What Pipe Band Adjudicators Are Looking For – Part 2

Pipe band expert Alistair Aitken OBE continues his detailed analysis of the judging of pipe bands. Read his first instalment here.

The effective pipe band adjudicator should, sub-consciously, be taking the following aspects into account whilst listening, analysing and ranking different performances.

Rhythm: This is defined as ‘the regular recurrence of strong and weak accents arising from the division of music into regular metrical portions‘.  In making a rhythmical assessment, therefore, the adjudicator should be thinking in terms of:

Phrasing: Division of a melodic line into rhythmical phrases or cadences, giving emphasis to accented notes whilst maintaining fluency.  Phrasing can be described as the rhythmical grouping of the notes of a melody.



Embellishments, which are used to enhance and add character to a piece of music without interfering with the natural flow.  In the execution of embellishments to enhance the rhythmical effect of a piece of music, care should also be taken in maintaining relative note values.  There is little point to adding embellishments if they result in disturbing rhythmic flow and fluency.

Syncopation: deliberately changing the normal accent to add expression and excitement.

Tempo: the speed at which the piece of music is played and how that can affect the idiom of the tune (i.e. march, jig, strathspey etc), the rhythmical presentation and the musical effect.

Melody: The simplest description of a melody is a succession of notes with a distinctive sequence.  Aspects for the adjudicator to consider are:

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The Emotive Theme: the intended emotional effect on the listener (in this case the adjudicator) of the composition/s being played.  The key factor for the adjudicator is the interpretation of the melodies and the style in which they are played in keeping with the emotive theme.

Musical Arrangement: the manner in which the music is structured (i.e. the combination of melodies and the sequence in which they are presented).  The quality of execution, integration and expression are important aspects for the adjudicator to consider.

Player Capability: the selection of melodies within the capabilities of the band members.  Lower grade pipe bands in particular often attempt technically complex melodies which are outwith the capabilities of the players.

Intonation: the influence of the pitching of instruments on the melodic theme and on the overall tonal balance and musical balance.

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Harmony: A simple description of harmony is the combination of simultaneous sounds.  In addition to considering the natural harmony of the instruments, adjudicators should also pay attention to passages in the musical presentation where harmony is used on the bagpipes to enhance the melodic line.  Aspects for adjudicator assessment include:

Bagpipes: correct instrument tuning, including chanter/drone balance.

Harmonic Intervals: enhancement of the melody using specific harmonic intervals for effective harmony in the musical arrangement.

Drum Corps: effective tuning of snare, bass, tenor etc. drums individually and in relation to each other.  The adjudicator needs to assess their overall balance collectively as well as their relationship to the bagpipes.  Variation in weight and volume control are important aspects to be taken into account.

Musical Balance: consideration of the performance as a totality in terms of the combination of instruments and the overall dynamic impact musically.  Piping and drumming adjudicators ideally should consider in making their assessment the influence of their respective discipline on the overall pipe band (i.e. assessing the contribution of either the pipe corps or drum corps as part of the ‘pipe band’ rather than as a separate entity).

It is of course impossible for adjudicators to comment on all of these aspects in the short time available during each competition performance.  This highlights the need for individual adjudicators to develop a structured approach to adjudication to ensure that their thought processes cover the range of factors before they summarise their thoughts in the written critique. 

In this way they can provide constructive analysis and feedback, with appropriate advice, rather than have a negative focus on faults and tonal issues.  The critique sheet obviously has limited space but it is still possible to achieve this form of comprehensive and constructive assessment using the four main categories of Introduction, Execution, Interpretation/Expression and Tonal Quality.

In the next excerpt we will explore in more detail the terminology which can be used in critique sheets to reflect this form of assessment so that band personnel hopefully are in a position to better understand adjudicator comments and learn from the experience.


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