dealer.

Helpful Marching Band Instructional Materials

“The System,” by Gary Smith, is a marching band guide written for band directors, drum majors and student leaders and is used as a text for college marching band procedures courses. A partial list of its contents includes leadership concepts, show design techniques, rehearsal procedures, teaching techniques for marching fundamentals, commands, administration and organization, developing musical style, showmanship and more. Smith focuses first on designing by hand to gain confidence in the show design process; and once designing skills are developed, software becomes a natural enhancement in the creative show designing process. This book is particularly good for learning the myriad of show designing concepts with and without a computer. Source:

Dan Ryder’s “Techniques of Marching Band Show Design” and his “Workshop for Techniques of Marching Band Show Designing” are the most comprehensive combination of books available. All current concepts and examples of formations are included. This is a must-have item in your show designing library. Also available from Dan Ryder is his “Transitions for Marching Bands,” volumes 1, 2 and 3. Each book includes starting transitions, production transitions and closing transitions. Animated diskettes are available for volumes 2 and 3 for the Mac platform. Source:


Craig Harms ( has also developed a whole series of instructional videos on the use of Pyware’s Basic 3D program and a basics video for the use of Pyware’s new 3D Java application. They are great refresher courses when you need to remember something in the program in the off-season. Videotapes are arranged with a count sheet so directors can quickly refer to a specific application.

Perhaps the best assortment of videos dealing with color guard, percussion techniques and marching band fundamentals can be found at McCormicks’s Web site ( mccormicks/videos.htm). You will find just about any instructional video you need.

Videos of the 2001 Texas State Marching Band Contest are available from Dan Ryder. You can order either high camera or multi-camera views

Finding Show Designers and Clinicians

There is a plethora of people listed on the Internet who specialize in show designing. I recommend you first get referrals from your peers in the teaching profession. Also, execute the following compound search with your Internet browser on “Pyware” and “marching band” and you will find many experts. Beware, there are many companies who sneak “Pyware” onto their Web pages just to get listed on an Internet browser search who have nothing to do with Pyware. If you contact Pyware directly (, the company can refer you to clinicians and show design writers since they work with these people every day.

For 15 years, Craig Harms at Creative Consultation Service (CCS), has been one of the principal consulting companies for Pyware. CCS is a full-service drill design company writing custom drills for bands throughout the country. Harms is also involved with writing package shows for Warner Bros. CCS also conducts workshops throughout the country along with one-on-one sessions for directors in Colorado. These sessions are private seminars which address specific needs of directors and drill designers. Source:

Summer 2002 Show Designing Clinics

Dan Ryder offers a one-week band director’s marching band technology workshop in San Antonio, Texas, from June 17 to 21, 2002.

Craig Harms will be conducting workshops at Bands of America, June 24-29. This established summer workshop will have a drill design and arrangers’ lounge for directors who wish to spend time working on their shows. For more information, contact Bands of America Inc.,, or call 800-848-BAND. Harms will also be conducting other summer 2002 workshops at the Vivace Productions Marching Summer Camps for students and directors at Lafayette College, July 10-13, and West Chester University, August 2-5, both in Pennsylvania. Contact John Villella, Vivace Productions Inc., 800-264-1121. Harms is also available for group sessions.

Gary Smith offers summer marching band workshops for educators. For more information, visit

Purchasing Stock and Original Marching Band Shows

Arranger’s Publishing Corporation ( offers an extensive library of marching drills and arrangements for all levels. The drills are offered in group sizes: 35 to 50, 65 to 80 and 95 to 110.

Warner Bros. offers WB 3D Premier Quality Marching Band Shows and Drill Designs on floppy disks and CD-ROMs. The special 3D drill player used in the WB 3D Drill Designs includes these features:

  • All drill CD-ROMs contain both PC and MAC versions.
  • Animate your drill with or without MIDI music (MIDI tracks are not included with the designs).
  • View any count of the drill.
  • Automatically rewrite the drills to match the size of your band.
  • Print full charts for yourself and your staff and coordinate sheets for your students.
  • The new installer gives you the option to load the files if you own the complete 3D or virtual 3D program.

The WB 3D Drill Designs are the easiest and best way to get started in computerized drill design. All the music, ideas, and designs you need are in one convenient, easy-to-use package. Whether you choose to purchase a single printed title or an entire show, your WB 3D Drill Designs will accommodate the size of your band or the format of your show. PC and MAC versions are written with Pyware ™ 3D Dynamic Drill Design software.

MSConcepts is another designing company that can meet your needs from “stock” shows to original specialized shows as well as tutoring on an hourly basis. MSConcepts currently has over 160 different shows in its catalog with a variety of difficulty levels and themes. Two popular series are the Special Request shows – good enough for contests or competitions – and the Cadet Supreme Shows. MSC offers regional protection on all shows, allowing one school to have exclusivity in their area without running into the same show design by a neighboring school. This is done on a first-come, first-serve basis.

These drill designs are constructed as custom-designed shows and then adapted to eight to 10 different band sizes. MSC offers a variety of options along with its field shows:

  • Flag choreography instructional videos with each show.
  • Animated drill design videos to each show design.
  • Individual coordinate sheets.
  • Computer disks for design.
  • General effects packages with instructional videos for horn line choreography and performance tips.
  • Specially designed flags to fit with the show, as well as many other designs to choose from.
  • Full silk-screening capabilities for custom-designed apparel items such as band T-shirts, sweatshirts, etc.
  • Full Line of accessories, such as shoes, gloves, flag poles, rifles, podiums, percussion equipment, etc.
  • A Flag Exchange program where groups can submit used flags to to sell their flags on consignment.

On the MSConcepts Web site ( you can preview most of the shows by clicking on the Animation sample. This will provide you with a short sample of the drill design. There are also links available with most of the music. MSC has been partnering with band directors for 16 years, providing valuable support and time-saving solutions for every aspect of their instrumental programs.

Closing Comments

You really don’t have to be a show designer to use marching band technology today. The show design technology has really evolved over the past 20 years and can save you time and energize your creativity. Show design software can make a difference in your visual presentations. Investigating the URLs listed in this article will surprise you with useful products and services. Be sure to view sample shows online before purchasing anything. Good luck and see you at halftime.

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr.’s technology column is a regular feature of SBO magazine. Dr. Kuzmich is a nationally known music educator with more than 30 years of teaching experience. He recently earned certification from TI:ME (Technology Institute for Music Educators) to be a national training instructor. His academic background also includes a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has 250 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, he frequently participates in workshops throughout the United States and several foreign countries. For more information about Dr. Kuzmich, please visit his home page at

This article appeared on pages 54 – 61 in the May issue of School Band and Orchestra.

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