iCoach with my iPod!

| January 11, 2007 | 0 Comments

An entire music library at my fingertips for winter guard staff meetings – rehearsal tracks for all of my schools in one spot – iTunes for saving money in the search for the perfect song – the iPod has become my Coaching iHero!

The iPod was my favorite coaching discovery this year!  I mean, I’ve obviously known about iPods for several years now – you’d have to live in the wilderness not to – and I actually bought my husband an iPod photo for Christmas 2 years ago.  But up until this year he only used it a handful of times and I never touched it, thinking of it with a bit of contempt as an expensive, glorified walkman!

It wasn’t until last spring, on an 8-hour bus ride home from winter guard championships, that it dawned on me that maybe this iPod thing deserved some extra attention.  You see, trying to fill the time and running off the excitement of finishing up a very successful season, I decided to start looking for music for next year’s show.  So, I announced to the kids for them to send me up any CDs they had brought along but weren’t listening to and I sat with my rehearsal boom box on my lap, turned down as quietly as I could, with my ear pressed closely to the speaker, trying to listen to their CDs without disturbing the sleepy chaperones around me.  Eventually someone loaned me some headphones but I still sat with a huge boombox in my lap.  Every now and then I would find a song that would have some potential and there I was passing the boombox back two rows over seats for my assistant coach to have a listen!  This led to a discussion of all the great songs I had in my home library that might work for next year’s show…none of which my assistant coach had heard (I’m a 30-something that listens to country and folk while she’s a 20-something who tends towards pop and hip-hop!).  It was then that I realized if I just used my husband’s iPod I would have been able to play her every song I wanted her to hear.  Plus, with 40 GB storage capacity I would also have MOST of my music library right there with me on the bus for my own enjoyment!

I was on a mission!  I spent the next three weeks post-season uploading my CDs from my extensive home library into iTunes and then onto my newly-claimed iPod!  I organized my music into playlists (which is extremely easy for those who may not be familiar with iTunes) so that I would be able to find the songs I was looking for quickly.  iTunes automatically organizes your music by genre or alphabetical by artist or song-title but I also added playlists such as “winter guard music already done,” “potential winter guard songs,” “warm-up and stretching music,” and “marching band pep tunes,” in addition to all my own personal playlists.  The great thing is that you can constantly change and update these playlists whenever you find a new song or rule out one that is not suitable.  I keep my iPod docking station (which is how you update the iPod I have) hooked into my computer and just sitting my iPod into it starts the updates automatically.  The first upload of all 35 GB of music took a while – but now updates only take about 2 minutes!

I began toting my iPod along to rehearsals and playing potential song choices for my students and staff.  I have to admit my students seemed quite impressed that I had an iPod and that I knew how to hook it up to the computer speakers in the band director’s office (Does that mean they think I’m old?)  Anyway, it worked great!  But I quickly realized that I needed some way to be able to play my iPod for them without headphones or a computer.

So I headed off to our local computer and electronic stores.  Even large chain stores like Target and Hecht’s carry speaker systems for iPods.  I found a large variety of boom boxes, speakers and gadgets.  I did get some strange looks as I turned them up as loud as they would go to see if they’d be loud enough for the football field!  Eventually, I found a speaker system with a carrying case that I could take with me to rehearsal that plays great quality sound REALLY loud.  So I started to use my iPod daily.  The only negative here is that the speaker system I purchased is quite heavy to carry and the batteries die very quickly.  So I will probably purchase a smaller size set for use in our smaller practice areas.  If your school has a PA system for the football field (like a “Long Ranger”) then you could use one of the smaller sets of speakers on the football field too – and just feed the sound through that equipment.  I’ve done that for rehearsals in our football stadium when I’m sitting at the top of the stands watching drill rehearsal on the field.

My next discovery with the iPod was that I could easily create rehearsal tracks for use at staff meetings, during rehearsals and when writing choreography that matched the drill counts for the show.  Our music arranger gave us a midi-file version of our show music during the summer.  Once I received the drill I was able to use a simple music-editing program (I use Sound Forge Sonic Foundry) to cut the music to match the sets of the drill.  This is nothing new for me though – I had been creating rehearsal tracks on CD for years.  What was new was the iPod screen.  When I saved my file for each rehearsal track I gave it a name by using the drill counts and drill picture.  For example, we used a piece called “Lament and Tribal Dances” for our show this year.  Our drill writer not only gave each drill set a number but also named each picture.  So I named the tracks similar to the following: “Part 1 Set 10 Move 16 hold 4 The Arrow.”  This may seem like a really long name for a computer file.  But each time the track plays on my iPod this title comes up on the iPod screen and in the iPod menu.  In past years I have spent untold time flipping through my drill charts or counts sheets along with the musical score as I wrote routines trying to make sure the counts I was using matched up with the drill the students would learn.  Now, with a few extra minutes up front I no longer need to flip back and forth between the drill charts and the score to make sure I’m in the right spot in the music.  The screen of the iPod tells me my counts right away.  It is also helpful for my assistant coaches and student leaders who don’t know how to read the musical score.  And with the constant reminder of the name of the drill set in front of me I am able to reinforce drill during routine rehearsals by reminding the students of which form goes with which part of the routine.

Having these tracks cut also helped numerous times during staff meetings.  Several times during the first six weeks of the season I sat down with the band director to discuss drill changes, equipment exchanges or special effects and we were able to quickly find the places in the music we wanted to target helping our meetings to move much more efficiently.

Finally, believe it or not, iTunes has saved me money!  As a show designer, I used to spend countless dollars buying CDs at bookstores or through online catalogs simply because a song title sounded interesting or unusual in the search for the perfect unheard song to create my next show around.  Usually, I would arrive home to listen through the CD only to discover that the song didn’t work and to file the new CD in my library never to be thought about again.  At $11.00 – $16.00 each I was spending QUITE a bit of money!  Now, through the iTunes Music Store, I can search for the genre of song I am interested in and browse through artists I may never have heard of.  I can sort the songs I find by length in order to quickly eliminate songs that might be way too short.  And the best feature is that I can listen FOR FREE to a short clip of the song before purchasing.  If I do decide to purchase there is a much higher chance that I’m going to like the song and it only costs $0.99!  What a deal!  So while I have to admit I do spend a considerate amount on downloading music, I am purchasing more music that I actually like and will listen to for enjoyment.  And I am so excited to discover artists I never would have heard of listening primarily to mainstream radio.

So, now there are few rehearsals that my students don’t find me carrying along my iPod boombox with every possible rehearsal track at my fingertips.  Gone are the days where I had to carry along dozens of CDs only to find I had forgotten exactly the one I needed.  This little piece of technology that I so vigorously avoided for over 2 years has become my favorite little guard-coach’s gadget! 

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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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