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Survey: In Step with Drill Writing Trends

Mike Lawson • Archives • April 9, 2012

Marching band performances by school groups vary from incredibly complex and elaborate field shows to simple, perfunctory performances. While much of this range is born out of the wide array of skill levels of the performers (and directors) – as well as program emphasis, competitive inclination, funding, and the priorities of the community and school – the methods by which directors plan and implement drill have also changed dramatically, courtesy of technological innovation and the increasing sophistication of the activity.

This recent SBO survey seeks to uncover the latest drill writing trends and tips from today’s band directors, while also providing a general overview of how educators approach the marching element in their music program.

Does your marching band perform elaborate field shows?

“We do move, but not extremely difficult routines that we would look bad on the field.  I would rather have an easier show that the band can be proud of than a harder one that would embarrass them.”

Matt Nelson

Fort Cherry Jr.-Sr. High

McDonald, Pa. 

“We perform our competitive show designed to push our students physically without taking away from the musical product.  We perform this at all home football games and six or seven competitions a year.”

Brian Gallagher

Chino Hills High School

Chino Hills, Calif. 

How many unique shows does the marching band typically perform each season?

How has drill writing and design evolved in the past 10 or so years?

“Velocity. We move so much faster and forms change a lot more frequently.  You are also seeing a lot more individual demands placed on the performer in regards to choreography.”

James Hannah

Plano West Senior High School

Plano, Texas

“The evolution of drill writing has evolved with the technology, largely Pyware. As the routines with animation are easier to see animated, it’s easier to see if things are feasible for students to do. At the same time, those who are really good at drill writing are good at it with technology or not, just as composers who are/were really good without technology were composing before notation software.”

Brian Toney

Grovetown High School

Grovetown, Ga. 

“Things now are much more theatrical.  Some bands are much more worried about movement than they are staying in step.  We have gotten away from the military style of precision drill.  Some bands now rely on electronics and I don’t agree with this either.  I guess I am just old fashioned.”

Darrell Boston

Loretto High School

Loretto, Tenn.

“The visual component has definitely become just as important as the musical component, and they each interact and support each other more than ever.  You can’t have one without the other.”

Scott Muenz

Columbia High School

Columbia, Pa. 

“The basic concepts are still the same. Drill writing does go through phases. Once a new idea hits, everyone wants to try it. There are some taboos it seems, and then all of the sudden, those fall away. The main concerns for us as a smaller band are instrument placement where elements can be heard, along with the integration of all of the elements into the thought process of the visual book. The guard is, of course, a huge element and, when included properly, can have a very positive impact on an otherwise small bands ability to be successful.”

Michael Scheiber

Chesterton High School

Chesterton, Ind. 

“From my perspective, there has been less change in the past 10 years than there was in the 10 years preceding.  Mostly the changes have been in theme of the show and show concepts.”

Steve Garner

South Middle School

Nampa, Idaho

Do you use software when writing drill? If so, how is it most helpful?

“We still remain the same as we have been for the past 45 years. We are strictly a dance and swing marching band, incorporating the dancing techniques of Dyke Ford, George Bird, Jim Billingsley, and John Weitzel from the Stark County, Ohio area.”

Dennis Dellifield

Allen East High School

Harrod, Ohio

“Software makes feedback during the creative process so much more immediate and, therefore, allows the opportunity to perfect the program before the students begin the learning process.”

Ronald Wasser

Berwick Area Sr. High School

Berwick, Pa. 

“I don’t really want to say we could not survive, but we do rely on it for precision purposes in printing out coordinate sheets and teaching using the animation functions.  Most of the initial ‘writing’ and design work is done by hand.”

Paul M Anderson

Thornwood High School

South Holland, Ill. 

“We are finally beginning to integrate drill writing that is done with the aid of a computer program. What has held this back so long is the lack of time provided for band instructors to master the software and really utilize it. However, we like the ability to show students what the drill will look like by playing it for them on the computer.”

Patrick Dorn

Monona Grove High School

Monona, Wis.

Do you employ an outside consultant specifically to assist with writing drill?

“I have written drill myself, but as long as the budget can support it, I like to have my summers free to spend with my family!”

Jayson Gerth

Southeast Polk High School

Pleasant Hill, Iowa

“I find it strange that no one expects directors to compose their concert music, yet some people still think that the director should write drill!”

Steven Connell

MOC-Floyd Valley Schools

Orange City, Iowa

Do you have any tips for writing effective and engaging drill?

“Every once in a while, we borrow a dance number from a college band on YouTube. This year we performed Ohio U.’s “Party Rock Anthem” routine, to great success. Our kids contacted Ohio’s director, who put them in touch with Wisconsin’s director (where Ohio got their arrangement of the music), who kindly forwarded it to us. Our kids watched the video and figured out the choreography to teach the band.  A couple of our students made robot helmets to match LMFAO’s video (complete with light-up eyes) and donned them near the end of the routine, ripping off their tear-away slacks to reveal shiny leggings – the crowed went wild. We’re not the Marching 110, but it was super fun!” [For video of this performance, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKOcFs59mYo]

Richard Mancini

Camas High School

Camas, Wash. 

“Write with the music in mind, change/transition with the phrases in the music. Great moves are cool but if it takes away from the music, what good is it?”

Tedd Wilson

Pikesville High School

Pikesville, Md. 

“Often times, what is simple works best – the trick is to maximize your musical impact points.  Those who understand and use transitions the best are often the most successful.”

Jeff Rudy

McCallum High School

Austin, Texas

“The music comes first.  I try to write drill that will enhance the music, not take away from it.”

Chris VanGilder

Arkansas City High School

Arkansas City, Kan.

Additional thoughts on drill writing?

“Software advances have made it easier to review drill before it is actually taught. Do your homework, examine the material before you spend hours working on it, only to go back and make major changes due to design flaws. Communicate closely with your designer (if you use an outside source) on your needs and on your group’s ability level. Drill that does not fit the ability of the group can be frustrating to performers, audience members, and evaluators. “

Gary Gribble

Pope High School

Marietta, Ga. 

“Drill must be a visual representation of the music. Drill must be of a difficulty level that the students can perform well. Musical and clean drills are the keys to success.”

David E. Morris

Edward C. Reed High School

Sparks, Nev.

“We perform our competitive show designed to push our students physically without taking away from the musical product.  We perform this at all home football games and six or seven competitions a year.” Brian Gallagher Chino Hills High School Chino Hills, Calif. 

How many unique shows does the marching band typically perform each season?

How has drill writing and design evolved in the past 10 or so years?

“Velocity. We move so much faster and forms change a lot more frequently.  You are also seeing a lot more individual demands placed on the performer in regards to choreography.” James Hannah Plano West Senior High School Plano, Texas

“The evolution of drill writing has evolved with the technology, largely Pyware. As the routines with animation are easier to see animated, it’s easier to see if things are feasible for students to do. At the same time, those who are really good at drill writing are good at it with technology or not, just as composers who are/were really good without technology were composing before notation software.” Brian Toney Grovetown High School Grovetown, Ga. 

“Things now are much more theatrical.  Some bands are much more worried about movement than they are staying in step.  We have gotten away from the military style of precision drill.  Some bands now rely on electronics and I don’t agree with this either.  I guess I am just old fashioned.” Darrell Boston Loretto High School Loretto, Tenn.

“The visual component has definitely become just as important as the musical component, and they each interact and support each other more than ever.  You can’t have one without the other.” Scott Muenz Columbia High School Columbia, Pa. 

“The basic concepts are still the same. Drill writing does go through phases. Once a new idea hits, everyone wants to try it. There are some taboos it seems, and then all of the sudden, those fall away. The main concerns for us as a smaller band are instrument placement where elements can be heard, along with the integration of all of the elements into the thought process of the visual book. The guard is, of course, a huge element and, when included properly, can have a very positive impact on an otherwise small bands ability to be successful.” Michael Scheiber Chesterton High School Chesterton, Ind. 

“From my perspective, there has been less change in the past 10 years than there was in the 10 years preceding.  Mostly the changes have been in theme of the show and show concepts.” Steve Garner South Middle School Nampa, Idaho

Do you use software when writing drill? If so, how is it most helpful?

“We still remain the same as we have been for the past 45 years. We are strictly a dance and swing marching band, incorporating the dancing techniques of Dyke Ford, George Bird, Jim Billingsley, and John Weitzel from the Stark County, Ohio area.” Dennis Dellifield Allen East High School Harrod, Ohio

“Software makes feedback during the creative process so much more immediate and, therefore, allows the opportunity to perfect the program before the students begin the learning process.” Ronald Wasser Berwick Area Sr. High School Berwick, Pa. 

“I don’t really want to say we could not survive, but we do rely on it for precision purposes in printing out coordinate sheets and teaching using the animation functions.  Most of the initial ‘writing’ and design work is done by hand.” Paul M Anderson Thornwood High School South Holland, Ill. 

“We are finally beginning to integrate drill writing that is done with the aid of a computer program. What has held this back so long is the lack of time provided for band instructors to master the software and really utilize it. However, we like the ability to show students what the drill will look like by playing it for them on the computer.” Patrick Dorn Monona Grove High School Monona, Wis.

Do you employ an outside consultant specifically to assist with writing drill?

“I have written drill myself, but as long as the budget can support it, I like to have my summers free to spend with my family!” Jayson Gerth Southeast Polk High School Pleasant Hill, Iowa

“I find it strange that no one expects directors to compose their concert music, yet some people still think that the director should write drill!” Steven Connell MOC-Floyd Valley Schools Orange City, Iowa

Do you have any tips for writing effective and engaging drill?

“Every once in a while, we borrow a dance number from a college band on YouTube. This year we performed Ohio U.’s “Party Rock Anthem” routine, to great success. Our kids contacted Ohio’s director, who put them in touch with Wisconsin’s director (where Ohio got their arrangement of the music), who kindly forwarded it to us. Our kids watched the video and figured out the choreography to teach the band.  A couple of our students made robot helmets to match LMFAO’s video (complete with light-up eyes) and donned them near the end of the routine, ripping off their tear-away slacks to reveal shiny leggings – the crowed went wild. We’re not the Marching 110, but it was super fun!” [For video of this performance, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKOcFs59mYo] Richard Mancini Camas High School Camas, Wash. 

“Write with the music in mind, change/transition with the phrases in the music. Great moves are cool but if it takes away from the music, what good is it?” Tedd Wilson Pikesville High School Pikesville, Md. 

“Often times, what is simple works best – the trick is to maximize your musical impact points.  Those who understand and use transitions the best are often the most successful.” Jeff Rudy McCallum High School Austin, Texas

“The music comes first.  I try to write drill that will enhance the music, not take away from it.” Chris VanGilder Arkansas City High School Arkansas City, Kan.

Additional thoughts on drill writing?

“Software advances have made it easier to review drill before it is actually taught. Do your homework, examine the material before you spend hours working on it, only to go back and make major changes due to design flaws. Communicate closely with your designer (if you use an outside source) on your needs and on your group’s ability level. Drill that does not fit the ability of the group can be frustrating to performers, audience members, and evaluators. ” Gary Gribble Pope High School Marietta, Ga. 

“Drill must be a visual representation of the music. Drill must be of a difficulty level that the students can perform well. Musical and clean drills are the keys to success.” David E. Morris Edward C. Reed High School Sparks, Nev.

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