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How Marching Band is Judged

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Based on some of the discussions this year, it seems worthwhile to take a minute and cover how marching band is judged in the contemporary setting (i.e. BOA)

Old School vs. New School

In the "old days" marching bands (and drum corps) were judged with the "Tick System" where judges were largely there to count perceived errors and subtract those from a total number of points. This is NOT how marching bands are (or at least theoretically) judged today. New adjudication is based on REWARDING ACHIEVEMENT and building scores up rather than taking away from 100. Judges are asked to consider both WHAT the performers are doing and HOW they are doing that. On each of the six different judges sheets, there are SUB-CAPTIONS which are added together to form the judge's total score for a group.

Criteria Reference System and Boxes

Judges sheets include information to help determine an approximate score based on certain criteria. These criteria help determine if a band's score should fall into one of five different ranges referred to as Box 1, Box 2, Box 3, Box 4 and Box 5. Box 5 is the highest level of achievement, where the band exhibits the greatest level of achievement, technique, training, and artistry. Judges should be both RATING and RANKING bands. This means that when a judge assigns a score they do not do it in total isolation. Rating is the process of assigning a number that accurately represents the achievement of a band, while the ranking is assigning a score that relates to the other bands appropriately. The judge should consider the scores they have already given and slot a band in relation to each other. This means that is Band A received a 16.5 from a judge and Band B got a 16.6, the judge perceived them to be almost identical in the level of performance but believes Band B to be slightly better. This is why comparing scores between two different contests/pannels of judges is not always as simple as looking at a band's total score. You will notice that at BOA super regionals and Grand Nationals, where there are two different panels of judges for prelims, the formula for who advances balances taking some bands from each panel.

Number Management

This phrase was thrown around a bit. This is where things get a bit more complex. It is generally perceived that going on later in a class or in a show is advantageous. The assumption is that judges will start the day, or class with putting down a fairly conservative number to leave room above that to for higher scores, and it is thought that scores naturally creep higher throughout the day (referred to as SCORE INFLATION). Judges do have to be careful that they assign scores fairly to all groups throughout the day. That is where the "RATE and RANK" responsibility becomes very important. A judge SHOULD be considering the other bands as they assign scores. 

The Captions

The BOA handbook has example score sheets and extensive descriptions of each caption. Below is a general overview of the most typical setup. 

https://marching.musicforall.org/adjudication-handbook/

Visual Performance Individual - One judge on the field with the performers. 20 point sheet averaged with Visual Performance Ensemble. This judge is evaluating the winds/percussion AND color guard.

Visual Performance Ensemble - One judge in the press box.. 20 point sheet averaged with VPI. This judge is evaluating the winds/percussion AND color guard.

Music Performance Individual - One judge on the field with the performers. 20 point sheet averaged with Music Performance Ensemble. This judge is evaluating winds AND percussion.

Music Performance Ensemble- One judge in the press box.. 20 point sheet averaged with MPI. This judge is evaluating winds AND percussion.

Music General Effect- TWO judges in the press box. 20 points each for a total of 40 points. 

Visual General Effect- One judge in the press box. 20 point sheet.

With this set up you will see that 60 points out of 100 come from music (20 points Music GE1 + 20 points Music GE2 + 20 Points Music Performance (Invidiaul and Ensemble averaged together)). This system also means that 60 points of 100 are based on the General Effect of a show. (20 points Music GE1 + 20 points Music GE2 + Visual GE).

 

Guard, Percussion and Drum Major- at some contests there may be separate judges providing feedback and scores for these areas, but those individual scores generally are not factored into the total score for a group.

 

In Illinois, there is no organization that oversees marching contests like how ISSMA in Indiana or UIL in Texas does. This means there is no standard of scoring system or judges training. The system described above is certainly becoming more standard than it was. However, there is still a great deal of variation. These exact sheets may be slightly different, or the number of judges may be a little different. Frequently shows will only hire 1 Music GE judge to save money. This usually means the MPI and MPE are not averaged and the scores are taken as-is. There is also no formal judges training in Illinois and the experience of judges and training may vary greatly.

 

 

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Thank you for the explanation and comparison.  After participating in marching competitions under the "old" way and watching my kids under the "new" scoring system; I appreciate rewarding programs for doing more but I have concerns in how everything is being evaluated.  There are a few things that I have observed under the "new" system:  The larger bands do less playing and marching at the same time which they can do by the sheer number of musicians on the field.  For example, the brass has a prominent section during the piece being performed and during that time, the woodwinds are moving through a few sets while those brass sections are standing in a block formation.  After completion of that, the woodwinds take the lead musically and they hold their place while the brass sections are moving.  Is there or should there be a portion of the judging that monitors how much movement of the entire band is going on while they are playing versus the "park and bark" that seems to exist.  Next, props and costume changes seem to be comprising more of a focus than the music and marching.  Clearly, these are there to influence the GE scores, which is extremely important.  I am not trying to be the old "get off my lawn guy"; I understand things change and evolve but I fear the shows and competitions are getting to be their own arms race with whichever program can spend the most on props and accessories wins.

Thoughts?

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1 hour ago, BandDad91 said:

Thank you for the explanation and comparison.  After participating in marching competitions under the "old" way and watching my kids under the "new" scoring system; I appreciate rewarding programs for doing more but I have concerns in how everything is being evaluated.  There are a few things that I have observed under the "new" system:  The larger bands do less playing and marching at the same time which they can do by the sheer number of musicians on the field.  For example, the brass has a prominent section during the piece being performed and during that time, the woodwinds are moving through a few sets while those brass sections are standing in a block formation.  After completion of that, the woodwinds take the lead musically and they hold their place while the brass sections are moving.  Is there or should there be a portion of the judging that monitors how much movement of the entire band is going on while they are playing versus the "park and bark" that seems to exist.  Next, props and costume changes seem to be comprising more of a focus than the music and marching.  Clearly, these are there to influence the GE scores, which is extremely important.  I am not trying to be the old "get off my lawn guy"; I understand things change and evolve but I fear the shows and competitions are getting to be their own arms race with whichever program can spend the most on props and accessories wins.

Thoughts?

The reality is that the "arms race" has been going on since the mid to late 90's.  If you look at the highest achieving BOA bands, they are spending a stupid amount of money to compete.  I have no issue with it, if you as a school have the money and want to spend it on your marching production, go right ahead.  But it does price out "the little guy" when it comes to competitive success on the biggest stage.  Thats not to say that those bands spending big money cant play and march.  What kids are doing these days in high school marching band is just amazing. 

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22 hours ago, BandDad91 said:

Thank you for the explanation and comparison.  After participating in marching competitions under the "old" way and watching my kids under the "new" scoring system; I appreciate rewarding programs for doing more but I have concerns in how everything is being evaluated.  There are a few things that I have observed under the "new" system:  The larger bands do less playing and marching at the same time which they can do by the sheer number of musicians on the field.  For example, the brass has a prominent section during the piece being performed and during that time, the woodwinds are moving through a few sets while those brass sections are standing in a block formation.  After completion of that, the woodwinds take the lead musically and they hold their place while the brass sections are moving.  Is there or should there be a portion of the judging that monitors how much movement of the entire band is going on while they are playing versus the "park and bark" that seems to exist.  Next, props and costume changes seem to be comprising more of a focus than the music and marching.  Clearly, these are there to influence the GE scores, which is extremely important.  I am not trying to be the old "get off my lawn guy"; I understand things change and evolve but I fear the shows and competitions are getting to be their own arms race with whichever program can spend the most on props and accessories wins.

Thoughts?

You hit on some really key points that are really hot topics in the marching world right now. I'm not sure anyone really has all the answers but here are a couple of thoughts.

There is definitely less full ensemble playing taking place with a lot of bands (and drum corps). Larger and larger portions of shows are based on the front ensemble and/or mic'd virtuosic solos (and small ensembles). When there are ensemble moments, they are very carefully coordinated. Ultimately the design of these shows is getting more strategic about exactly what to demonstrate and when to demonstrate it. There was a post on one of the drum corps Facebook groups or forums, where someone had gone through and analyzed the top six shows from DCI finals and if I recall most of them had fewer than 5 minutes of ensemble playing. This is in stark contrast to days when pretty much everyone played the whole show.

 

Regarding costumes and props. Technically speaking they the presence of props/costumes does not IMHO directly increase the performers' achievement level (score), unless they do something with them (i.e. move or interact with the props, change costumes, etc.). HOWEVER, props and costumes can help clarify the theme or narrative of the show. This helps make the music and visual content demonstrated by the performers be more understandable and easier to award credit (score).

 

The money thing is a tough issue and hotly debated. As a whole Illinois bands seem to have cheaper fees/dues compared to other groups competing at the top level. I'm not sure if anyone in Illinois is charging more than $1000 in fees, but that level of financial commitment is not uncommon in the upper levels of the activity. There are GN finalists whose fees are over $2000. 

 

 

 

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On 10/28/2019 at 3:42 PM, bandfan1 said:

The reality is that the "arms race" has been going on since the mid to late 90's.  If you look at the highest achieving BOA bands, they are spending a stupid amount of money to compete.  I have no issue with it, if you as a school have the money and want to spend it on your marching production, go right ahead.  But it does price out "the little guy" when it comes to competitive success on the biggest stage.  Thats not to say that those bands spending big money cant play and march.  What kids are doing these days in high school marching band is just amazing. 

True, the activity on the visual level has really evolved. I would argue that some of the very top bands' brass sections are great as well. What we have lost though are the woodwinds. Sadly, the activity has backslid both in terms of gimmicky arrangements/concepts and visual crutches. I know most people who have viewed my recent posts will think that I HATE Lincoln-Way (baby mamma has a kid in the band...so not the case, but whatever), but their uniforms were overdone. Obviously, that helped their program the past couple of weekends in the scoring department, but I hate to think that this is where we are now. 

I can only think of a few contending bands that value their woodwinds (and not for the sake of running up to the sideline, performing a few bars, and then fading into the back of the ensemble to check off a box). It's really sad that the high school marching band now resembles drum corps, which is great in it own right, but discludes other sections of the band that makes high school marching band unique.

Also, too much influence from a couple very good designers like Wes Cartwright. Many bands, whose directors can't write to save their lives, outsource to this gentleman, and while I admit that he is exceptionally talented, a program who lives and dies by a contractor's work is living on perilous ground. The shows are not vastly different and everyone scrambles to figure out who he's designing for next because they will be successful (or not). 

There truly is very little originality anymore. Gone are the days of the directors actually putting together their own programs, with one or two notable exceptions. 

Another unregulated part of the activity, but one that is wrong IMO. It offends people whenever I've talked about this at my band meetings, but let's get real. If you are going to field a competitive marching band, you should hire a director who knows what he/she is doing in that arena. Not waste valuable taxpayer dollars to bring in people to do what you cannot.

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3 hours ago, johnlivingston said:

True, the activity on the visual level has really evolved. I would argue that some of the very top bands' brass sections are great as well. What we have lost though are the woodwinds. Sadly, the activity has backslid both in terms of gimmicky arrangements/concepts and visual crutches. I know most people who have viewed my recent posts will think that I HATE Lincoln-Way (baby mamma has a kid in the band...so not the case, but whatever), but their uniforms were overdone. Obviously, that helped their program the past couple of weekends in the scoring department, but I hate to think that this is where we are now. 

I can only think of a few contending bands that value their woodwinds (and not for the sake of running up to the sideline, performing a few bars, and then fading into the back of the ensemble to check off a box). It's really sad that the high school marching band now resembles drum corps, which is great in it own right, but discludes other sections of the band that makes high school marching band unique.

Also, too much influence from a couple very good designers like Wes Cartwright. Many bands, whose directors can't write to save their lives, outsource to this gentleman, and while I admit that he is exceptionally talented, a program who lives and dies by a contractor's work is living on perilous ground. The shows are not vastly different and everyone scrambles to figure out who he's designing for next because they will be successful (or not). 

There truly is very little originality anymore. Gone are the days of the directors actually putting together their own programs, with one or two notable exceptions. 

Another unregulated part of the activity, but one that is wrong IMO. It offends people whenever I've talked about this at my band meetings, but let's get real. If you are going to field a competitive marching band, you should hire a director who knows what he/she is doing in that arena. Not waste valuable taxpayer dollars to bring in people to do what you cannot.

Dude. Go back to the 1980’s.  You’ll be much happier with the marching band product. 

I think I disagree with almost every single thing you just said and I wouldn’t even know where to begin. So it’s not really worth arguing about. 

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10 hours ago, Band said:

You hit on some really key points that are really hot topics in the marching world right now. I'm not sure anyone really has all the answers but here are a couple of thoughts.

There is definitely less full ensemble playing taking place with a lot of bands (and drum corps). Larger and larger portions of shows are based on the front ensemble and/or mic'd virtuosic solos (and small ensembles). When there are ensemble moments, they are very carefully coordinated. Ultimately the design of these shows is getting more strategic about exactly what to demonstrate and when to demonstrate it. There was a post on one of the drum corps Facebook groups or forums, where someone had gone through and analyzed the top six shows from DCI finals and if I recall most of them had fewer than 5 minutes of ensemble playing. This is in stark contrast to days when pretty much everyone played the whole show.

 

Regarding costumes and props. Technically speaking they the presence of props/costumes does not IMHO directly increase the performers' achievement level (score), unless they do something with them (i.e. move or interact with the props, change costumes, etc.). HOWEVER, props and costumes can help clarify the theme or narrative of the show. This helps make the music and visual content demonstrated by the performers be more understandable and easier to award credit (score).

 

The money thing is a tough issue and hotly debated. As a whole Illinois bands seem to have cheaper fees/dues compared to other groups competing at the top level. I'm not sure if anyone in Illinois is charging more than $1000 in fees, but that level of financial commitment is not uncommon in the upper levels of the activity. There are GN finalists whose fees are over $2000. 

 

 

 

I agree, park and blow is hot topic but it wins with the judges in both marching band and DCI. These show designers are masters of when to have the players march and stand still and their staging is outstanding. I don't like it either but there is still a lot of good skilled performance that goes on.  The visual body and dance requirements put on the players these days are very challenging.  The bands or corps that are marching while playing difficult passages have more trouble cleaning those parts of the show and thus don't score as well.

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13 hours ago, bandfan1 said:

Dude. Go back to the 1980’s.  You’ll be much happier with the marching band product. 

I think I disagree with almost every single thing you just said and I wouldn’t even know where to begin. So it’s not really worth arguing about. 

It's clear that you don't know where to begin. So probably should have just remained quiet as you added nothing to the discussion. Wish you would have! 

If you can't agree that woodwinds matter in marching band, then it isn't marching band anymore. It's drum corps. Can't agree with that? Go back to the 1970s and early 80s with that corps style macho weirdness. Play some disco while you're at it.

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I was at Indy last weekend, and took notes on bands I thought would finish in the 5-25 range to assess who I thought would make Finals. (Avon, Carmel, Blue Springs, were locks for Finals.)  The bands I noted with playing while marching and audible woodwinds did well in placements.

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