M101- Dots & Drill

I sensed a bit of parent confusion when we described Dot Books and Drill Books at the Boot Camp Parent Meeting.

So let's go back to square one:

Every marching band show is comprised of two main components: Music and Drill.

Music is pretty obvious

Students are given sheet music (and sheet music revisions) in small batches as the season progresses.

All music will eventually be memorized. This is one reason why the directors portion the music in chunks rather than overwhelming them with a large music dump.

And yes, every kid somehow manages to memorize the entire show. You'll be amazed that the kid who forgot his left shoe this morning, somehow has an entire area of his brain dedicated to holding multiple seasons of show music.

... or maybe that's why he forgot the shoe.

Your student will need a 3 ring binder plus lots of heavy duty sheet protectors to hold music. They should bring it to every rehearsal. I've never had to remind my kids about this folder and have never had to deliver it late. I think the students all know they need it or they die.

This same three ring binder will be used to store pages of Drill.

Here's my daughter's binder. Costco 2" binder. She keeps a lot of notes. Most kids have the 1" variety. The clear front pocket comes in great  for quick storage. A pencil on a string is a handy addition to the binder.

  • Front Ensemble kids can use a smaller binder (my son used a 1/2"). They have more detailed sheet music but no drill.
  • Guard can use a 1" binder. They have complex drill but no sheet music.

By the way, you can not give them enough sheet protectors! Every year I purchase a big box from Costco for desperate kids at band camp. I give 'em out like candy and I never seem to have enough for everyone. 

So the Music plus Drill goes into the binder using sheet protectors (because they do practice in the rain).

What is Drill?

Drill is a map of the marching band show. For all major points in the music, there is a unique map of the entire band, noting each position on the field.

Here's a page of drill from "The Kindling", 2013-14:

This is a map of the football field at one set point in time. This particular show was mapped out in 73 pages (not counting revisions). Each page of drill shows a different moment with a different formation. The large black items are props.

See the small x's? There is one student standing on each X. Your student knows exactly which X they are on this map. The X is their "Dot" or spot on the field. The next page of drill tells them where they need to be at the next check-point.

So what is the Dot Book?

Here is my daughter's dot book

It's made up of 3x5" index cards. She prefers this style of ring binder over the spiral bound type. Most kids have the spiral version. This ring style allows her to remove or reorder her cards, plus it has a heavy duty plastic cover. Both kinds work well. Note the long shoelace, the kids wear these books like necklaces. It needs to hang low so that they can write in it or toss it over their shoulder to get it out of the way.

Your student will take their Drill sheets and page by page, they'll go through and note each of their personal dots using an abbreviation system. It looks like the name of Star Wars robot friends to most parents. "S2, 2 out 20" is my daughter's instruction for the page shown above.  She will transfer that gibberish to her Dot book, to be used as a quick reference during field rehearsals.

So when your child says they have "drill homework", "dot work",  or homework in general, that means they are condensing the large binder of Drill sheet instructions into short & sweet Dot Book notation.

Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about music, dots, and drill.

What I didn't mention is all the choreography that goes in between each page of drill... that's a whole 'nother topic that we're going to pretend doesn't exist.

In short, it's enough to know that what your kid is about to do is jaw dropping and astounding. They dance, they high-step, they jazz run, most do it blindly, some will even stand on their heads... and they do it all while playing music from memory or while spinning weaponry. Once you see the band in action, you'll understand why marching band parents are so enthusiastic about this sport.

There isn't anything else like it. It's simply amazing.

You will never underestimate your child's potential again. If they can march, they're prepared for just about any challenge life throws at them. Marching kids totally rock.


Hat tip to David Tunney for suggesting this article. Great idea, Dave. Thanks!