Marching Band FAQ

There have been users of the site asking how bands are classified, and what are the judges looking for when they judge a show? This guide will hopefully explain what the judges are looking for. These explanations are culled from a number of places: The Bands of America Adjudication Handbook as well as the Naperville North Etiquette Sheet.

Before we get into the judging explanation, please understand there is currently NO "recognized" Illinois State Championship. Illinois Marching Band Championships and Illinois State Marching Band Championships 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.

ISU's enrollment classes have been broken into 3 sessions. Classes are not announced prior to the competition.
Session A - Classes 1A/2A, <1300 enrollment

Session B- Classes 3A/4A, 1301-<2000 enrollment

Session C- Classes 5A-6A, >2000 enrollment

University of Illinois uses this system: (1A-6A)
1-350 / 351-800 / 801-1100 / 1100-1600 / 1601-2500 / 2501+

Bands of Americauses the following system, updated as of 2022:(A-AAAA)
1-600 / 601-1325 / 1326-1850 / 1851+

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 2023, Bands of America will present 28 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. 34 bands are accepted at regionals, 84 at super regionals, and 100+ 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 12 bands advancing to the evening Finals.

Super Regional Championships are 2 day championships that involve up to84 bands, with 14 bands advancing to the night finals on Saturday.

The Grand National Championships involve 100+ 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.

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:

Marching Band Etiquette

A Marching Band competition is not quite a concert, and it's not quite a sporting event. There are some elements of each which are encouraged, while others are discouraged. Some schools bring a whole cheering section of fans, while others have only their Pit Crew to cheer the band on. Many parents (especially those new to the activity) are unsure as to when it is appropriate to cheer or applaud. Below are some tips to help you become contributors to a performance, without being a distraction.

If you've never attended a marching band competition, you'll be surprised and amazed at how quiet and attentive most people are during performances. This is very different from football games where the halftime performance is just background noise for peoples' conversations. For this reason alone, you should try to get to as many competitions as possible.

The best marching band fans are those who cheer for every band. Sure, you're going to cheer loudest for your band, but every band is out there to entertain or move the audience in some way. They all deserve your applause, and every band should get a standing ovation at the end.

Here are some basic Dos and Don'ts:
Do get to the show early to get a good seat. Sit as high and centered in the bleachers as possible, so you can get the full effect.

Don't have one or two over-zealous parents try to save a whole section of bleachers for just our fans. Seating is generally first-come, first-served.

Do wear your school colors proudly!

Don't wave pompons or pennants, or hold up big banners or signs! This only serves to distract the performers and obstruct the view of other audience members.

Do share and converse with those around you (even those from other schools) between bands.

Don't talk during ANY band's performance! And, don't try to get up or down the bleachers during performances. This is essentially a concert. There are people around you that want to hear every note and see every effect. Save your comments for between bands, and pick one band to miss as you get a hot dog or use the restroom.

Do find the positives in each band's performance, and applaud their efforts.

Don't make negative comments while within ear-shot of other audience members. You never know who is sitting around you-it could be staff members, parents, or siblings of the performers on the field. If you must point out flaws, wait until the drive home!

Don't just zero in on your own teenager for the entire show. You'll miss a lot!

Do applaud often. It's not like a concert, where you wait until the end to applaud. It's appropriate to applaud for stirring musical moments, cool visual effects, soloists, or anything else that strikes your fancy! Even the occasional "Yeah!" or "Woo!" is great, where appropriate.

Do concentrate on what is going well in each band's performance.
Don't react vocally with an "Oh!" when something goes wrong. Especially in the early shows, rifles will be dropped, kids will slip and fall, etc. You're not making them feel better about it by reacting negatively.
Do applaud each band's placement at the awards ceremony (whether you liked their show or not).

Don't boo or otherwise comment negatively on anyone's placement. Don't cheer or otherwise react when another band places lower than expected. Wait until your band is actually announced, and then cheer your head off! Don't get up to leave until all awards have been announced (even if you are unhappy with the results).

Do trust that the adjudicators are professionals who are doing the best they can, to judge what is ultimately a very subjective activity. On any given Saturday, with any given judging panel, anything can happen.

Don't for a moment think that anything is "rigged" or that there are "hometown favorites". Bands that seem to "win all the time" do so for a reason: they're really good, and they're really consistent.