More and more marching bands are using software and incorporating electronics into their practice, rehearsal, performances and marching competitions. Ask most band directors and they’ll tell you that technology is here to stay, in some capacity or another.
In a previous article, we talked about using software like Pyware to replace pencils and graph paper when you create your own marching show. You’ve likely already been using metronomes and tuners for your entire career (both as musician and educator). Keyboards, synthesizers, basses and other electronic instruments and devices have been secondary parts of marching band programs for years. Those electronics generally run through their own amps and speakers. Bands have also used wireless microphones to support solo wind players while on the field.
But, in this digital day and age, should you consider incorporating more technology into your program?
The Benefits of Electronics and Technology on the Marching Field
As with any change you are considering, it’s good to map out the benefits of doing it, before you jump into the actual execution of it. So, what are some the benefits of using more electronics and technology in your marching program?
- - Open your music and arrangements to a whole new collection of sounds beyond the traditional marching instruments.
- - Use keyboards to compensate for missing voices in smaller sections – you’ll be able to sound like you have a full band even if some of your parts are missing or are less experienced.
- - For large groups, amplifying the front ensemble can bring that section to life and expose the audience to the different voices and layers. For example, instead of having the entire band play at the same time, a single section can play a line accompanied by the front ensemble, allowing a unique tone to stand out.
- - Adding electronics can make your program more accessible to the crowd, by making the music more listenable and relatable to modern audiences. This is especially true if you play a lot of pop and rock music, which use a lot of digital sounds and electronic instruments.
- - Incorporating electronic instruments like guitars, keyboards and vocal microphones may attract students who might not have considered marching band. This will introduce new sounds to the performance and help grow your program.
How to Incorporate Technology into Your Program
If you’ve decided that these benefits, or others you’ve discovered, are significant and you’d like to incorporate more electronics and technology into your marching program, what are your next steps?
When you’re looking to purchase technology, as with other marching band equipment and instruments, it’s best to buy high-quality items. A poor sound system can make a great band sound bad. Stick with brands you know and trust, such as Yamaha pro audio equipment. Understand that incorporating digital technology into your program may require a slow build-up. The equipment can be expensive, so plan what you’ll need over the next couple of years so you can work it into your budget. And once you have the equipment, be sure to take care of it! Maintenance can go a long way in making these products last.
Here are some tips for expanding your use of technology in your marching program:
- - Consider using a digital mixer which will allow you maximum flexibility to incorporate and combine all kinds of digital and analog elements. Many of today’s mixers are compatible with iPhones or iPads, making them really easy to use.
- - Use wireless microphones so musicians can play their solos while remaining on the field, instead of having to separate from the group to be heard. Read more about wireless microphones.
- - Pre-record sound effects or samples to create a specific mood or theme—run these through your mixing system to make it simple to execute during the performance.
- - Amplify pit instruments. For example, set up microphones above the marimbas and vibraphones and connect them to your mixer and speakers. This allows the front ensemble to be heard while maintaining good technique (as they don’t have to abuse the instruments to get the volume).
- - Don’t be afraid to borrow musical styles and setups from other types of music, including rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, R&B or any other type of music that appeals to your students and audience. If you like a certain sound, dig into how it’s produced and try to recreate the sound.
Even major marching circuits like Drum Corps International (DCI) allow electronics and technology. It is possible to incorporate the digital age into the traditional marching program. In fact, with kids tuned into technology in all areas of their lives, incorporating into marching band may excite them and keep them coming back for more. Be bold, try out some new elements and see what works for your program. We bet you’ll like what you hear.