Helping Your Students Organize Their Personal Drill Books!

| January 13, 2007 | 0 Comments

coverI don’t remember who first told me about having students use small spiral notebooks to keep track of their drill for marching band but I immediately LOVED the idea!  Students would get a small notepad, attach it to a string or lanyard, take notes about their drill spots and have a reference they could easily carry with them while spinning their flag.


At any point I could stop them, ask them to check their spots and I wouldn’t have to wait for them to run to the sidelines to exchange their equipment for a heavy notebook full of drill!  What a great idea!

I remember being so excited that I went out and purchased a notepad for each person on the team!

Then I remember spending the entire month of August asking the kids why they didn’t have their notebooks with them or watching them fumble through the pages unable to figure out which set I was asking them about or where they had written the information!

Something needed to change!

So I sat down and came up with a system that I now use with my performers to help them organize their drill books AND to provide them with tools for memorizing their drill through the naming of drill sets and references to other parts of the ensemble for each set.  I found that it is essential to TEACH them how to organize this information – after all, for the newest students, they’ve never done anything like this before and really have no idea how to approach and tackle the overwhelming task of memorizing their drill!

For those who aren’t familiar with this idea, basically each student is given (or purchases) a small 80 or 100 page spiral notepad.  This is the small 3 x 5 type of notepad used in school to record homework assignments. They also need a string or key lanyard to attach through the spiral rings to make the book easy to carry while spinning equipment (and in case they don’t have pockets!).  I also recommend a pen or a mechanical pencil that can be slid through the spiral rings and carried along during drill rehearsals.  Students then record all the details of their drill in their notebooks including set numbers, drill coordinates, pathway notes, counts for equipment changes and even notes on choreography if they need to.  For color guard members it is also nice to be able to record “band specific” information they might need to know such as measure numbers for specific drill sets if the band director tends to use that information as a reference (e.g. “Please begin at measure 24.”)  Because the drill book is small and lightweight, they can carry it with them through every rehearsal and still be free to perform with their equipment.

I still purchase the drill books for the students (they only cost about $0.30 – $0.50 each) and we take a rehearsal (or a few hours out of a day of camp) to prepare the drill book for use.  As a group, we decorate the covers (both for fun and to give them a sense of ownership and pride for their book), set up the first few pages together and paste in miniature photocopies of each drill set.  I then walk them through making notes for their first couple sets of drill and leave the rest up to them.  For the newest students I take a peek at their books after their first few drill rehearsals to make sure they understand the process and then I just constantly remind everyone they must bring their drill books EVERY rehearsal.

The notes and photos below outline the way that I have my students set up their notebooks.  There is also a handout that you can print from the “Student Handouts” section of the website called “How to Set Up Your Drill Book.”

your counts sheet

1.  Put Your Name on It!

Start by making sure you clearly mark your drill book on the inside and outside of the cover with your name and your drill number so it does not get confused with your band-mates!

2.  Your Counts Sheet

On the first page and second page create a count-sheet for each drill set in each part of your show.  This will be helpful during the first few run-throughs.

3.  Setting the Showwhere to set my flags

If you are a member of the guard, use the next page to record where you should set your equipment at the beginning of the show.  Remember to include specifics like which direction the silk should be facing and how the silk should be folded.  Band members might use this page for notes on how to enter the field during halftime or at competitions.

4.  Drawing (or pasting in) the drill set

Then reserve two pages for each drill set.  Clearly Mark each page with the drill set number so that when your drum major asks you to go back to set 17 you know exactly what he/she is talking about!  On the left hand side draw a picture of the drill set and mark approximately where you are in that picture.  Or, if you have access to a copy machine you can reduce the actual drill page and glue it here with a glue stick!

sample drill set

5.  Taking Notes!

taking notes

On the right hand side is where you take notes.  Set up each page as pictured.  Give each drill set a name, if your director has not already done so.  This will help you to remember what the shape of the form should be and names are easier to remember than set numbers.  Next write your coordinates and record the counts it takes to get to this spot.  Finally, make notes that will help you to remember important information.  Notice in the examples I noted differences in counting the set for my section, who I stood next to and even notes about footwork and choreography.

6.  Highlight each page according to the part of the show

Then, using a different color highlighter for each song or part of your show, mark across the bottom of each page.  This will make it easier to find the sets you need to refer to quickly when you have a question!

7.  Attach String

Finally, attach a string or key lanyard to the spirals so that you can easily carry your drill book with you at all times!  With a well-organized drill book you should be good to go for memorizing your drill quickly and accurately!

I have now spent two consecutive seasons working with the above system and it has made my task SO much easier.  It puts much more responsibility on the performer for learning his/her drill while at the same time giving them a stronger sense of control and security.  When a form doesn’t look quite right several weeks into the season I can simply say, “Please check your drill books” and the students all quickly check and adjust within a matter of seconds rather than having to wait for me to check my master drill book and adjust each student myself.  When I wish to make changes to the drill during a rehearsal I can simply move performers around on the field and then say, “Write that in your books.”  Everyone records their own new spot and we quickly move forward.

This technique works very well in bands where only section leaders are given printed drill charts to teach – because each individual then creates a record of his/her spots.  But it also works just as effectively with groups where every individual is given a notebook of drill charts.  After all, beyond the first day of learning the drill we begin to ask students to march with equipment and instruments, making it impossible for them to carry around large notebooks of drill.  This technique saves time and assists the student in double checking themselves throughout the process of memorization.

My students LOVE their drill books now and though it takes a little time at the onset of the season – the time it saves and the stress it alleviates later on is MORE than worth it!  It is something I am SO glad I learned and definitely a practice I will continue!

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Category: Instruction, Rehearsal Planning & Management

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

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