Best Way To Teach Drill

I should say this is the best way I have used to teach drill.  There are so many ways to put a show on the field, and each director needs to find the way that is the most comfortable.  However, I cringe when I hear of people placing students on the field one at a time.   What we are looking for is a fast, efficient way to get the show on the field and start cleaning.

The practice field needs to be marked with 4-step marks and a solid hash mark before you begin.  See Preparing Your Practice Field for how to do that.  Then, you will need to spend a few minutes teaching your students how to read their coordinate sheets.  They need to learn where the left side of the field is and where the right side is.  They need to know home side and home hash as well as visitor side and visitor hash.  Pyware Java can be set to print coordinates in a number of ways, but usually, all measurements are from the center of the field.  Inside will be toward the center of the field and outside will be away from the center of the field.

Your students will need a way to temporarily mark their coordinates on the field.  If your practice field is on pavement, you can use chalk or duct tape.  If you are on grass, you can use poker chips, but you are limited to 3 colors.  If using poker chips, I like to put them down in red, white, and blue order.  The red set moves to the white set and the white to the blue.  Then, repeat.  My favorite markers are Mason jar lids.  You can buy them in boxes of 12, and they are not very expensive.  Each student should paint their chips with their own special design (all 12 the same basic design and color scheme.)  It is a good idea to number them with large black numerals from 1 to 12.  My students always loved painting them.  They are big enough to see from a distance and you can put on 12 sets without repeating.  "Chips" should be picked up everyday at the end of practice.  They don't get along well with lawn mowers!

Now our field is marked, the students have been taught how to read their coordinate sheets and they each have their own set of chips.  The best place for the director to be during this teaching phase, is on a scaffold or tower so you can see the formations.  Have the students go to the first set and put chip #1 on it.  When they have found their spot, have them stand with their feet together on their coordinate.  Don't panic if it looks like chaos at first.  The formation will gradually start to take shape, and usually within 5 minutes everyone will be in the proper position.  Some students may need help at first as they learn how to read a coordinate sheet.  But, this system is educationally sound.  You are putting responsibility on the shoulders of each student and you are using peers to teach peers.  Usually the mistakes students make are being on the wrong side of a yard line, or the wrong side of a hash, or sometimes, on the wrong side of the field, especially when their coordinate is near the 50 yard line.

After getting the first set on the field, move on to the second and use chip #2.  Give the students the instructions for how to get from Set 1 to Set 2 and how many counts.  Most drill moves are floats, rotations, or follow the leader.  Floats are straight line paths from one set to the next with all steps being exactly the same size.  You will have to watch random individuals during the transition to determine if they are taking equal size steps from set to set.  If they arrive in the vicinity of their coordinate too soon and then take small steps the rest of the way, I tell them to slow down next time.  What I am really telling them to do is shorten their step size in the early part of the drill.  They need to find a point half way and make sure they hit it half way through the drill.  Most all of your drill problems will clean up if your students take equal size steps and travel in a straight line from point A to point B. 

Many times you will want your students to keep their instruments facing the audience while backward marching or backward sliding into a set.  This is called backing into a blind set, and it can be scary to teach until you try it a few times.  Here is how I do it. Have the students do a regular forward march to the set a couple of times to establish step size.  Then have them turn around and back into the set.  They should keep their eyes on the form they can see in front of them and develop a “feel” for the set.  After they run it once, have them look at their chip and determine the distance and direction needed  next time.  Usually, after 3 or 4 times everyone will be getting fairly close.  Uniform step size is the key not only while backing into blind sets, but also in all drill moves.

I am asked by students quite often if they should backward slide into a set or forward slide into a set.  If the set is behind parallel to the sideline I usually have the student backward slide.  If it is parallel or in front of parallel to the sideline, I will have the student forward slide.  This can be altered some; particularly if you are having the students direct their instruments toward the drum major.

After sets 1 and 2 are on the field, add set #3.  Work from set 2 to 3 several times until it comes together then do sets 1 to 3.  I like to use recordings when teaching drill.  The students will start early to associate movement to music.  It also is a natural metronome. 

This method works with small bands or large ones because the workload is distributed evenly to all students.  I have taught 160 piece bands their entire show in a day and a half.  Now I don't mean they were marching and playing it, but they could march the whole show to recorded music.  Most bands using this system can put a song on the field in about 2 hours. 

Chip each drill every week of the season.  (Opener on Monday, 2nd & 3rd song on Tuesday, Closer on Wednesday, review on Thursday.)  If you don't do this, students tend to wander away from their coordinates, and the forms will not look right.

Happy drill teaching!