Technology: Drill Prep Apps

Mike Lawson • Technology • June 18, 2014

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The secrets to OSU’s paperless marching band rehearsals, increased efficiency, and much more

The OSU Marching Band has been a pioneer in utilizing technology in their drill preparation. Photo courtesy of The Fisher College of Business.

Have you ever dreamt of a paperless marching band rehearsal, perhaps during a windy day that had printouts flying across the field? Or thought about a way to decrease the time and expense of printing and coordinating sheets for every step and set of a drill design for each student? Fortunately, technology can now make these dreams a reality. New apps for iPads and Androids make paperless instruction easy, so you can funnel all of your creative energy directly into the marching band show.

The marching band at The Ohio State University took the world by storm when their extraordinary marching routines of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and T-Rex walking across the field were featured on national TV news spotlights. Their innovative introduction of iPads on the rehearsal field paid off. The band’s Oct. 26 performance of “Hollywood Blockbusters,” including Jurassic Park, has received more than 15 million views on YouTube:



OSU’s Paperless Solution

How did OSU’s “The Best Damn Band In the Land” (TBDBITL) wow crowds with spectacular and jaw-dropping performances for the past two years? You could point to OSU students Charlie King and Ryan Barta, who conceived an initiative to incorporate iPads into the band’s preparation workflow. “These guys came to me in the spring and said ‘How would you like to decrease our paper consumption by, oh, 100 percent?’” says OSU band director Jonathan Waters. “I was all ears because of our annual $24,000 printing budget, which is used for the 6,000 to 9,000 sheets of paper going out to the 225 members of the Ohio State University band in the form of 30- to 40-page drill and music packets for each show, and our band learns and performs eight shows during the fall band season. The iPad technology allowed our students to see the drill move, to see their individual positions on the field, to have their music, and the recordings of the band – really everything.”

“It’s literally a band within a box,” says Ryan Barta, a senior who plays trumpet and majors in operations and aviation management. “The bottleneck was there at the printer and I kept thinking about all that time spent waiting and passing out paper.”


iPads for Every Marching Member

Barta and King proposed expanding the group’s inventory of 45 iPads to more than 225, so that there would be one for every band member. They are now in the process of configuring the iPads for the whole band for the upcoming season.

Ryan Barta makes the argument clear: “iPads are tools that make it easier and more effective to do what we do. The project started off as a way to save paper, but in reality, the biggest impact has come from productivity and learning improvements. I believe with 100 percent of the band using iPads, we will be able to learn and produce halftime shows faster and more effectively. This reduces the stress on the students and allows for more time devoted to studies. The iPads are free for use during the season and available to students outside band rehearsal (class, home, and so on). At the conclusion of the season, the iPads are collected and inventoried. iPads can be purchased from the band for permanent ownership.”


iPad Apps

Along with going paperless, iPads can be a gateway to a host of great marching band apps capable of using video and image capture to watch for individual errors and so you can correct issues as they arise in rehearsals. For example, Barta and King found an app, Drillbook Next (, which helps marchers know exactly where they should be on the field throughout a show. Instead of looking at printouts or PDFs on their iPads of formations while practicing, band members can watch the animation in motion. The app can be paused at any moment in the sequence to verify that all marchers are at their proper coordinates. Their shows were designed first in drill design software called Pyware (, and then the files are loaded onto the iPads using Drillbook Next.

A screenshot from Drillbook Next

“If you’re the leader of the band,” Barta explains, “trying to set the Harry Potter formation and you know the person next to you is out of line, you can click on them in formation and see where they are supposed to be at any point in the drill.”

Instant sharing is another reason why Ohio State uses Drillbook Next. Any changes in the show are automatically updated when the app opens. Just upload the new coordinate sheets, and all the marchers get the new show with count-by-count coordinates. Barta continues, “Drill design has had the advantage of computers for many years, but I think Drillbook Next really brings technology to bear on the implementation side. I find that directors, instructors, and students benefit greatly from what the app has to offer.”

“As an instructor, it’s really useful to know where the calculations are. You know where all of your specific spots are,” says Scott Rundell, developed Drillbook Next and is also a band instructor at a high school outside of Detroit. Rundell, a veteran of six years in Drum Corps International, wanted an app that made his job easier.

OSU head band director Waters plans to incorporate an app that evaluates students as they practice. It will identify each time a student has missed a note or rhythm and provide instant feedback. He is also working towards creating a Wi-Fi network for the band’s practice field, so students can stream a birds-eye view of their formations during rehearsals. The band is already watching videos of their rehearsal via a HD camera mounted atop an adjacent 23-story tower. They are exploring how video can be streamed down to each band member’s iPad for instant feedback, and streamed to the director’s tower for improved instruction.



Security can also be an issue with so much digital content floating around the Internet “We only plan on using tablets for music and drill purposes,” says Barta. “There is nothing we can physically do to limit student’s smartphone usage. We can control the use of the tablet through something called Mobile Device Management (MDM) and limit access to certain apps during rehearsal. Also, text messaging is a non-issue because band members normally would be texting other people in band anyway and the OSUMB has a strict cell phone policy. Imagine trying to productively use an iPhone to read a piece of music or drill. Tablets are the way to go.”


App Suites

Drillbook Next brings interactive charts to the field. Simply upload student coordinate sheets from Pyware, EnVision (, or Field Artist 3 (, and then Drillbook Next will create the drill. It displays exact coordinates for individual marchers and animates each step between sets.

Publish any changes – like adding and editing pages, student names, colors, tempos, measures, and notes – and they will be automatically updated for marchers and instructors. See how every count and every set fits into the show with a single tap, priced at $6.99 per download on iPad.

To replay what the performers actually did, you might use the Coach’s Eye app by Techsmith ( That is what Scott Rundell, the author of Drillbook Next, uses. Coach’s Eye is a teaching tool that allows music teachers to capture show formations for feedback, so band directors can show marching band students what they are actually doing. It allows the teacher to zoom, slow-motion the movement, draw on the screen, and even record an observation message for a student.

While Coach’s Eye was originally created to analyze athletes’ batting swing in baseball, blocking/tackling in football, and golf swing in golf, the Ohio State band used this app to improve their appearance, form, and posture. Fine arts departments with dance instruction, theatre, and show choir choreography can also benefit from this technology. To better synchronize band members’ movements, the director can use Coach’s Eye to slow down the action and watch, frame by frame, film of leg, body, and instrument positions, so the band can see and correct someone who is out of sync. Waters says, “The app can help assess both a single musician and a whole row of band members. It’s one thing to describe it in words, but another to show it on a video.”

OSU band also started using Coach’s Eye to evaluate tryouts during the summer months. Squad leaders could give instant visual feedback to candidates and email a copy of the video for home study. The band had talked about using video during the summer for years, but buying a standalone camera seemed like a waste of money and too much work. The iPad’s built-in camera is great because instead of trying to explain an abstract concept, real-time video can be shown to band members. And the OSU marching band also continues to use the video during the season to perfect their pregame and halftime performances. This easy-to-use app is $4.99 per download.

Another app OSU uses is a music reader called forScore ( for putting the marching band music readily on each iPad for student practice. The OSU band also uses a cloud-based storage app called BuckeyeBox, which is a convenient place for band members to share files. Scott Rundell uses Dropbox ( as his cloud-based storage app – any cloud sharing will do unless you have some unusual requirements. Everyone has to have the same app for cloud file sharing to work best.


The Future of Drill Design

iPad apps offer essential instruction tools that have helped the Ohio State University marching band excel to stunning success.
iPads are allowing the OSU marching band to be more efficient as an organization and impact their behind-the-scenes operations of inventory, administration, and more.

While iPads may not be a perfect fit for every band, they are ideal for large college bands that memorize new music and drill on a regular basis. High school bands would be good candidates for iPad programs, but may lack the funding necessary for the initial investment. As more school districts implement 1:1 iPad programs, this obstacle may disappear. All those programs would need then are the apps and the infrastructure to support iPads on the field.

I contacted 20 world-class drum corps at DCI International about this iPad technology, but none were fully aware of this technology. Looking to the future, though, the Ohio State University Marching will not be alone for long in implementing this technology. For example, Coach’s Eye has already had a million downloads! The prices for Drillbook Next and Coach’s Eye are very affordable considering all they can do for your marching band program.

As an example of how one high school band program is getting into this technology, the Evergreen High School Marching Band’s guard instructor is implementing this iPad technology for their fall 2014 shows. Their marching band placed 5th at the 2013 Colorado State Marching Band Championship and it will be interesting to observe how they place this coming year after putting this technology in place. Jonathan Waters, director of  OSU’s BDBITL, concludes, “Both rehearsals and football shows have been better than advertised and our YouTube and national TV sports coverage is already beyond my expectations.” For now, OSUMB is the most tech-oriented marching band on the planet. I look forward to hearing from other band directors who are catching this new wave of technology excellence.

John Kuzmich, Jr., Ph.D. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator, and music technologist with more than 43 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. degree in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 700 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America. For more information, visit




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