July 01, 2010

10 tips to get judges

Working on a verdict.At least in North America, it seems that securing accredited judges is often a challenge for piping and drumming competition organizers. I’d assume the same might be said of Australia and other areas where either the number of judges is scarce and/or the geography is vast.

I don’t want to come across as presumptuous, and I’m always honoured to be asked to adjudicate anywhere, but following are a few tips that might help contests get more confirmations from the judges whom they invite to their event. Chances are you’re not involved with organizing any competitions, but if you compete and note that some events have a hard time attracting different or even enough judges, these may be a few of the reasons for that. 

  1. Compensate appropriately. There are far worse things to do than listen to piping/drumming all day and spout off your opinion, but organizers should understand that adjudicating is both hard work and time-consuming. Often, judges have to take a day off of work to get to your event. A day of vacation can be precious. If you want excellent judges, compensate accordingly, and be clear at the outset about fees and expenses.
  2. Don’t nickel-and-dime with small stuff. Unless he/she happen to be a close friend, most judges dislike being billeted at a volunteer’s house. Spend that relatively small amount on a decent hotel. Ask judges about other expenses they incurred – e.g., airport food, taxis – and cover those reasonable costs.
  3. Communicate. With your judges in place, make sure that they know the whats, wheres and whens of the weekend. Don’t assume that they’ll just figure it out. Inform them of all travel arrangements to and from the airport, the hotel, the contest and any planned events. And make certain that each judge understands your competition rules and policies, and has a reference sheet to refer to, if needed.
  4. Organize meals. Make sure that judges are fed and watered. Doesn’t have to be five-star dining, but arranging breakfast and sandwiches on the day with enough time to consume them in a relaxed manner goes a long way. Offer optional organized dinners on the Friday and Saturday for those who wish to attend.
  5. Beverages. A coffee or tea in the morning and soft drinks in the afternoon. Simple, but often forgotten.
  6. Get enough judges. You should never try to squeeze another event into a judge’s already full schedule. Rushing through competitors can make a miserable day for the judges and not great service for competitors either. If your contest is popular with competitors, make sure you plan accordingly. And understand that judges need a pee just like the next person (see “Beverages” above), so ensure that breaks are scheduled.
  7. A beer or two. After standing judging a score or more of bands, most judges are gasping for a pint by the end of the day. Getting off the field only to find a massive line for beer tickets or a stowed-out tent is a drag. Providing each judge with a few tickets in advance, or welcoming him/her to a hospitality area with a cold one in hand is a great touch.
  8. Settle before leaving. When judges are told, “Your cheque is in the mail,” they inevitably wonder if they’ll ever see it. Judges occasionally get stiffed, so make sure you deliver an envelope to them no later than noon. Judges talk, and if you’re late with payment, word will get around.
  9. Say thank you. Yes, judges should always thank you, but expressing your appreciation goes a long way for the future. Follow up a few days later with a card, or at least an e-mail message.
  10. Ask for feedback. Chances are, experienced piping and drumming judges have seen a lot more competitions than you ever will. Tap them for their thoughts on what you did right and areas that could be improved. It’s free, expert advice that most judges won’t offer unless asked. 

I realize that all of this may sound just a bit precious. Believe me, these tips are only intended to help, since some competitions might not realize or appreciate the work involved with adjudicating. It’s enjoyable work, for sure, but it is work, so looking after these fairly simple details can help make your event even more popular with adjudicators and competitors alike.


  1. Seems pretty common sense to me! A very good and carefully thought out aide-memoire which some of our local branch associations would do well to crib…

  2. These are some interesting thoughts. I’ve organized a competition before, and things like this are always on my mind. It’s good to hear some suggestions from those who are most directly affected.

  3. As one who has experienced the “dark side” of just about every one of your “tips” since joining the panel 20 years ago, THANK YOU! You are correct that most judges are NOT presumptuous by nature but we are human and most judging venues involve travel to unfamiliar places.
    I don’t know whether it is the economy or not but there is a disturbing trend by games to start solo contests at 8 or 8:30 and squeezing as many players as they can onto a judge’s morning schedule. Judges used to start at 9 and be finished no later than noon with the solos. Not any more.
    I could go on with some true, recent horror stories but will stop. Don’t want to sound “presumptuous”…

  4. Following these guidelines seem to be both common sense and show courtesy, but if they could be adhered to more, it would help foster a more professional and respectful system of judging. I once heard a judge say he just thought about other things during strings of Piobaireachd being played at a competition in the States. I now wonder whether he’d had to get on a bus from the airport to the competition, find his own breakfast, have far too many competitiors crammed into too short a time, and function for hours without a tea or a coffee – oh, and wait weeks for his pay. You reap what you sow I guess.

  5. Just want to throw out a shout-out to all the judges that have had to sit through my developing times as a piper: Thanks! I really appreciate the feedback and time you took to help the art along. And yes, they are underpaid.

  6. As a matter of interest what do judges get paid – say for a day’s judging at a professional level solo contest? and band contest?

  7. Interesting article and timing, something happen recently? The Johny’s at Embro were ok, in the morning. 🙂 Correct me if I’m wrong Andrew; the PPBSO sets the wage package for Ontario, the games must pay to the society for their piping venue brought forth. Players, bands, judges etc… In the EUSPBA the association sets the guide lines and the Games must pay the various groups; players, bands, judges etc… I’m sure that varries from association to association. In the US the incentives are pretty good, pay, accomidations, expenses. Occasionally you get to join in the local pig picking with that free beverage or two as well, no line up either. One small horror story, this grade 1 band i played in was invited to play in Vail some years ago. My wife and I were also asked to judge/play for the highland dancing competition. I knew the organizers and had some “concerns” about all the “big” money being offered. Long story short, I mentioned our concerns to the band, my wife and I requested funds in advance with final payment upon arrival. We got our money but I think the band missed some of theirs. I’m sure there are many horror stories with all associations but we as judges/leaders need to confirm these arrangements and finacials prior to that day. Thats what we would do at our “day jobs”. I don’t think games or associations set out to abuse the judges but somehow communication is missed and, well you know. With regards to my friend “Big Al”, I thought you were the unknown Sithe Lord, hense all your troubles! Just having a little fun. Forget this topic Andrew, lets hear/see some bands from Kincardine from the Andrew-cam, what a great venue to play at.


  8. Rest assured, Calum, nothing significant happened recently with me. These are just a few points that may help events that might struggle to attract adjuidicators. If they do these things, then word will spread quickly in the community. You’re right that associations that provide a turnkey system – like the RSPBA and PPBSO – don’t vary their approaches event to event. But I know that they too sometimes have challenges with “unavailable” judges, so may take away a few things, too. No matter what or where, we can always improve.

  9. Good one – “I’d assume the same might be said of Australia and other areas where either the number of judges is scarce and/or the geography is vast.” What about Brazil, then? The country is a continental juggernaut and the number of adjudicators IS scarce [read “nil”]. As we’re organising the South American PB championships in April, 2012 we already started to brainstorm on subjects such as the present one.

    Nice post, thanx! Came in handy!


  10. Good article Andrew, my wife and I always tried to put on a little lunch for the judges at the game in Chatham(compensation for whoever had to sit and listen to me play). It wasn’t much, but the room was air conditioned and there was lots to choose from for food and drink. We were always thanked abundantly, and somewhat amazed by the comments that this type of thing didn’t happen everywhere.

    I donate much of my time to supervising minor hockey officials, and it’s thankless, but at least it’s indoors and bearable. Piping judges are left to the elements, and it just seems decent to offer something more than the pay that’s negotiated. Chatham was never a big money maker,(perennial loser actually) so it would have been tough to cough up a couple of beers and some of the other desired items, but a little bit sure seemed to go a long way…

    If I ever get back to competing maybe I should pack a little cooler for each of my events?

  11. I was just able to have the amazing experience of being able to sit through the Grade 5 Bagad Concours de Carhaix today (LOTS of wee ones in the bagadigs) and I made a special note in my head about how on the judges table there were bottles of wine (red and white), soda, and water starting at 10am. The judges also had a nice ‘hospitality’ area where the could skip port-a-john lines and get snacks and hot/cold drinks all day as well. At the big Grade 1 contest at Brest in Feb. there was a fancy ‘judges reception’ in the evening with nice drinks and h’orderves where a few folks from each bagad could meet with each other and the judges/organizers. I have to say that the only downside to the bagad contests is that the results take HOURS to be reported…although perhaps they are again deferring to the judges by letting them discuss with each other for as long as needed.

  12. Re: delayed resulte, Perhaps the the hors d’oeuvres & grape juice are slowing the judges down a bit…..though, sounds like a great atmosphere. Definitely a cut above in the class department!



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