Intricate marching steps and field positioning is aided with the use of technology.
Intricate marching steps and field positioning is aided with the use of technology. Photo: Scott Kissell

Marching band uses technology to enhance learning and performance

Technical drawing of the Miami M.

Software helps marching band with creative performances. (See video.)

By Allison Pierce, news and communications intern

Playing traditional instruments does not stop the Miami University Marching Band from looking for new and innovative ways to practice their drills.

The marching band practices for 1 1/2 hours Monday-Friday focusing on specific areas of music, a portion of a performance or drill.

Using software called Pyware, a designer can create drills — the specific movements a band performs — in less time than if they used a pencil and paper. The software has been around since the late 1980s, but it is constantly improving.

“Today’s version of the program is incredibly powerful,” said Stephen Lytle, associate director of bands at Miami. “It allows the designer to render virtually any visual idea he/she has. We've been able to have the company generate virtual images of Miami's uniform for use in the animation, a virtual rendering of Yager Stadium and a virtual rendering of Goggin Ice Arena for when we've done Ice Band.”

Hannah Sproat, sophomore speech pathology and audiology major, plays the flute in marching band and finds the Pyware software useful before she starts plotting a drill.

“Pyware shows us the entire band’s movement combined with music from an overhead view, similar to what a spectator would see,” Sproat explained. “We don’t use it on the field, but it’s helpful to watch before we start plotting a drill.”

Lytle hosted Ward Miller, brass captain head of the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps, in a guest lecture about drill design in Lytle’s Marching Band Techniques course. His lecture was similar to a “writer’s clinic,” in that it focused on effective design using Pyware.

“Pyware is a tool, but merely using it does not make you Shakespeare … Good design creatively captures the audience’s attention by highlighting the music’s impact and reflecting it in the movement in the field,” Lytle said.

While computer-aided design isn’t particularly new or revolutionary, there are still some innovations occurring on the student side. In the past, students got paper copies of the entire field image that the designer wrote and director taught from. Now, students use a dot sheet that gives text instructions specific to individual positions.

“What is most important in the learning stage is what the individual needs to know about their own personal drill, not necessarily everyone else’s,” Lytle said.

“The dot sheet is really helpful on the field,” Sproat added. “Each person knows their own individual spot. Oftentimes, we don’t know what shape we’re supposed to make as a whole. It can help clarify discrepancies between individual marchers and helps me understand where I should be in relation to everyone else.”

While students find the dot sheet useful, Lytle is looking to upgrade to an app called Drillbook Next to use on a student’s smartphone or tablet rather than the dot sheet.

“It [Drillbook Next] marries the ease and benefit of the dot sheet with the ability for the individual marcher to also see their personal dot animated in the larger drill as well as some additional features such as changing perspective based on the phone’s orientation,” Lytle explained. “I think this has real practical use to our students in enhancing their understanding.”