What Are Judges Looking For?
Filed under: — Dan Balash @ 6:00 pm

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of users questioning what judges are looking for when adjudicating a show, and how bands are classified.  This guide will hopefully explain both of those topics.

Before we get into the judging explanation, please understand there is currently NO “recognized” Illinois State Championship. Illinois Marching Band Championships and State of Illinois Marching Band Championships at ISU are separate festivals. 

How are bands classified and scored ?
Bands in Illinois are classified differently competition to competition. Most local shows in Illinois are classified by band size. Illinois State, Illinois Marching Band Championships, and Bands of America events are done based on school size.  Each contest provides score sheets that typically add to a possible 100 point total. Score sheet systems vary from contest to contest. There is no set standard.

Do classes affect judging?
No. In a typical event, one set of judges works the entire event, and “all bands are on the same scale” so results can be compared between any two bands. In large events two panels may be used; in concept they are on the same scale, but there is no way to guarantee the results will correlate. An example of this is that U of I has separate panels for 1A-3A vs. 4A-6A.

How many judges are on a panel?
There is no standard system mandate in Illinois. Early local contests may have a small panel of 3-5 judges. The most common Illinois systems use a 7-judge panel based on the Bands of America system, with four music judges and three visual judges. Several variations and other systems exist. Individual events often add “special” judges focused on color guard, drum major, or percussion for specialized feedback and awards.

Where do judges come from?
Depends on location and the contest budget. Judges are typically booked by the band director/contest director/sponsor, individually, up to a year in advance. They may be local (within driving distance) or may be flown in and provided housing.

How are bands classified on band size?
Most Illinois shows have classes based on instrumentation-basically, anyone who plays an instrument (brass, woodwinds, percussion). Usually, there are 3 classes (Class A is up to 64, AA is 65-96, and AAA is 97 and up.)

What about school size?
U of I, ISU, and Bands of America are different in how they classify their bands.
Both Illinois State and University of Illinois run their shows on a 6 division system, and Bands of America uses a 4 class system (Grades 10-12 only!) to determine where the band will be classified.

ISU’s enrollment classes have been: (1A-6A)
1-800 / 801-1275 / 1276-1700 / 1701-1999 / 2000-2500 / 2501+ (in 2010)
1-800 / 801-1400 / 1401-1750 / 1751-1999 / 2000-2500 / 2501+ (in 2011)

University of Illinois used this enrollment breakdown for 2010 and 2011: (1A-6A)
1-350 / 351-800 / 801-1100 / 1100-1600 / 1601-2500 / 2501+

Bands of America uses a slightly modified classification system starting in 2012. (A-AAAA)
1-600 / 601-1225 / 1226-1674 / 1675+

What is a Bands of America event? I’ve heard them mentioned, but my band has never done one.
Bands of America is a program of Music for All, Inc.  Music for All is one of the largest and most influential national music education organizations in support of active music making. Music for All is unique in that it combines programming at a national level with arts education advocacy. Bands of America (BOA) and Orchestra America are programs of Music for All, first founded in 1975, with a heritage in providing spectacular educational experiences and performance events for instrumental music programs and students.
Music for All is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization.


In 2014, Bands of America will present 18 regional and super regional championships across the United States, and the Grand National Championships in Indianapolis. These shows are open to any band that would like to sign up and participate. 32 bands are accepted at regionals, 64 at super regionals, and 90+ at Grand Nationals.

Bands of America Regional Championships are complete championships and educational events in their own right, not qualifying events for the Grand Nationals. Thirty bands typically perform in preliminary competition with ten bands advancing to the evening Finals.

Super Regional Championships are 2 day championships that involve up to 60 bands, with 12 or 14 bands advancing to the night finals on Saturday, depending on the amount of bands enrolled.

The Grand National Championships involve 90+ bands competing in preliminary competition. 30 (or more) bands advance to Semifinals on Saturday, and 12 bands advance to compete head to head for the prestigious title of Grand National Champion. Note: In all BOA events, should a class champion not be in the top scoring bands to be invited to the night show, they will be invited to perform in special exhibition at the night show.

How does Illinois Marching Online determine their band divisions?
In 2014, the divisions are as follows:
Division 1: 1600+ and all 2013 Grand National Semifinalists
Division 2: 900-1599
Division 3: 450-899
Division 4:: 1-449
Division 5: Non-competitive.

Illinois Marching Online divisions are used to determine the annual “Bands of the Year.”

What do the judges do? 
Each judge has to rank, rate, and evaluate the achievement of each band’s show, based on the content and the performance, within his/her score sheet provided by the contest.
Evaluations are recorded for the director. “What” (content) plus “how” (performance) equals achievement. “Rate” involves the specific score and “rank” involves position (1-2-3 etc.) relative to other bands.

Using the Bands of America scoring system, what are the judges looking for?

Captions: Music Performance Individual and Music Performance Ensemble, Visual Performance Individual and Visual Performance Ensemble, Music General Effect (2 judges), and Visual General Effect. Each of these sheets are out of a possible 200 points, and the sheet is divided by 10 to get the score for each caption.

The total score (100 possible) is based on a panel of seven caption judges as follows: 
Music General Effect: two judges in the press box each with a 20 point sheet.
Music Performance Individual: one judge on the field with a 20 point sheet (averaged).
Music Performance Ensemble: one judge in the press box with a 20 point sheet (averaged).
Visual General Effect: one judge in the press box with a 20 point sheet.
Visual Performance Individual: one judge on the field with a 20 point sheet (averaged).
Visual Performance Ensemble: one judge in the press box with a 20 point score sheet (averaged).

A typical set of “caption awards” would be:
Best Music (from the average score of MPI and MPE)
Best Visual (from the average score of VPI and VPE)
Best General Effect (from the total score of three GE judges)]

Music Performance Individual and Ensemble (20 points, caption is averaged):
This caption involves the technical accuracy of the musical performance of the wind and percussion players, and also considers the difficulty level of the music. One judge is on the field evaluating individual performance, while the other is in the press box evaluating ensemble performance.

Visual Performance Individual and Ensemble (20 points, caption is averaged):
This caption involves the technical accuracy of the marching and visual evaluating accuracy, frequency, and accessibility of movement as well as how well individuals carry themselves. The other judge is seated in the press box evaluating execution while considering technical demand and drill content and construction.

Now, we delve into General Effect, which can be a lot more difficult to explain.

Music General Effect (2 judges, 40 points.)
They consider how musically the instrumentalists play, how effective their performance is, and how well the show is put together to present a unified production. These judges are located in the press box. This caption consists of a possible total of 40 points.

Visual General Effect (20 points)
These judges, both located in the press box, evaluate how well the marching formations interpret the music presented in the show, as well as the visual coordination of the instrumentalists and color guard.

For a more in depth explanation of the judge’s sheets, please download the Bands of America Adjudication Handbook at: http://www.musicforall.org/what-we-do/marching/grand-national-championships/adjudication-handbook

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