008 – Preparing Yourself as an Adjudicator

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Episode Summary

No matter how long we’ve been teaching or what level of education we have, giving written feedback and ratings to an unknown student in a one-off event is a completely different setting and format than working directly with a student you know in person on a weekly basis. In this episode, we’re going to look at four ways we can conscientiously prepare ourselves as adjudicators leading up to a festival or competition.


Items Mentioned

Episode 24: Cheers to Adjudication Success (Beyond Measure Podcast)

Judging Cheat Sheet – Free Printable (4D Piano Teaching) Preparing for Fall:

Useful Adjectives for Teaching (Compose Create) 4 Ways Judging Can Make

You a Better Teacher (Compose Create) 7 Qualities of a Great Piano Judge

Compose Create) 10 of the Best Judging Comments for Piano Judging (Compose Create)


Related Content


Have you ever judged a music festival or competition of any kind?

The first time I was asked to adjudicate a piano festival was exciting in that it meant I had developed in stature as a teacher to have the skills to take on such a respectable task.

At the same time, even though I had a masters degree in piano pedagogy, it being was unnerving not only because it was my first formal experience as an adjudicator but because giving written feedback and ratings to an unknown student in a one-off event is a completely different setting and format than working directly with a student you know in person on a weekly basis.

No matter how long we’ve been teaching or what level of education we have, there’s no such thing as as full-time adjudicator. It’s something that presents itself as an opportunity alongside our daily professions as teachers.

As I went into that first judging experience, I was determined to be the kind of judge that ensured students walked away with an experience that uplifted them with honest and thorough but also carefully measured and articulated feedback.

So, in true Amy Chaplin style, I went on the hunt for advice and have gone through the same process ever since no matter how many events I’ve judged over the years.

In this episode we’re going to look at four ways we can conscientiously prepare ourselves as adjudicators leading up to to a festival or competition.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. Hey, everyone, I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. As a piano teacher and independent studio owner myself, I love talking about all things IMT-life related from running and organizing a studio business to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

Let’s talk about judging.

When considering what it takes to be a successful judge for a musical event, there are a couple of different types of conversations we could have.

The first and perhaps the most obvious you might expect has to do with having a healthy mindset and approach to how you give feedback. For sage advice on this, I’m going to refer you to my friend, Christina Whitlock of the Beyond Measure Podcast. In Episode #24 Cheers to Adjudication Success, she gives us some great coaching on providing meaningful feedback to students in these types of situations. I’ll link to that episode in the show notes.

The second conversation we can have – and the one we’re having here today – is quite literally, about the leg work we can do to prepare ourselves as a judge for various events.

The first thing is to request a list of repertoire being performed ahead of time.

Sometimes this is not possible and if that’s the case, that’s fine. You’re a seasoned teacher and you’ll be fine.

When I have the ability to have a little heads up though, I love taking just a brief moment the day before the event to think through the pieces and anticipate specifics elements I may be looking for in a good performance. I find this step most useful for larger works or pieces that you might not be as familiar with going into it.

Keep in mind, the goal is simply about being mindful about what’s to come, not about pre-determining comments in any way.

The second way we can prepare ahead is to do a little reading and arm our vocabulary. Seek out articles on being a quality judge – one that will be invited back. It’s always good to be reminded of what might feel like the simplest of things such as being warm and inviting to students, knowing the policies of that particular event, and remembering the big picture goal. Reading up on advice on how to be a good judge is simply a way of giving our mindset a pep-talk prior to the big event.

I already mentioned Christina’s podcast. I’ll also suggest here several articles by Wendy Stevens over at Compose Create. One of those specifically shares written examples of quality comments from judges on various pieces. This is a great way to get your brain-juice flowing and mind focused on crafting well-written feedback.

I would also encourage you to print out a one-page sheet of adjectives to help toggle your memory as you write comments. It can be very easy when crunched for time and writing one evaluation after another to default to easy words over and over like – we all know it – “GOOD”.

Spring Seals over at 4D Piano Teaching developed a fun adjective printable you can keep by your side to refer to.

Again, there will be links to all these resources mentioned in the show notes.

The Third way we can prepare ourselves is to bring sufficient writing tools. If you’re judging at an in-person event, yes, most organizations will have something for you. When you’re writing by hand for hours on end though, a quality writing utensil that you’re comfortable with is a must. I bring no less than 4 “clicky” pencils with me as well as a favorite pen (just in case).

I don’t know about you but handwritten feedback for me is a struggle – not the feedback itself but the handwriting part. The format of the event of course has a lot to do with it as well.

I just adjudicated for a festival here in Indiana where students are scheduled every 5-6 minutes back to back. That time block includes the student performance as well as your writing time and it is all hand-written. They have at least 8 specific areas that need comments and ratings as well as an open area for specific improvement feedback.

Several years ago I walked away from a day of adjudication like this and had serious troubles with my right arm joints for a month or more. I can’t remember if it was my hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder but it was extensive enough that I refused to return to judge for this event for several years.

We’re in the 21st century, people. I could give such better quality feedback to these kids if I could type it out. Unfortunately this event and many are still handwritten so I’m just going to have to bite the bullet.

I finally returned to that event this year but came prepared with my own solution. I brought my iPad Pro with the smart keyboard that types quietly.

While the student performed, I typed out brief bullet-point comments and notes. This allowed me to keep my eyes up and focus on the students performance better than when I’m trying to frantically hand write while listening. It doesn’t help that I don’t have great handwriting let alone when under pressure to script full thoughts quickly.

I then transferred these abrupt notes into a nicer written form in a more coherent manner once the student performance ended. Luckily I managed to stay within my very small-allotted time frame. Unfortunately, it took a couple of students in to find a good groove and get used to the scoring sheet which brings me to our next point.

Fourth, allow yourself plenty of time. Yes, of course we need to make sure we’re on time (if not early) for an event in general, but I’m talking more in regard to giving yourself plenty of time to literally situate yourself in your actual adjudication space.

The event I’ve been using as an example had the judges arrive an hour early to go over things, but after the judges meeting we only had 5-10 minutes to use the restroom and situate ourselves (and the piano) once we got into the room. I like having at least 10-15 minutes to get myself settled, have a few minutes of quite time to think through my own process, take a breath, get a drink, etc.

Do what you can to give yourself plenty of time to get settled in so the first student you evaluate gets the best of you just as the 5th or 10th one does.

This has been a short one but I think these four tasks are a simple but effective ways to help us be more mindful in preparing ourselves as judges.

You’re a teacher – you know how much time these kids put into preparing for these festivals and competitions. It’s the least we can do to put a little extra thought and effort into the process ahead of time.

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Thanks so much!

It’s fun fact time!

I can’t rollerskate or rollerblade. It’s a balance thing. Well, I can’t say for sure it has to do with balance as I do OK in pilates or yoga – I think some of it is also a tension thing. Like I’m too terrified to let go.

This was a real bummer growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I must say. We used to have church events at the roller rink and I only dreamed of being those speed Queens out there on the rink going in circles like they were gliding on a cloud. I was the slow-moving fall on her butt kind.

yep, that’s me, your host, Amy Chaplin. Catch you later, friends!