Techniques of Marching Band Show Designing

Mike Lawson • • April 7, 2017

Share This:

Dan Ryder has been in business since 1976, and provides band directors with custom designed or predesigned shows for their bands, and has written the definitive textbook to teach you how to design marching drills. SBO caught up with Ryder at the TMEA show in San Antonio, Texas, to discuss his book. 

Tell us about your book, Techniques of Marching BandShow Designing.

This is the first complete text written to teach or learn marching band drill designing. It is a complete system that covers all aspects of creating movements and formations that represent musical phrases. This text is for university and high school music directors, students and show designers. The text has 15 chapters, 640 pages with a hardbound cover. In addition, it comes with a flash drive with the animation of all transitions, concepts, geometric figures and complete drills using the Pyware program for Versions 7-9.

The major topics in this system have several chapters on types of transitions, analyzing music and staging the instruments and guard. There are additional chapters on types of formations, movements, and planning a show. The text begins with basic topics of being a drill designer, band maneuvers, formations and transitions. Chapters 1-10 form the complete foundation for drill designing. You must learn these to be able to create the first page which begins in Chapter 11: Designing the First Page of the Show.

Chapter 1 tells you how to become a drill designer. A person must be very creative and have a strong background in musical literature. A music education degree is necessary. A drill designer must be able to analyze music and design formations that reflect musical phrases. The designer be- comes successful if they also have experience being a member of a marching band in high school and college and, possibly, a corps. This chapter also teaches how to form a drill designing business and how to advertise their business to band directors.

Chapter 2 begins with mental exercises to orient the mind to create formations. It is very easy to move beaded string on charting paper to create curvilinear and linear formations. This is to get you motivated. Also, place lines for the percussion and beads for the guard which will highlight a complete formation. Continue this technique with all sizes of string. It is very simple to create formations using this method. You will see your ideas in seconds.

What are some of the steps for making a great drill?

There are many different techniques in this text for designing drills. Making a flow chart is the first necessary concept. The flow chart must be written in detail. Notate the tempos, key changes, dynamics and rhythm. The flow chart will be your guide to indicate every thought the composer created. You must study the score in the same manner as you do concert music. The melodic instruments must be moved to be focused in the drill. The score should be marked to reinforce the staging of these instruments. The flow chart must be notated 16 or more counts before reaching their formation. The flow chart is your map for phrasing. When the flow chart is completed, the drill could be written without having to listen to the recording. It will be much easier to design the drill with all this organized information.

What does it take to create transitions?

A drill designer must know how to write all types of transitions. It is important to design creative formations; but, generally, they are only seen for a few seconds unless you are going to halt. Transitioning to each formation is just as important as the formations themselves. This is the most difficult technique to understand and learn. In the beginning, it may take hours to write a transition that flows smoothly to a form. Therefore, there are four chapters on transitions in the book.

What makes a great transition?

There are different types of transitions. A transition may have one, two, three, four or more different concepts. All these transitions and concepts will be explained in the text. The more concepts there are in a transition, the longer the audience appeal. If people see a show week after week, the show with students doing different concepts in a transition, will keep their attention longer. The next step you must master is using concepts after analyzing a musical phrase. Chapter 15: Visual Concepts is a major part of the text. It includes 300 pages with diagrams of concepts with animation, as well as concepts for small to large bands. It will guide you to select the correct types of concepts and transitions. The designer must study and view all of concepts and find ones that will represent the composer’s phrases. The concepts must reflect what the composer has created.

Composers visualize motion and formations while they are writing. I mentioned to David Holsinger how easy it is to write drill to his compositions. David said when he is composing he is visualizing movement. Listen to music you want to use in your show. If music has a variety of rhythms, key changes, tempo changes and different instruments playing the melody, then the drill designer’s job will be easier.

The designer must also plan the staging of everyone in every transition. Staging must be noted in your flow chart. A transition may flow very well, but are the instruments and guard staged correctly? The staging of the guard is as important as the band’s staging. When a formation and transition are planned, the band may be placed first, or the guard first. The band and guard must be staged equally. The guard may be placed around the formation, or within the formation. Also, if the music has a group of like instruments being featured, the guard could be placed in a strong location near them. Everyone else may be reshaping a form or fragmenting groups to enhance the phrase.

It is extremely important to watch and study the animation of all the concepts in Chapter 15. There must be a variety of different concepts to keep the show attractive to the audience. When you listen to a musical phrase, many visual movements will immediately come into your mind. Each time you are creating a transition, you must imagine three or four concepts that reflect the phrase; use the one you like best.

It sounds like a lot to learn if a director wants to begin designing drills.

At first, designing a drill may be very frustrating with all the techniques you must learn in this text book. There are many ideas you must continually have in your mind. You must select the best movements and staging to have a quality show. This is the best method to design forms for a musical phrase. You must be positive that the band and guard have the sound and visual effect for every transition.

Theming shows is very popular, how does your book cover those ideas?

Chapter 13 has new concepts that add a lot of general effect that audiences really enjoy. I have been doing some theme shows with exciting graphics. This is becoming very popular. Most of these picture formations were created for university bands, but can be done for medium size bands. They look best if used at 2-step interval.

It is very exciting to create at least one of these formations in a show. One of the examples in the book is the word “glory” in “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Other words I’ve used are the script name of “James Bond” and “honor veterans.”

Pictures are also popular. I have done many of these also. It takes many hours of work forming them, but it’s fun to do. I’ve done pictures of eagles, covered wagons, stars, solid jets, bears and Texas. A story of images can also be entertaining. I did one on Gilligan’s Island with the boat SS Minnow that floated onto the island then crashed into a palm tree which in turn fell on the boat when it sank.

Chapter 14 has geometric formations. There are 240 solid blocks and wedges of all sizes. This saves time determining a size with the numbers of persons in a geometric figure. When the figure is found in the book, it can be copied from the flash drive and pasted into your drill.


The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!