Mapping Out Your Show

| January 20, 2007 | 6 Comments

A Music Map is a tool to help you break down your music into logical and manageable chunks in order to be able to clearly see the overview of the show, determine equipment and drill transitions, plan effects, control pacing and evaluate musical ideas and structure.  If you are working with a staff of choreographers, with a drill writer or with the band director, creating a map of the music can be a wonderful tool for communication with those staff members, letting them know your specific ideas and allowing them a format for making their own suggestions.  It can also aid in lesson planning for rehearsals or planning your season calendar.


When designing a show from scratch it can be overwhelming to sit with your music and think about turning every count into a seamless, cohesive visual package.  If you are working with a staff it can be even more challenging to communicate your “vision” to your staff members.

A Music Map is a tool to help you break down your music into logical and manageable chunks in order to be able to clearly see the overview of the show, determine equipment and drill transitions, plan effects, control pacing and evaluate musical ideas and structure.  If you are working with a staff of choreographers, with a drill writer or with the band director, creating a map of the music can be a wonderful tool for communication with those staff members, letting them know your specific ideas and allowing them a format for making their own suggestions.  It can also aid in lesson planning for rehearsals or planning your season calendar.

Every designer develops their own methods for planning out show effects and communicating their ideas to staff members and performers.  The Music Map is a tool I developed, much like an outline used in writing an essay, to help organize my thoughts, analyze my music, break the task into manageable chunks and communicate with staff members who might not be able to be present at staff meetings due to geographical distance.  It is simply an organizational tool that helps me to manage my season, control the pacing of the show and plan my effects.

This is, by no means, the only way to approach this task.  This is just what has worked for me.

 

 

Music Map Oceano

 

This is simply applying the skills of making an outline or “web,” as you were taught to do when sitting down to write a paper in high school, to the color guard genre.  And just as there are many ways to map out a paper, depending on your own needs and preferences, there are many ways that you can map out your show.  The illustrations are examples of music maps for contemporary lyrical music.  I start with the same general table format, though I do sometimes alter the headings of the columns depending on the type of show (fall vs. winter, lyrical music vs. instrumental, etc.).  The sample above shows a simplified (in terms of columns) but “filled in ” version of page one from a preliminary music map that myself and several other staff members used to brainstorm a winter guard show for an A-class winter guard.  The ideas within were a starting point and the show developed and changed from there (quite dramatically) as we continued to brainstorm and email our map back and forth among the staff.  As a matter of fact, many of these initial ideas were greatly revised or even abandoned as we all discussed the map and further developed our concept.  But the basic mapping of the musical structure, counts and phrases remained the same and allowed us a framework within which to brainstorm.

In the “Handouts” section of the website you can download and print blank music maps if you like.  There are two versions.  The first version is the basic map I use when approaching a winter guard show to music with lyrics where I am responsible for coming up with the drill.  The second version is the map I start with in the fall season when I am working with instrumental music and drill written by someone other than myself.

blank music mapfall season music map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When starting from scratch (without drill or pre-determined counts) I start by writing down the counts of the music in terms of phrases (musical sentences).  Most of these phrases will be in sets of 8 counts (for example 8, 16, 24, or 32 count phrases) if the music is in 4/4 time.  However, sometimes you will encounter a piece that is in sets of 3 (like a Waltz) or sets of 6 (as in 6/8 time).  Of course, there are many other musical time signatures you could encounter but these are the most common.  Basically, you listen to the music and determine how many counts each musical phrase would be and write these counts in the first column.  If you read music it may be helpful to refer to the musical score when dealing with instrumental works.  If you don’t read music and you encounter a section you are sure about how to count just ask your band director to help.  They usually have a great deal of ear training and can help you decipher time signature without a score.

In the next column, if my piece of music has lyrics I write down the lyrics.  I often find it helpful when sitting down to write and teach choreography, to mark key counts next to key words.  This way I can teach to either counts or lyrics providing students two options for checking their routines against the music.  In the fall season or when I’m working with an instrumental piece to which I have access to a score I write down the measure numbers.  Even if you don’t read music, this can be helpful in the fall season because band directors and drum majors will often ask the band to return to a certain measure in the piece.  If you know how the measure numbers relate to the drill sets it helps eliminate some confusion between the band and the guard on the field.

The next thing I usually do is note any significant musical ideas.  This is one of the most important steps of the process because our task is to interpret the music.  In this column you might note things such as the verses and choruses if you are dealing with a song or a lyrical piece of music.  You would note whether the music repeats, or if it has a repetitive motif or lyric throughout.  You could note your interpretation of the music such as whether it sounds dark or joyful, whether it seems to be building or diminishing, whether it sounds aggressive or sweet.  Listen for musical ideas that you can illustrate with your equipment work such as call and answer or layers in the music.  Perhaps you might hear a melody sung by a lead voice while backup singers have harmonies or counter-melodies.  These are things that you can illustrate visually to add layers and depth to your visual design so you’ll want to make note of them as you are planning out drill and choreography.

In the fourth column I note my visual ideas.  Here is where I brainstorm about color relative to the type of music in that section.  I might also note places where I think the choreography needs to be split into groups, where things need to be aggressive, where I want an impact moment or a particular toss, partner work or sequentials, and a multitude of other ideas that might pop into my head.  This is where I write all of those things that my mind’s-eye sees when I listen to the piece so that when it comes time to write the actual drill or counts I don’t forget some of my best ideas!

Finally, in the last column I note specific information about exactly where I want my equipment transitions to occur and specific ideas about drill placement or staging.  I also include notes about entrances and exits as well as props and other logistical matters in this column.

I run for life

 

 


Everyone has a different way of approaching design.  Some have a little more of an organic approach while others (like myself) tend to be a little more structured and pragmatic.  The idea is to find what works well for you and results in a well-developed production (while at the same time reducing stress!).  Through my years as a director, this type of planning has worked well for me in times that I have worked alone and especially in times where I’ve worked with a staff of people helping me.  It has served to provide me with structure that, for me, feels safe, comfortable and organized.  It helps me to communicate my ideas with my staff as well as keep myself from getting overwhelmed.  Whether you use this format or some other approach, if you begin your design by a thorough exploration of your music and make sure to constantly compare your visual ideas against the musical structure you’re already set in the right direction!

 

(hint: printing will allow a better view of the details of the map illustrations)

 

8/14/2006

 

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Category: Choreography, Design, Drill & Staging, General, Music

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.

Comments (6)

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  1. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much!! I’m starting a middle school guard next year and was already feeling overwhelmed, so thank you for this great starting plan!

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