Pipe Band Judging Tips

IMG_1872The following article was sent anonymously to Pipe Band magazine some time ago. It is dated 1994 and nothing on the document links it in any way to the RSPBA and it should not be seen as being endorsed by them or anyone else. It is published here out of interest, nothing more:



(a) Keep Up To Date: Continuing Education and Professional Development are ‘IN’ expressions. Explore new and innovative ideas, concepts, principles end theories. Dinosaurs have no place in a developing art form.

(b) Listen Widely: You do not have to ‘judge’ every piece of music you ever hear, but you should try to  understand it as well as enjoy it. There is more to music than pipe bands, kilts and trophies.

( c) Communicate Clearly: Use expressions that should be easily discernible to the ordinary pipe band performer. However you do not have to pander to the totally ignorant. It is a music competition and musical terms may be used where appropriate.


(a) Decide what information and equipment you need prior to the start of a competition. Do not neglect personal preparation (dress, hygiene, food, etc).

(b) Mental Preparation: Free your mind completely from any distractions in order to give each performance quality time. This entails good punctuality and time to settle down and ‘tune-in’ to the task you are about to undertake.

(c) Attitudes: Try to use some time to question your own attitudes e.g. might I be influenced or prejudiced in any way by a particular performance?

(d) Perceptions: Does the perception I have about any particular band hinder or help me?

(e) There is frequently difficulty between the different specialisms, i.e. Piping, Drumming and Ensemble, in getting ideas over to the bands and gaining respect and support. Consider what band leaders may consider as important. With this picture in mind the adjudicator can then package his message so that it will be of benefit to the band and be instructional. An adjudicator may in many instances be inferred as an instructor. Praise or criticism may in many instances be alluded to as instruction.

(f) Use facts in the messages you are portraying in an orderly fashion. It may be useful to place notation on the stave to illustrate where you find fault in the phrasing of a passage of music e.g. tachums cut too much or passing notes not given proper stress or eliminated altogether:

(g) Locations: Choose your physical locations for listening and writing and make time for mental preparation.

(h) Headings: Complete headings on sheets, but omit name of band until they actually reach the line.

(i ) Equipment: Ensure that you have all the necessary stationery with you e.g. pens, pencils, clipboard etc.


(a) Often listening is done in a loose, or half-committed, fashion with the adjudicator paying as much attention to thinking about, or rehearsing, a response that he loses track of the ongoing performance.

(b) Emotions: Do not show any emotional feelings by the use of grimaces, bodily actions, positive or negative, or reactions to the audience in any other manner.

(c) Deliberating: Don’t spend too much time deliberating. The end result is a failure to act on a situation; get it recorded at once. Give emphasis to overall performance and work downwards into specific comments, not the other way around.

(d) Methods: Don’t get hung up on old methods. Be willing to consider new approaches. Decide on the method to be used based on ‘points ‘ or ‘placings ‘. That is, do points decide placings or do placings dictate points?


(a) Introduction: Explain why the introduction is either good, very good or poor. Don’t say ‘good introduction’ and give less than maximum marks. A Pipe Major or Leading Drummer will expect the complete mark.

(b) Technical Performance: Spread your comments in respect of each tune played. Write quickly the basic aspects and don’t let the performance by-pass you. You can extend a particular aspect at the end. Deal with introduction and initial tone. Write ‘TONE’ near the bottom of sheet and then remark on it as performance advances e.g. ‘Tone initially good’, or ‘Tone incorrect from outset’. Describe why it is either good or bad. Don’t just say ‘tone good’ or ‘bad’ without explanation e.g. raucous, harmonic balance correct/incorrect.

(c) Introductory Melody: Take the performance of the introductory tune into account. Some expressions which can be used: ‘good tempo, phrasing’, and ‘exciting opening melody’ or ‘very dull melody played without expression or musical feeling’.

(d) Strathspeys:  Describe pulse and the SWMW beats. Some bands only play the strong beats and omit the medium. This can normally be attributed to the bass drummer and can be commented on. Don’t walk into the trap of describing a strathspey as being too slow in tempo when in fact if it was measured it is perfect. Many other expressions can be used e.g. exciting or dull, lacking lift, lilt and rhythm.

(e) Rhythm: This is a basic constituent of music and refers to the regular recurrence of the strong and weak accents. Look at anticipation in drumming to make the music swing. Expressions such as ‘no bite’, ‘no edge’ or ‘dead’ could be used.

( f) Reels: [Criticisms could be] not stressing the first beat and second groups in each bar to give steady rhythm; connecting note obliterated altogether thus spoiling steady rhythm; tune not flowing because of too fast a tempo.

( g) Jigs and Hornpipes: Look for controlled playing with plenty of rhythmical quality. 


At the finish the general effect should be recorded and the band marked accordingly.
Allow sufficient time towards end of performance to make a careful analysis of all the relevant aspects.


Try to finish with, if possible, some encouraging comments. Don’t harangue a band on its performance.
Don’t overlook some relevant facts or do a slipshod job in analysing the data assembled in your mind or have written earlier.


A real trust must be built up by the adjudicator, and it is only in an atmosphere of trust illustrated by fairness, active interest through obvious listening and attention, that an acceptance of the adjudicator becomes possible. If partiality becomes suspect in any manner then trust becomes impossible. Do not make adjudication a secretive or magical skill. Open discussion builds trust and respect.


(a) The selection of the winner is only a part, and often the easiest part, of the judge’s task, as often one performance is outstanding. The selection of the subsidiary prizewinners, and placing them in order, is often more difficult, and is a duty which in no circumstances may be treated lightly. It is considered to be just as important to find the last band as it is the winner. Any tendency to distribute prizes on a ‘fair shares for all’ basis makes a mockery of the competition. The result of a competition depends solely on one thing only, namely the merits of the various performances in that particular competition.

(b) Ties for places should be avoided at all times. They usually indicate laziness or unwillingness to face the issues squarely on the part of the judge, leaving others a chance to make the decision.

(c) The judge must be prepared to give his comments to any band on its performance – or even to the media. Both must be done carefully and conscientiously, as a great deal may be read into his words.

(d) Finally, should a judge find himself sincerely influenced by a patriotic desire to give preference to any band because of a close friendship with the personnel in the band, or from the fact that he has been a former member of the band, then he should consider it is time to retire from the panel by facing head on an honest decision in the interests of the Pipe Band fraternity. Favours are not repaid or ‘called in’ in competition. Music is an art form and not a political battlefield.

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