Ohio State U. Band Marches Ahead of the Curve With iPads

MBdrills on iPad copy

(Ohio State U. photo by Meagan Culley)

This semester some members of Ohio State University’s marching band will be looking at iPads while they’re practicing, instead of the sheet music and paper drill routines they’re used to. The change was proposed by two students—Ryan Barta, a senior in the business school, and Charlie King, a senior computer-science major—who saw both economic and sustainability advantages in using the iPad.

With the help of the band’s director, Jonathan Waters, and a $25,000 grant from Ohio State’s Office of Energy and Environment, the band started the pilot program with 45 students using iPads this year.

It will ultimately cost $120,000 to equip the entire 225-member band with the devices. But with the band spending about $24,000 annually on paper alone, Mr. King and Mr. Barta say, the change will pay for itself over time.

Mr. King says another reason to move to a digital platform is the amount of paper wasted in a week on routines. Capturing the average routine requires a booklet of around 30 pages. Multiply that by 225 band members, and you get a lot of paper. Even a minor change in the routine or set list for the week means the booklet has to be reprinted and replaced—sometimes as soon as the next day.

“I’ve done my share of sitting in front of a copier,” says Mr. Waters.

Inspired by the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, which uses Samsung tablets to display sheet music, Mr. Barta and Mr. King say Ohio State’s is among the first college bands to use tablets. Olivet Nazarene University, about an hour south of Chicago, began using iPads for its band this semester.

Mr. Waters, who is in his second year as director, says that he is excited by the idea, but that both students and members of his staff were nervous at first because they weren’t sure how it would work. His own major concern was weather: How would the electronic tablets face Ohio rain, and possibly snow, during practice? Mr. Barta and Mr. King’s answer was a shock-resistant, weatherproof case for the iPads.

Since then, Mr. Waters says, the iPads have changed the band for the better. “I think these iPads have revolutionized how we operate,” he says.

To help synchronize band members’ movements, the director uses a video-recording app, Coaches Eye, which is meant to help athletes like golfers and baseball players review their performances. The app records an individual’s motions, and then the recording can be slowed down and watched frame by frame. Showing leg, body, and instrument positions allows the band to correct someone who is slightly out of sync with everyone else. Mr. Waters says the app can help assess both a single musician and a whole row of band members.

“It’s one thing to describe it in words, but another to show it on a video,” he says.

Other apps used are a music reader called forScore, a marching app called Drillbook Next, and a cloud-based storage app called BuckeyeBox. The band makes audio recordings of practices so students can download the music files and play along with the songs on their own time.

The band hopes to have iPads for everyone by next year.

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