Piano Judging: Essential Tips on Being an Effective Piano Judge or Adjudicator

Updated on March 12, 2018
alexinohio profile image

I am a pianist and teacher. I love writing about music and cooking.

Being called upon as a piano judge and adjudicator for a performance event is a distinct honor. Having had the opportunity to adjudicate in such events, I have gleaned certain 'pearls of wisdom' from the experience. I'd like to share just five essential tips for being an effective piano judge or adjudicator; tips that will help you critique performances with confidence

1. Write Concisely - and Quickly!

Like mastering an instrument, practicing writing concisely is an art that should be developed conscientiously. Often, you are called to adjudicate many performances in a short time and writing relevant and practical critiques is essential. While complete sentences are favorable, they are certainly not necessary. Practice expressing your thoughts in meaningful and concise phrases:

Good: "Your performance today was certainly entertaining and displayed much confidence"

Better: "An entertaining performance exuding confidence"

TIP: Be prepared for the event you are to adjudicate with a "Useful Comment Sheet" you would have readied beforehand. This sheet would include categories like Technique, Tone, Rhythm, General Musicianship etc, and under which you would list descriptive words or phrases that you would find handy and useful at the time of adjudication. It also helps in preventing writer's block!

TIP 2: Ready, Set .. GO! Soon after the performance begins, gather your thoughts fast - and start writing! You'll stay on schedule, and organizers will thank you for doing so!

2. See the Big Picture First

There is a strong tendency for many of us to address issues (musical or otherwise) during a performance and while we are adjudicating. In my earlier experiences of judging competitions, I would spend too much time critiquing the details and missed out on opportunities to mention the more important issues that might have contributed to the success (or failure) of the performance. Seeing 'the big picture first' is a practice worth developing. This is how I realize this concept (in a Q & A format):

Q: What is the general music concept I would like to address?
A: Technique
Q: What specifically about the performer's technique need I comment on?
A: Fluidity of scales, brilliance in tone - commendable; unintended accentuation - needs work

Remember: your first responsibility as adjudicator is to critique a performance and provide a score/rating deserving of the performance. Be careful not to step into your "teacher shoes" and focus too much on pedantic comments.

3. Give Praise

Developing a habit of praising others genuinely comes easier for some of us. (It really isn't that hard - it comes from an inward appreciation for life and all that's good in it!) Be fluid, genuine and generous in your praise when it is deserved. Furthermore, your compliments may not only serve to motivate the performer, but affirm what his/her instructor is teaching.

For younger musicians, I have even found myself including comments like: "It is most obvious that you have a wonderful foundation in music. Please be sure to thank your teacher for investing in your success!" It's a double-blessing: the student is happy that you noticed the hard work, and the teacher is grateful that he/she is on the right track.

A word of caution: Be sure that the final score reflects your comments. If your critique is riddled with generous praise and your final score reflects a less than desirable performance, it not only confuses the performer (and teacher) but your scoring method may be called to question.

TIP: As much as it is easy to write "Good Job" or "Nice Work", stay away from those phrases. Craft your own unique "praise phrases" that show you put some genuine effort! Here are some examples:

Commendable performance
Truly inspiring
Such poetry in your phrases
Performed with poise and elegance
A generous offering indeed

4. Listen Carefully

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher offers this advice:

"Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak."

As an adjudicator of a live performance, your critique is based on your active participation as a listener. Exercise active listening skills and you will find it easier to judge a performance. Here are some practical ways you can develop active listening skills:

  • YouTube is a great resource for videos of live music performances. Type the title of a piece you are familiar with in the YouTube search box, and select a video performance of the piece. Listen carefully to the performance. Initially, critique the performance by speaking your comments out loud. Later, practice noting your observations on a piece of paper.
  • Develop a sense of focus by choosing a musical aspect you will comment upon BEFORE listening to a recorded performance. (For example, tone production or phrasing) Discipline yourself to listen for and comment ONLY on this predetermined musical aspect. This not only aids in aural focus but provides you an avenue to develop different ways of critiquing a single musical aspect. (This might be an opportune time to start making that "Useful Comment Sheet" I mentioned earlier!)
  • Record your own students performing their repertoire under study at their lesson time or recitals. Use these recorded performances as a source for your active listening skills. Not only will you benefit from it, but your students will to, in their next lesson!

5. Know Thyself

Knowing and establishing what your standards are BEFORE you begin adjudicating is essential for being an effective adjudicator. For example, in an adjudicated event with a rating system of Superior, Excellent, Good and Fair, would you reserve the rating of Superior solely for performances which are virtually perfect? What constitutes a superior performance according to your standards?

At times, you will be asked to judge a competition in collaboration with one or more adjudicators. Knowing what your standards are become more vital in this situation as you may encounter differing opinions and standards proffered by the other adjudicator/s. In most cases, you will collaboratively come to a consensus as to a final score. At times though, your individual score is independent of the scores given by the other adjudicators.

TIP: Judging Criteria and Forms: If you are new to adjudicating in a competition, always make it a point to speak to the organizers and clarify what is expected of you as an adjudicator and what the judging criteria is. Make an effort to know the rules of the event/festival before it commences. Also, take time to understand the judge's comments or scoring sheet before you begin judging. It might even help you organize your thoughts while you are in the judging process.

In events like evaluation festivals (where the performer is in no competition with other performers), organizers may suggest that judges be "more generous" in their scoring of performances, and where the general purpose of these events is to motivate and encourage young performers in their musical pursuits.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, these are but a few essential tips I have found most helpful in my experiences as an adjudicator in performance events. Do feel free to contribute to this article by leaving your thoughts and opinions about the subject. We could all use more tips on being more effective adjudicators!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Appreciated your concise advice on judging--- especially the advice to not step into teacher territory and make corrections in the performance, but to focus on ideas or themes and accentuate the positive. I also appreciated the reminder to completely support rating with comments. Would appreciate a longer list of words to help with comments.

    • alexinohio profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Cincinnati, Ohio

      Thanks all. So glad this article is of some help!

    • BuffaloPiano profile image


      7 years ago

      Great article! I will be judging a competition this week and plan on putting these principles into practice. I'm looking forward to sharing constructive criticism and praise with the students who will be participating!


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      That's what I call a "great hub". Thank you so much.

      Ron from Fitness Tips http://www.intervalstraining.net

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for your comments. They will be very helpful judging this week.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)