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OSU marching band in step with iPads

Ryan Barta, a member of The Ohio State University Marching Band, demonstrates his new iPad, which saves between 6,000 and 9,000 sheets of paper for each show. (Photo courtesy of OSU)

Special to the Legal News

Published: October 21, 2013

Along with a new show each week, this year The Ohio State University Marching Band is rolling out a new way of learning music, saving money and going green.

In an effort to reduce printing costs and paper usage, the band, affectionately called The Best Damn Band In The Land, is trying out a pilot program that gives its member iPads to learn the music and drills for each week’s half-time performance.

Band members Ryan Barta and Charlie King came up with the idea to implement tablets while they were watching videos of the band’s rehearsal.

“The first thing we came up with was a smart music stand where the director could have a big score of music in front of him off screen and then when he made a mark on his music it would automatically transfer to everyone’s music,” King said, noting that such technology didn’t exist during the brainstorming phase of the project.

So, Barta and King turned to tablets.

The idea was rooted in a desire to change the way the band learned new drills and music, but as the two started to research they found an even better reason to pursue the project.

“Between 6,000 and 9,000 sheets of paper go out to the 225 members of The Ohio State University Marching Band in the form of 30 to 40-page drill and music packets for each show. We use almost 500,000 sheets a season and can spend up to $30,000 in paper and copying costs in a year,” said Jonathan Waters, director of the OSU marching band.

Barta further noted that the printer being used for all of those pieces of paper is only supposed to print up to 50,000 sheets per month.

Last month, he said the band made 70,000 prints, having to pay for every overage.

“Not to mention that the printer breaks down all the time because of that overage,” said Barta, a senior in operations management and aviation management.

Barta and King said that by transitioning to iPads the band can greatly reduce how much it spends on printing and can change 40 minutes of printing time to five minutes of download time.

The new method also allows the band members to see videos of the drills and follow their position through each transition as opposed to reading several pages of transition explanations and diagrams.

“During rehearsal, we’re spending more time learning music and learning drills and less time waiting for paper. Outside of the band, we’re spending less time memorizing music because the technology and the tools that we’re giving them makes it easier to do that so they can do it a little bit quicker,” said King, a senior in computer information science and student staff information technology assistant with the band.

After collaborating with several areas of the university, including an office for e-learning, the College of Arts and Sciences and an IT department, Barta and King were able to successfully pitch the project.

They said Waters was immediately on board and energized by the idea.

He then took that energy and helped King and Barta secure a $25,000 grant from the Ohio State Office of Energy and Environment, which went toward purchasing 45 iPads for this year’s pilot program.

Those iPads went to the student squad leaders and the directors and Barta said they’ve gotten mostly positive feedback so far with students remarking about the ease of learning drills out on the field.

King said there have been a couple minor technical problems, but so far he’s been able to fix the bugs and hasn’t seen anything that would stop the show.

“The biggest thing that we’ve run into is that it’s sometimes difficult to get all the stuff we need in digital form because everyone that we work with is so used to doing it in a paper form,” King said. “Especially with people who are from a generation from before email, that’s been kind of tough.”

With the current program, students are responsible for replacing any iPads that they lose, but King said composers shouldn’t worry that their music will be lost.

OSU is rolling out its own version of the Cloud file storage system called Buckeye Box and King said all of the band’s information will be stored in it.

In the case of a lost iPad, all of the information will remain in Buckeye Box, where its access will be limited to only those selected by the band.

Someone playing the trumpet would only be able to access music for the trumpet, lowering the risk of someone stealing the music and selling it to a high school band director.

Barta said that with Apple’s security, the band would also be able to track the missing iPad using GPS or remotely shut it down.

“It’s pretty good security with Apple that we trust it,” Barta said.

Under Barta’s ideal system, students will have the option to pay a small fee at the end of each marching season to continue using their iPad for the remainder of the school year.

If a student were to pay that fee every year for four years, he or she could keep the iPad upon their graduation.

“With that money we hope to create a fresh cycle of iPads, that’s where the sustainable long-term plan comes in because we hope that the band will never have to pay any money for this program,” Barta said.

Barta said he would like to see a full version of the program roll out next season with all members of the band getting their own iPad but they’re still seeking funding to purchase more of the tablets.

Waters said it will cost about $120,000 to equip all 225 band members with an iPad, a life proof case and a carrying strap.

Still, he said he believes that in the future all college and high school bands will be using the upgraded technology.

“The iPads have revolutionized the teaching and learning process of the marching band. I have witnessed directly the impact of the iPads on how much more quickly our students are learning drill moves and music,” Waters said. “Also, the iPads provide us with a tool to give instant video feedback and assessment for marching and playing on the rehearsal field.”

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