Demystifying the Judging Process

Being judged at a competition can be an intimidating experience, but advanced knowledge of the judges and their scoring sheets—as well as reflection after the show—can help you understand what judges look for.

The word “judge” may be the most unfortunate label in all of the marching arts. Many people associate the word “judge” with the word “jury,” and some may even associate it with the word “execution.” No wonder competitions can be such highly intimidating experiences!

Demystifying the judging process can help you avoid performance anxieties. Understand that the outcome is much more within your control than you believe. A judge’s score is not necessarily a singular event in time but an indicator of preparation, performance and reflection.

Proper Preparation

Preparation before a competition mostly involves rehearsal habits. Students and directors alike should ask themselves: “Are we using our time in rehearsals wisely, accomplishing as much as we can during that time?” The answer will be an effective predictor of your performance results.

Getting to know the judging panel will help you get mentally ready. For local competitions, directors and judges may be colleagues and friends. For larger-circuit shows where judges may be assigned from further away, you can sometimes find biographies on the web. Directors may also be able to request copies of judges’ bios from the event hosts. Even though reading judges’ bios—including their many educational degrees and awards—may be intimidating, the profiles prove their expertise and help you see them as human beings.

Also, studying the contest sheets prior to the big day will help you understand the judges’ functions and performance expectations for your band. Directors often have access to these materials.

You can even have some fun by watching a video of your band’s most recent performance and judging yourselves. Tally the results using totals, averages or whatever will produce a meaningful number in the given system. But most importantly, share comments with each other. The numbers may get a little skewed, but the comments call it like it is, and you may be surprised just how honest and insightful your band mates can be.

After judging yourselves, you will know what to expect and just what those mysterious people are doing behind the glare of press-box windows.

Performing for the Audience

Every band has its own performance rituals and procedures. Some warm up very intensely while others warm up in a very loose manner. In either case, remember that once you step on the field, you are being evaluated on how you perform for the audience (which includes the judges). If the audience enjoys the performance, warts and all, then the judges likely will too.

Also understand that while the quality of your performance is within your control, the numbers and the other bands are not. Strive to walk away with the feeling that you have performed to the best of your own abilities.

Reflection and Review

And finally, in order to make the adjudication process a valuable learning tool, take time to reflect on the judge’s “performance.” After listening to all of the tapes, the director may wish to share a few that best address the most important areas for improvement. He or she may wish to streamline contest results by farming out caption tapes to respective sections. This process can open up a valuable dialogue between the students and the director as they react and respond to the evaluators’ comments. At times, directors and instructors may disagree with the judge’s comments and tell students why they disagree.

A few butterflies in the stomach on competition day are normal and even a little healthy; nervous energy can be a powerful motivator.

Decoding the judging process can go a long way toward clarifying expectations and calming your fears. But most importantly, it can help you gain a better understanding of why your band competes. This process may or may not lead to more trophies, but it can certainly lead to a better band.

About the Author

Danny Lloyd is a freelance composer, arranger, educator and writer from Mount Airy, N.C. He has been involved in high school, collegiate, drum corps and winter programs throughout the South. In addition, he writes for Drum Corps World. After teaching full time for 10 years, he is now a doctoral student at Boston University.

Sidebar: Judging the Judges

The Internet is one of your most valuable tools for learning about your judges and the adjudication process.

If your band competes with the US Scholastic Band Association, make your way to the USSBA website, which posts judges’ bios for all to see. Select your region, then click on “Show Staff/ Adjudicators.” You’ll see “Adjudicator Bios” in big blue letters at the top of the page. When you click on the link, you will be able to download a document packed with judges’ names, biographies and even photos.

Although not all competitive circuits make judges’ bios readily available online, the following event organizers allow users access to the judging guidelines, rules and sheets.

Bands of America (BOA)—click on “Adjudication Handbook” under “Resource Room.”
US Scholastic Band Association (USSBA)—select your region and then click on “USSBA FAQ” at the top of the page. You’ll then see a list of questions, including, “Can I see the adjudicator’s sheets?” Click on the link and select your sheet of choice.

New England Scholastic Band Association (NESBA)—click on “Judging.” There are links to the judges’ sheets for the fall band, winter color guard and winter percussion seasons.

Mid-States Band Association (MSBA)—click on “Forms.” Once you do, you can download a number of different adjudication sheets.

Western Band Association (WBA)—select “Forms.” From there, you can download a file entitled, “2007 WBA Adjudication Manual & Contest Rules.”

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