Why There Can Be Anomalies in Pipe Band Competition Results

We continue our build up to the the 2022 pipe band season, the first in three years. This article was first published in Pipe Band Magazine ‘Judge’s Journal’ in November 2010 but is no less relevant twelve years on…….

I feel I must respond on behalf of the RSPBA Adjudicators’ Panel to the email letter regarding the wide differences in the results of piping adjudicators in which the question was asked, ‘How can our judges have such widely differing views?’ 

I cannot dispute that there are on occasions wide differences in results, and inevitably these are the results on which everyone tends to focus.  I wonder, however, whether everyone fully appreciates the circumstances under which adjudicators have to operate, and whether everyone is hearing the same thing in the same way.

By Alistair Aitken OBE,
former RSPBA Adjudicator

Differences in results have always been, and probably will always be, a problem for the RSPBA; and it is an aspect continually being addressed by the Adjudicators’ Training Group – it impacts on the credibility of the Association and of the adjudicators themselves. 

The Training Group undertakes an annual, comprehensive performance review for this reason. The review is also an aid to considering how training and development can be improved.  It is also important to recognise that differences in results are not confined to piping.  There are on occasions similar questions regarding the relationship between piping and ensemble results, and between drumming and ensemble results.

All RSPBA adjudicators have to meet stringent criteria before they are even considered for entry to the mandatory training programme.  Thereafter the initial training is demanding, and on completion candidates must pass theory and practical examinations which test their ability to analyse and assess. 

Our adjudicators are well prepared and are committed to doing the job well.  There is no evidence to suggest that they do not go about performing their role impartially and fairly.  However, there are many factors which may well have a bearing on the consistency of the adjudication process.


Pipe Band Memories….the programme for the Worlds at Stirling in 1974

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Varied results could be related to inexperience, off-days, weather conditions, personal preference etc.  However, there are also wider issues and barriers which can be contributing factors. 

Adjudication is without doubt a subjective process and we have to recognise that individual judges can, and will, have different opinions, although in the ideal world you would not expect there to be significantly wide variations. 

Over the years the extensive efforts have been made during training to encourage an agreed framework of factors, aimed at ensuring more consistency.  Perhaps naturally, many new adjudicators may be influenced to an extent by the critique sheets they received as players and so the changes in attitude and approach they are being encouraged to make will only be achieved gradually over time. 

‘Judges….There is no evidence to suggest that they do not go about performing their role impartially and fairly.….

Judges have a fairly short time span to make their assessments and some, therefore, will tend to focus on specific aspects of performance (i.e. mistakes, technical execution/basic rudiments, integration or musical effect etc) whereas ideally they should be trying to take all these aspects into account in their overall assessment.  This may result in slightly different approaches to how performances are ranked in an order of preference. 

Some adjudicators may also tend to focus on their own discipline, piping or drumming, in isolation, rather than assess the discipline in a band context.  There is no doubt that a band’s piping can be affected by the quality or the style of its drumming, or vice versa. 

Weather conditions and stress can also be factors, the latter particularly at Major Championships when there are more spectators in close proximity.  These are all aspects which are highlighted in training courses and during the compulsory annual development workshops.

This year the Adjudicators’ Training Group has been exploring two other aspects which we think may have a significant bearing on results – adjudicator positioning and band formations – both of which have a close relationship to each other. 

All RSPBA adjudicators are encouraged to adopt vantage points where they can hear the best sound projection as clearly and as consistently as possible.  Views on positioning vary, but in the main the traditional practice is for the piping judge to assess the Introduction from the front of the band and then move around the pipe corps to varying extents. 

Ensemble judges tend to assess the Introduction from either the front of the band or on the pipe major’s side.  Thereafter there are varying practices which include a static position on the pipe corps side of the competition circle, moving in an arc around the pipers to varying degrees, or walking completely round the band. 

Drumming adjudicators traditionally operate behind the drum corps, although some do, at some point during a performance, move to the head of the band to listen to the drumming coming though the piping.

  • To be continued.

4 thoughts on “Why There Can Be Anomalies in Pipe Band Competition Results

  1. I’ve always taken the view that there are perfectly good reasons two adjudicators can produce very different results, but a simple step would be for piping adjudicators to release a short paragraph written jointly explaining their reasons for the difference. This might be triggered when the difference between two bands is more than, say 25% of entrants, or more than five places.

  2. The Kenyan envoy at the recent United Nations Assembly nailed it…’Move Forward’ !
    The article shows great promise and I keenly await further instalments.

  3. Points made by Alistair are all relevant. However, just because their is no evidence of “bent ” adjudication doesn’t mean it hasn’t existed in the past. Either the RSPBA/Adjudication Panel Management has been unable to gather evidence of wrong adjudication or it has turned a blind eye to wrong placement of bands in major or minor competition.
    The fair adjudicator is often tarred with the same brush as the adjudicator who deliberately promotes him/herself at the expense a just outcome for the competing bands because the issue has never been dealt with effectively. The matter deserves consideration by all bands. Adjudicators and RSPBA Management.

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