How to Prepare Performers for Adjudicator Comments and Decisions


A number of my students enjoy the challenge of entering adjudicated events. Many are quite competitive--much more than me! It takes strategic planning to prep them and that's why I've posted past blogs about the process. You can find them here. In recent a newsletter, I featured a popular download with all kinds of details and suggestions for students, parents and teachers in preparation for performance readiness.

Over the years, I've discovered strategies to help students play their best. Some have earned high praise and even prizes. Of course, this makes me beam with pride and more importantly, extremely happy for the student.

But, there's usually a downside to this experience.

Please, don't misunderstand me.

I'm not saying that I believe all my students deserve to earn top scores or receive Top Performer when they participate in festivals and competitions. It would be great if they did, but I don't expect it.

What I find the most disheartening about adjudicated events after MONTHS of preparation is reading through the judge's evaluation sheets with my students, and at times questioning their final decisions after the events.

Some written remarks are incredibly helpful and I'm eager to read the evaluation sheets with my students so they can learn from them. Often, they validate what I've been saying over and over again at lessons!

On the other hand, some provide little-to-no feedback other than a pat on the back, vague suggestions, recommendations that are too lofty for a little one to comprehend or they are sopencil-918449_1920 hard to read because of rushed and sloppy penmanship or a dull pencil.

How do you read through comments that you don't agree with or that seem meaningless to the student and still make sense of them so pianists are better for the experience and parents don't question the time and money spent on the event?

I believe a positive performance experience regardless of adjudicator comments and decisions can only happen by guiding students through these steps

1) Train performers well and ensure that they play their VERY best. If they walk in with confidence and know they are at the top of their game, then whatever the outcome, they can pat themselves on the back and say "hooray, I did it and I had fun!"

Here's this idea reflected in a recent text from a proud parent after her son's performance:

My son did fantastic. Perfect performance. Some tough competition in his group, he didn't win and didn't care either way. Which I'm equally happy about :-)

2) Explain to them in detail what the judges will be listening for and make sure pianists listen for those details as they play such as articulations, accurate memorization, dynamics, etc.

If students don't include all these details in their adjudicated performance, it helps them understand the reasoning behind the judges' remarks and decisions.

3) Let pianists make interpretive choices with your expert guidance. Then make sure to let them know that opinions vary in the world of music and judges may disagree with their choices.

4) Ask your students to be their own judge by reflecting on their performances and have them discern what could be improved.

5) Record pianists so they hear an accurate replay of their performance and then provide feedback.

6) Inform them that they will be up against pianists who practice more, are perhaps more committed to piano study and who are more competitive.

Don't build up a false sense of superiority; instead, build a strong confidence in individual skills.

Although a number of students might wish to participate in festivals and competitions, don't force anyone to enter against their will.

(Overall, my approach is one that builds pianists for a lifetime, not pianists for the concert stage.  I'd rather not spend so much time perfecting one or two pieces. I prefer to keep moving forward on new repertoire, improvisation and composition.)

7) Underscore the fact that unlike a track meet where the fastest runner wins, a music competition is subjective--based on human beings and their opinions. This will always leave room for speculation and disagreement.

8) Incorporate other assignments in their workload as students refine their pieces for an upcoming festival performance.

Putting all the eggs in one basket means a bigger let down. If the emphasis of lessons is only on preparing a few pieces to please a judge and that doesn't happen, pianists may feel discouraged.

Encourage pianists to play in various styles and learn their favorite tunes by ear so they aren't trapped into mastering two pieces for months and months to please a couple of ears.

For example, ask students to learn "Happy Birthday" by ear and then coach them on finding chords to harmonize the melody in the left hand.

9) Lastly, when a student feels that she has done her best and yet sees a competitor win even though that pianist had to stop and start over (yes, it happened!), it's best to have a saying in your back pocket and I really like this one:


Some final thoughts

These steps help my budding pianists and their parents step into the performance arena with a backbone and a perspective that will serve them well regardless of the outcome. The experience leads to progress at the piano AND further development in lifelong coping skills.

If you hang out at, you know I purposely refrain from negativity. This post is not meant to be a rant. I'm sharing my experiences and how I work through them.

That being said, I'm invited to judge events and feel the "right" to whine a little about some (not all) of the adjudicator comments that my students receive. When hired as an adjudicator, I work extremely hard to offer substantial feedback to budding musicians that allows them to glow and grow. I realize some may question and disagree with my opinions. Yes, I'm human.

If you are a judge and need some tips, PLEASE read this post from!

You're probably thinking that I should just stop entering my students if I feel this way and quit saying yes to adjudication gigs. Maybe, but some of my students look forward to the challenge so I feel I should offer the opportunity and I see the value in the preparation it takes. And, I really enjoy judging.

I just wish that my students received comments that helped them glow and grow every time they participated in a festival or competition. But remember, FAIR is a place where a pig wins a blue ribbon.

Do you ever feel this way?

Am I being over critical? Over protective? Over sensitive?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please chime in.


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