Will Tablets Shape the Future of Marching Bands?

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After a type of product has been available on the market so long, people tend to think of that product as having identifiable uses that everyone knows about. Take the tablet computer, for example. Tablets are widely understood to be platforms capable of portable document editing, gaming, watching videos, playing music, and surfing the web.

Then someone comes up with a new use for said item, and makes the world tilt their heads sideways and go “Wha…?”

Ohio State University’s marching band is now utilizing tablets in a way that few previously would have thought as a possible use for them. They’re using them to coordinate awesome half-time shows.

Granted, their band director didn’t just go down to the nearest electronics store, pick up an iPad and think, “This would be useful for marching band drills.” On the contrary, the change came about after a proposal from band member Ryan Barta, and his project partner Charlie King. The two students aimed to lessen the band’s $24,000 annual paper costs, which was being spent on paper used for notes during drills and rehearsals, by switching over to using iPads instead. The school approved a pilot program, putting 50 iPads in the hands of the band directors.

So how does this affect the band’s performance? you may ask. Well, for starters, the band is pulling off some formations that no one has really tried before, for the sheer complexity of them. Check out the following formations, which I’m sure you’ll recognize:

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Part of what makes this so impressive, is that the band only has 10 hours a week to learn the new formations. Introduced to the band members on Monday, they only have until Friday of the same week to learn some of their new routines, on top of perfecting older ones.

“Before this year we wouldn’t have been able to learn that much music and that much drill in that short of time. The iPad has really helped that,” said Jonathan Waters, director for the Ohio State marching band.

ohioband_ipadGoing off of my earlier point of new ways to use technology, a fair amount of credit also goes to Scott Rundell, creator of the app Drillbook Next, which the Ohio State gang now uses instead of pdfs on their iPads. Ironically, Scott Rundell is a graduate of Ohio State rival school, the University of Michigan. Rundell, who spent six years in Drum Corps International, developed the app for his use as a band director for a high school outside of Detroit.

I had the opportunity to pick the brain of an expert in marching bands, to see what she had to say about the use of iPads to learn drills. Faith Reinemann (yes, she’s my wife), was in the Arkansas Razorbacks marching band for two years, and was in marching bands all throughout high school and middle school, holding the titles of section leader and drill instructor in her marching career.

“The drills wouldn’t be too difficult to learn, depending on the skill level of everyone around you. The hard part would be creating the drills, particularly figuring out the best way to transition between them. The transitions should flow smoothly from formation to formation. Usually, the drill instructor will draw out what he wants to do on paper, and then teach it to the band members. I can definitely see how using an iPad to create the shows would greatly improve the quality of them. It would be easier to see the bigger picture, and to see how the transitions between the formations would look, creating the movement you see in the video. The cool effects in marching band come from the transition from point to point, not the stopped formations themselves.”

She goes on to say that the OSU football team are a bunch of cheaters (see also 2011 Sugar Bowl), but they do have an amazing marching band.

So far, the band’s work has resulted in an incredible half-time show, which includes themes from various popular movies such as Harry Potter, Superman, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park. The video for this performance has, at the time of this article, over 12 million views in the week-and-a-half since the performance. Check out the footage below:

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This could be only the beginning for the band, though. For the 2014 season, each band member will have an iPad, not just the squad leaders. The school is working on creating a WiFi network over the band’s practice field, so they can stream their formations during rehearsals. The band director also says that they will be using an app that will allow him to see students as they practice, and identify missed notes or steps, and give instant feedback. And who knows how many other schools will incorporate this approach? We could be looking at the beginning of a brand new type of half-time show.

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