In the three years Colton Williams played bass drum in the Emory & Henry College marching band, he saw tons of sheet music and performance notes thrown at the end of each season.
But now his group joins several others across the country who have replaced paper with smartphone apps to save money and be more sustainable.
“It’s really good to have everything in your pocket at all times,” said Williams, a junior who serves as drum captain. “It seems like every year we’re getting more and more tech-savvy, and honestly, I love it.”
The biggest benefit of going paperless is feeling like the band is doing their part for the community and the environment, he said.
Emory & Henry Group Director Matthew Frederick said he decided to go paperless this summer after hearing from colleagues about the benefits other groups have reaped. Using an app called Ultimate Drill Book has made it faster and more efficient for marching band members to learn their parts for the on-field drills they perform during football games.
Created by two brothers who worked with the University of Texas Longhorn band, the app details different parts of the complicated performances, including where each member of the band should stand on the court, the spacing required between members and the different steps involved. Students can also animate the movements they need to perform, which is especially beneficial for visual learners.
Since its launch in 2017, the Ultimate Drill Book has seen a steady increase in its use by college marching bands, owner Luke Gall said.
So far, the Emory & Henry group has only moved exercise instructions to student phones, but Frederick said he plans to make all music paperless by early next month. The investment is already paying off, he said.
“From a pedagogical point of view, it’s fantastic,” he says. “We were able to cover a lot more than we initially thought we could because the students were coming up with some really awesome and intuitive ways to make it even better, so that was really fun for us.”
Through the app, instructors can update drill instructions at the touch of a button, with changes then reflected on student phone screens. Previously, Frederick said, a staff member or student would have had to print the changes, copy them, and then distribute the new pages.
“It gives them a lot of intricate detail that helps them learn really quickly,” Frederick said. “It really improved our teaching ability.”
Olivia Cochrane, a junior music education major and section leader for the band’s trumpets, said using the app gave her ideas for how to use technology in the classroom after graduating. It has also helped her in her current role teaching her section the steps of the exercise.
In the app, she can see her section and how each member should move. Before, drill instructions were on hand-sized sheets of paper, and Cochrane said she couldn’t easily see how her section fit in with the whole group or what the performance was like. supposed to look like.
“It was a lot more guesswork,” she said.
In order to make the switch, Frederick said the group purchased multiple charging stations and licenses for the app, which costs around $20 per student. Group members can use an iPad or opt for paper if they don’t have a smartphone.
Other marching bands that have gone paperless have purchased clamps so students can mount phones to their instruments, like a traditional flip book.
Frederick thinks apps like Ultimate Drill Book are the future for college marching bands, though he’s also seen interest from high school bands.
“We are certainly not the first and we won’t be the last,” he said, adding that this is a recruiting advantage. “We use technology in the best possible way for our students.”
The University of Illinois Marching Illini were among the first to take a paperless approach. Group director Barry Houser is a big advocate for going digital and has shared information about the technology at conferences.
“We’re seeing more college sets going this way than ever before, which is great to see,” Houser said. “But there are so many that print paper and music.”
He said going paperless has changed the way they teach and students learn, improving the group’s overall performance.
“We are able to achieve a higher level of achievement,” he said.
Before making the switch, the band was spending $35,000 a year on paper, toner, equipment and staff time to print the music and create paper records for the band’s nearly 400 students, he said.
The time saved benefits the students by allowing for more efficient rehearsals, while the money saved has allowed group members to download the technology at no cost.
Houser and Frederick said using technology available to the marching band is another way to meet students where they live. As a bonus, the music doesn’t get wet and stay at home.
“A lot of our students are constantly on their phone, tablet, or laptop,” Houser said. “We take something that they are used to being and are accustomed to, and we have adapted our learning structure and our teaching structure to adapt to this mode of understanding that they are already well connected to. rather than fight them.
Williams said using her phone in group practice was a big change, but a positive one. He carries a battery with him to make sure his phone doesn’t lose power.
“I like how easy it is to access everything, and if they change the workout, they can just tell us to download or update the songs, and that way they don’t have to print 15 million more copies of music for us to relearn,” he said.