Be Our Guest: Adjudication & You – How To Survive

Be Our Guest, Events and Recitals, Tips


I’m happy to introduce our guest for July- Kassandra Weleck, a piano teacher from Tucson, AZ. Kassandra has shared a fantastic post on adjudication that I think you will enjoy reading. Some good tips for all, no matter what your role is. Enjoy…

Hello! My name is Kassandra and I’m super excited to be a guest post for Jennifer’s blog. I teach piano in Tucson, Arizona in both my private studio and at the community college. I have also spent a LOT of time adjudicating, organizing events with adjudicators, and having my students evaluated over the years. There are so many things I have learned.

When I first arrived at graduate school, my pedagogy instructor told me point blank that I would be adjudicating come spring time. I was mortified. What do I do? What do I say? How would I be nice but effective? What about my students – I’d never had my studio evaluated before. I had done evaluations and competitions in the past, but how would I prepare my students? How would I handle the adjudicator’s responses? What would I do if things went way off base? What would I do with my results? Lucky for me, I had some pretty amazing colleagues and instructors to give me advice and show me how to go about doing all these things. Once I got out on my own and started having to organize events, I learned some really important things that make a good adjudicator and, ironically, what makes a good teacher and student in an event. These are the things I want to share with you today, and I’ll break it down as follows:

  1. Adjudicator Survival – Preparation, Execution, Follow-Up, & “Issues”
  2. Instructor Survival – Preparation, Execution, Follow-Up, & Critique and Doubt
  3. Student Survival – Preparation, Execution, Using Comments and Decisions, & “Other”



For most events that I have participated in, adjudicators are experts in the field and tend to have a master’s degree or higher in said field. Even if the adjudicator is not trained on the instrument(s) to be reviewed, s/he has a high degree of basic music knowledge that can give general overall comments. Adjudicators are there to help students and teachers hear how a performance of a piece(s) is going, to give suggestions on improvement (if needed), and sometimes to determine a score or place for the performance. Adjudicators are not there to berate performances, find fault in everything, or simply to collect a payment (if given) before scampering off. They honestly want to see students succeed, and hear that the teachers are doing well in preparing their students for adjudication. If any of these items are lacking, the adjudicator can provide the knowledge and guidance to reach that further level. This is one of the prime reasons why I love evaluation events as well as master classes – both give students and teachers instant feedback on how something is going and, if everyone is open to it, guidance to reach beyond the the current level.

If you are ever called upon to adjudicate, or even if you have done it many times in the past, there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for your event(s). By no means do I know everything and think this is all you should do – this is simply a list of items I have found most useful over the years:


            Get to know the event. What are the guidelines? Who is participating? What will students be   playing? Will they play multiple pieces? Are the pieces only from one musical period? Will    there only be comments given or will you have to place students? Are there prizes? Will there    be a “winners’ recital?” Are you getting paid? Is it on a grand piano or a church upright? There are a million more questions I could put here, but you get the idea – know what you’re getting   into before you get there. I recently adjudicated an event where the other judges wanted to judge the students based on their potential, not their actual performance that day. Huh? That wasn’t what the event was for – know the guidelines!

Get there early. Do you know what time I arrive at events when I’m going to adjudicate? 15 minutes before the time the organizers tell me to be there. Why? I’d rather be early and sit around twiddling my thumbs than be racing at 90 mph in my car trying to get to a place I’ve never been before. Also, do your organizer a favor and be early – they’re already under enough stress that day!


            Find something positive to say within the first 10 seconds. This is especially important for   beginning-level students whose pieces may only last 20 seconds! One of my favorite things to           read before I adjudicate is this list of positive adjectives. Try to see how many you can use through the course of your evaluation – I think you’ll discover that you’ll keep a more positive tilt to your listening when you’re trying to see the good side.

Find a positive way to say something negative. This is really hard to do when you’ve been listening all day and just want to rip your hair out. Instead of saying something like “my ears were bleeding from how loud you were playing,” try finding a constructive way of phrasing it: “there is a mezzo piano at m. 64 that didn’t happen – it really kills the phrase when it doesn’t change dynamics.” See? You still got to say “kills.”

Smile. I can’t tell you how many adjudicators over the years have scared me to death by staring at me like I was for dinner. SMILE. Even if it makes your face creak and hurt, give it a try! Many times, it will allow the person playing to relax (if they can see you). Heck, even if they can’t see you, smile – it might make the volunteers and organizers think you’re enjoying yourself.


Thank the organizer(s). Truly, this is the most important one. Would you like to adjudicate this event again? You better thank someone in charge! Even if it was the most ridiculous event you have ever done and swear you will never touch it with a ten-foot pole again, say thank you: you never know when that thank you will save your behind someday.

Get paid. If it is a paid event, hopefully the organizer has already given you your payment. If not, speak up! I remember an event I adjudicated years ago where I asked about payment as I was about to leave. The organizer blinked at me and said “payment?” Apparently, that was the one thing she had neglected to arrange. However, I have to give her credit – she wrote me a personal check, apologized profusely, and never let it happen again.

  1. ISSUES”

When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). I hate to even bring this up, but from time    to time, it does happen. Someone will be upset with your results and/or comments and bring it up. Most of the time, they will talk to the organizer. Sometimes, they’ll talk to you. Always refer issues back to the organizer. Most events will say “judges’ decisions are final,” so you     don’t have to defend yourself or think any further about the issue. This is why they are the organizers and you are the adjudicator. Hopefully that is as far as the issue ever goes; if not, do not participate in that event or with that organizer(s) again. Ever.



The teacher is the wealth of knowledge from which students learn, so teachers have a big responsibility here to set the students up for a positive experience. Not only do teachers need to give the student honest feedback regarding their music, they also have to build up their confidence to go through with the event. It’s a tough job but, when done correctly, makes for some very happy people all around. Teachers can be extreme novices up to extremely experienced. Some have no high school diploma while some have attained all possible degrees in their field and then some. However, everyone can follow these guidelines to prepare for an adjudicated event:


Set up the student for a positive experience. Notice I didn’t say “success.” Sometimes, having a positive experience is the best you can hope for. I once had a student participate in an evaluation where he received the lowest possible score overall (that’s what happens when you don’t practice!). However, he came back telling me about how nice his adjudicator was, how wonderful the piano was to play on, and how much fun it was to be at that location.  These were all things that I had made sound like a dream come true during lessons, and he took them to heart and looked forward to experiencing these things. To me, that’s a good way to make an evaluation look more tantalizing!

Practice. How do you do anything in front of others without being overcome by nerves? You do it front of others to practice. Not only does this help shake off some nerves, it allows discovery of other things about the upcoming event that may not have been considered, such as moving the bench, setting up the music stand, what to wear (or what not to wear!), where to set up, etc. You can take this opportunity to do comments for the student as well. This kind of practice is great to do several times in the month leading up to an adjudicated event.

Ensure the student has everything ready. Is all the registration paperwork turned in and paid? Is the recording sent (if needed)? Does the student have music for the adjudicator? Is the music marked for every measure? Do they have extra reeds, strings, mallets, etc. just in case?  Does the student and/or family know where to go for the event? What time? Don’t leave this to chance – anything you forget to review with the student, no matter how minor, may come back to haunt you later. I once forgot to tell a student to dress up for a recital at a music school I taught at. He panicked, knowing that dress was part of the grade, and borrowed his girlfriend’s skirt. Well…he passed the dress portion of his grade, but I still see photos of him in that skirt on Facebook from time to time.


Be present (if possible). As the teacher, your responsibility is to make sure the student is as prepared as possible. Sometimes that means making sure that they feel secure at the event location by having you there. If you can be there, be there. It makes a world of difference to both students and families. If you can’t be present, make sure they know everything about the event (see Preparation) to ensure comfort.

Get away from the evaluation area! This is my number one pet peeve as both an adjudicator and an organizer. If your student is in a room being evaluated, and the evaluation is supposed to be blind (adjudicator has no idea whose student s/he is listening to), get away from the room! Feel free to be nearby to meet your student before and after, but please, stop making yourself known to everyone and their brother.

Help out (if possible). The organizer(s) will be so thankful for extra help, even if it’s just someone to take down signs at the end of the day, or check to make sure Person A got to the appropriate room. It takes a village…


Be patient for results. No one cares if you’re Emmanuel Ax or Iam Nobody – you aren’t  getting your results until the results are ready. Sometimes you know ahead of time when they will be ready, and sometimes you simply have to wait until it’s finished – either way, you will get your results. Don’t be pushy. On the other end of the scale, go get your results. There’s nothing worse than having a student evaluated at an event and not knowing how s/he did because you were too lazy to get the materials!

Be positive with the student(s) no matter what. Did your student do well? Great! Congratulate the heck out of them! Did your student do poorly? Find something good about the experience, and then discuss ways to do better next time.


            Take the adjudicator’s comments with a grain of salt. When reviewing comments from an adjudicator, it’s easy to blame the student for all the issues that occur. However, what if the real issue is you? If there is a recurring theme across the board for several students (e.g. uneven tempo, lack of dynamics, etc.), maybe it’s the way you approach the topic that might be at fault.  Critique yourself against the comments – can you do something different? Are there other ways of getting students to do that skill? How confident are you in your skills on this item? Could you find a way to improve that skill? Also, remember that adjudicators are human and hear   things differently than you do. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just another  perspective on a performance.

When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). Hey, wait, this is familiar…wait a minute, Kassandra, you’re recycling this issue from the “Adjudicator” section! Lazy! No, it’s not lazy, it’s important to review again from the teacher angle. Let’s say your student is the only student that has his/her music memorized for a competition and is the only one that plays their piece(s) without breaking down and crying in the middle. Then, your student doesn’t place in the top 3. You think “is that adjudicator out to lunch? My student should have won!” Do not go to the adjudicator. Go to the organizer(s). Be very objective rather than subjective when presenting   your issue; in other words, present the facts and leave your emotions out of it. Remember that many times the adjudicator’s decision is final and there is nothing the organizer(s) can do. Take whatever decision is made by the organizer(s) with grace, and move forward from there.



The student is the person doing the evaluated event. S/he has spent a lot of time (I hope) preparing for this event and putting a lot of thought and energy into finding a way to do well. S/he hopes for the best possible outcome for him/herself, and wants more than anything to earn the positive praises of the event trinity: family, teacher, and adjudicator. Sometimes, just getting to the event is a success. Other times, the student really has a chance of coming out on top. In either instance, students need a solid foundation beforehand to ensure their chances of a positive overall experience.


Practice pieces every way possible. That sounds bizarre. “Does she mean practice the pieces   upside down outside?” No, no, let me explain: practice pieces every way possible means to make sure that every sense we use as musicians is utilized: sight, sound, and touch (if you taste   and smell when you play, kudos to you because I sure don’t). See what you’re doing in both the  music and on your instrument. Hear what you’re playing and really listen for what you’re trying to achieve musically. Feel how you move as you accomplish the music to its full realization.  Once you’ve done all that, take away one sense. It’s a great way to check how solid you are. For example, take away sight – practice in the dark. It will force your hearing and touch to be more solid. Practicing in ways outside of your usual routine will only make you stronger and       more connected to the music.

Know what your event is all about. Are you playing to win a monetary prize in a  competition? Are you playing to receive comments on how you’ve progressed in a year’s time?  Are you playing to see who has the best self-composed cadenza in a concerto? If you know what the event is all about, you’ll be better able to achieve whatever the goal for it is.

Know the Ws of your event. What event, where is it, when is it, and who is your audience? Know what’s going on, or at least make sure whoever is taking you knows. Optional W: will there be a place to warm-up?

Practice performing for others. Especially if it’s an adjudicated event, make sure you’ve played for others in advance so that you’re not so nervous. Ask your teacher to write comments while you play. Have your family listen and offer critique. Play for your pet ferret. The more you perform, the better your performing becomes.


Smile and think positive. “Oh no, I’m going to play so horribly that the adjudicator is going to fall over dead when my Bach is finished.” If that’s the attitude you have, that’s the performance you will give. Walk in thinking “I am going to rock my Bach and the adjudicator’s day will be a million times better because of my performance.” You stand a much better chance of doing well with this kind of positive thinking!

Take your time. Just because you’re up there ready for the performance doesn’t mean you have to start instantly. Breathe, think about what you’re going to do, prepare, and then go for it.

Have fun. After all, that’s what this is all about, right? Enjoy your moment with your music.


Read, critique, grow. Look over your comments. What did you do well? What can you improve on? Critique yourself – is this the best I can do, or can I incorporate some of the  adjudicator’s suggestions? Grow through the experience – what can you take away from this that you didn’t know/have before?

Don’t be your own worst enemy. It’s easy to focus on all the negative things an adjudicator  might mention. Try instead to find the good things – did you play something particularly well? Did you achieve a personal goal? Did the adjudicator maintain his/her composure and not cry? Find the good. Find the positive. Be your own cheerleader!

Look ahead. What’s next on the horizon? Now that this experience is behind you, where are you going to go with it? Look forward and continuing growing as a musician!

  1. “OTHER”

Problem results. You have a problem with the results you got for your evaluation. Why the heck did the adjudicator do what s/he did? Were they asleep?!? The biggest focus to remember here is that the evaluated person should NEVER, EVER approach the adjudicator about results. Again, go to the organizer. If you are still living with your parent(s) or guardian(s), have them  go to the organizer. Sometimes, problem results can be laughable – I once had an adjudicator  write “student’s skirt is too short for piano playing” on an evaluation and mark her down one grade. My student and I had a good laugh about that one, and I joked that maybe she was  showing too much leg for the adjudicator to focus on her playing. Manageable for both her and me. However, if you have a bigger issue than the length of your clothing, get someone to contact the organizer for you. Chances are good that the organizer can explain what happened.

That was a horrible experience and I never, ever want to do it again. If you’re thinking this   after an event, talk to your teacher. Be honest. If you don’t communicate this feeling, how are you ever going to have your voice and opinion heard? My undergraduate teacher had a requirement that everyone in our studio compete in the annual concerto competition. After two years of doing it, I finally spoke up and told her how much I hated it. She looked at me oddly and said “why didn’t you say so? We can always just work on a concerto and not do the competition.” I can’t tell you how relieved I was. Speak up! Do yourself (and future   adjudicators) a favor and find other ways to show off your talents with your teacher.


I hope that I’ve been able to give you ideas from all three points of view to survive adjudicated events. They can be a lot of fun if everyone is prepared and goes with the flow. I’m a big believer that positive thinking enhances what you can do, and so a lot of achievement lies in your mental preparation beforehand. Enjoy yourself, and have fun with the music!



Kassandra Jenkins Weleck earned her bachelor of music in piano performance at Bowling Green State University magna cum laude with University Honors, and her master of music in piano performance & pedagogy from Arizona State University. She has performed in recitals, master classes, chamber performances, and music festivals in the United States, Canada, England, and Austria. Her teachers have included Rebecca Casey, Jane Solose, Caio Pagano, and Jan Meyer Thompson (pedagogy). Kassandra has held offices at the local, state, and division level for Music Teachers National Association, and currently serves as co-chair for Arizona Study Program for MTNA’s southern Arizona chapter, secretary for MTNA’s Arizona association, and division coordinator for MTNA’s composition competition. She teaches music and piano at Pima Community College, and maintains a small private studio in Tucson.

Thank you Kassandra for being our guest this month and sharing these fantastic tips!


  1. earthsong2013

    Wow, isn’t this just the cat’s meow?! Kassandra, thank you for a fantastic, in-depth, down-to-earth, thoughtful, kind ……… I could go on and on, listing adjectives ….. but thank you for this invaluable post. I wish that every student, parent and teacher were able to read it, because I think you have covered all the basics. And thank you to Jennifer for sharing Kassandra with us all!

    • KKJW

      Aww, thanks so much for the ego boost! 😀

  2. WSS

    When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). I hate to even bring this up, but from time to time, it does happen. Someone will be upset with your results and/or comments and bring it up. Most of the time, they will talk to the organizer. Sometimes, they’ll talk to you. Always refer issues back to the organizer. Most events will say “judges’ decisions are final,” so you don’t have to defend yourself or think any further about the issue. This is why they are the organizers and you are the adjudicator. Hopefully that is as far as the issue ever goes; if not, do not participate in that event or with that organizer(s) again. Ever.

    Was just hit with a complaint and organizer wanted ME as adjudicator to deal with it…I am confirmed now NOT to adjudicate for this festival again

  3. WSS

    When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). I hate to even bring this up, but from time to time, it does happen. Someone will be upset with your results and/or comments and bring it up. Most of the time, they will talk to the organizer. Sometimes, they’ll talk to you. Always refer issues back to the organizer. Most events will say “judges’ decisions are final,” so you don’t have to defend yourself or think any further about the issue. This is why they are the organizers and you are the adjudicator. Hopefully that is as far as the issue ever goes; if not, do not participate in that event or with that organizer(s) again. Ever.

    Was just hit with a complaint that a participant did not get placed and organizer wanted ME as adjudicator to deal with it…I am confirmed now NOT to adjudicate for this festival again


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