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Commmon Design Elements – Drill Design Pt 3

Scott Kurtzweil

Common Design Elements – Part 3
At this point we have gained all of the pre-design information that we will need to put a successful product on the field.
·        We know that our band has a strong history of musical excellence and desires to extend that excellence to the marching field.
  • We have our show concept and initial rough drafts of scores.
  • We have a solid understanding of our band’s performance strengths and weaknesses.
  • We know that our band wants to make its color guard a more integral part of its visual package.
  • We know that our band enjoys high energy, accessible music that will engage both the students and the audience.
  • We know that our band desires to be successful during its limited competition schedule.
We are now ready to begin putting dots on paper (or in our case on the computer). At this point, it may it may be a good time to review a few important details to keep in mind when charting.
Common Compositional Devices
  1. Linear – straight line patterns either in verticals, laterals or diagonals.

2. Curvilinear – Curvilinear patterns are combinations of arcs (parts of circles) or curves (parts of ovals).

3.Single Line Manipulation – Single Line drill puts elements into a single line that is flexed and pulled to create patterns. The Cadets are best
known for using this single line drill for their trademark “whiplash” movements.

4. Follow the Leader – pulling elements around an established form from a single dot.

5. Arcs – Using parts of circles.

6. Mass form (blob) – pulling elements into a solid form without establishing any linear connection.

7. Solid Form – Pulling elements into tight vertical and lateral lines. Can be in many shapes but the most common are blocks and wedges.

8. Diffused / Random staging. Similar to mass form but spacing between elements in much greater. Also known as scatter drill, a diffused set

establishes no recognizable patterns or shapes

The Importance of Staging
When writing for a band, the visual elements you offer are important, but don’t forget that marching band is first a musical activity and that the sections of the ensemble should be staged in such a way as to give the most visual impact without impeding the musical presentation.
The Power Zone – The area of the field between the 35 yard lines and from the front sideline to the front hash is commonly referred to as the Power Zone. A drill designer will place his strongest voices (brass) within this space to get the most volume impact from a particular moment in the show. In many cases, the drill designer for a small ensemble will keep the entire group in this space for the duration of the show.
The Winds
·         In general, try to keep like voiced instruments and similar musical parts together. This keeps the musical ensemble tighter and also presents a cleaner line for the eye to view forms.
·         Staging winds for the marching band is usually the opposite of the way a concert band is set up. Unless the woodwinds are directly featured musically, I prefer them to be staged behind the brass. As they project less than the other brass instruments, I also like to keep the basses more toward the front of the ensemble when possible. This keeps the pyramid of sound more intact.
The Percussion Battery – As we all know, the drum line works as the metric pulse that holds the marching ensemble together. It is important that the staging demands placed on a drum line match well with the strength and maturity of their playing. A strong drum line that has played together for some time can handle many high level visual demands placed on them and manage to drive the show well from any where on the field. Younger, less experienced drum lines need to be handled with more care to ensure good ensemble not only with in the line but for the band as a whole. Below are a few simple suggestions to keep in mind when writing for a young drum line.
·         Keep the battery together at all times. Young drum lines often rely greatly on the few strong players within the section to hold things together. Along these same lines, try to
o        Establish your center and end snare drummers and keep them in the same order whenever possible. Many drum sections are set up with their strongest players in these positions to keep them set. Also, many drum lines are taught to watch or listen in to the center snare.
o        Bass drum lines may be inverted but never change their order. Bass drum parts are usually written to walk up and down the section. Changing their order can cause too many ensemble problems with in the line.
·         Though you need no longer write basic “elevator” drill where the drum line simply marches up and down the 50 yard line, do try to keep the battery staged between the 30s and near the back of the ensemble when ever possible. This helps lesson the chance of side to side phasing within the ensemble and also makes the wind sections feel more comfortable hearing a strong rhythmic pulse at their backs.
·         If the band for which you are writing has sideline percussion, try to keep the battery forward of the back hash. Pushing the drum line too far back field can cause serious timing issues with the pit and will force the marching battery to play ahead of the beat to correct the problem.
Spacing of Performers
The space between performers dictates clarity of your form development and also musical impact. Though these can be changed with in a show, below are a few rules of thumb that I try to follow when writing.
·         Snares – 2 Step
·         Tenors – 3 Step
·         Bass Drums – 4 Step
·         Cymbals – 2 to 4 Step
·         Tubas
o        Sousaphones – 4 Step
o        Over the Shoulder – 2 to 4 Step
·         All Other Winds – 1 to 4 Step depending on the type of form.
·         Weapons / Dancers – 4 to 8 Step
·         Silks – 4 to 12 Step
Performer Step Sizes:
Although step sizes will vary form position to position, below are a few of the most common
  • 8 to 5: Comfortable for all sections.
  • 6 to 5: More velocity. Only slightly larger than the step size of the average person.
  • 5 to 5: Larger than average step size. Should only be used for short periods and at moments that are not musically challenging.
  • 4 to 5: This is a standard “jazz run” step. Use only for short periods and moments that are not musically challenging. Avoid using this step size with tubas, bass drums and tenor drums.