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Drill Design Elements Reviewed

2009 Drill Design
Scott Kurtzweil, Kurtzweil Designs

Proper programming for the marching band is equal to or even more important than for the concert band. Two key points to designing a successful show that we have avowed since day one are “Know your band” and “Know your audience”. We have spent the last weeks gathering information so we may have a better understanding of both of these and now it is time to apply them directly to the drill design.

Know Your Band

From our fact gathering, we learned that the Quincy Notre Dame Band is a young group both musically and marching wise. The music chosen from the Gilroy catalog this year is the challenging Gangsta Jazz! A young group performing challenging music tells the designer that the drill needs to be approachable, get the most velocity and interest out of limited demand on the performer and provide ample opportunities for rest. How these three components came together for Quincy Notre Dame.

  • Use the major field markings to your advantage.
    • The opening visual statement of Gangsta Jazz is a simple rotation into a company front. The winds move from an easy to find yard line split to a front on the hash. Easy to find, easy to set and easy to clean.
    • Page 9 gives another example of using the field’s markings to our advantage. The front line is set at a 4 step to better utilize the easy to see on or splitting positions for the performers. Though the performers in the arcs behind are not “on” or “splitting”, they do have the advantage of solid dress points in front of them.
  • Keep Step Sizes Manageable: Generally, a performer can move comfortably when playing slightly beyond a 6 to 5 step. I generally will try to keep the step size demand between 8 to 5 and 6 to 5 for a young group. Those are the step sizes covered most in fundamental blocks and so will be most “normal” for the performers.
  • Contrary Motion: Developing velocity into a drill without increasing step size can most easily be achieved by utilizing contrary-motion (or line against line). Using drill elements moving in opposite directions will double the velocity to the eye without doubling the step-size.
  • Utilize Follow-the-Leader when Practical: When not overused, follow-the-leader is an excellent method to increase velocity and lower the demand on the majority of performers. For Quincy ND, FTL is used almost exclusively off the starting line. It provides a good deal of visual interest for the audience but more importantly, makes setting those first few pages much easier and quick when the band was in camp.

  • Conservative Drum Staging: To help with ensemble music with a young group, I make it a rule to keep the marching battery forward of center field, between the 35 yard lines and to the rear of the winds. This keeps the drum line in line of site with the drum major and always staged so it can drive tempo for the ensemble without have to compensate timing for it position on the field. If there is sideline percussion, it also aids the pit players listening back to hold ensemble together.

  • Keep the Paths Straight: When not using follow-the-leader techniques, I made sure that the form development consisted of straight-line sets. In straight line sets, the performers simply march from dot to dot and are not required to base their paths on the form developing around them.
Know Your Audience

Audience participation and enthusiasm are key elements in the success of a marching program. Because of this, it is important to write to the expectations of the community for whom the group will be performing. Quincy ND is a non-competitive band whose primary function is to represent the music department at football games and provide support for the athletic department. Considering the audience, the drill for Gangsta Jazz! was designed to:

  • Stick to the fundamentals of good playing and good marching. Outside of marching, no extra physical demands (roll playing, body movement, etc . .) were required of the band proper.
  • Utilize symmetrical drill far more than I would have considered for a competition band. Symmetry is easy to read from the stands and balances the ensemble sound.
  • Be read from a lower vantage point. Many times in competitive critiques, you will here the phrase “that was designed for finals or BOA”. With a football band, there is no need to get too cute with the design. Keep it simple and readable from the middle of the stadium. If you can’t read it from the rehearsal tower, don’t write it.