Preparation for Adjudication

A Checklist for Success

 By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl

*Special thanks to Jonathan Sindler and Andrew B. Spang, colleagues and music educators
of the Howard County Public School System in Maryland, for collaborating on this article.

This article was originally published in the December 2019 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.


“The best preparation for good work tomorrow, is to do good work today.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

The months of February through May can be the most stressful for music educators and specifically for those who lead ensembles. Ensembles are preparing to be assessed at the county, state, and regional levels. Call these performances what you may—adjudications, assessments, festivals, etc. Regardless of their name, they are an opportunity for ensembles to be judged. If facilitated with integrity, these enrichment opportunities provide valuable feedback for the conductor and musicians.

2019 ANHE concert band flutists

Photo: Bob O’Lary


Components of these festivals often include the performance of a warm-up selection, two adjudicated selections—often encouraged to be selected from an approved list of repertoire, and sight-reading. Some festivals swap out sight-reading for a clinic. In this case, feedback is provided instantaneously from a clinician in regards to the prepared selections, and suggestions can be examined with the conductor and his/her musicians.

The definition of adjudication is “a formal judgment.” Expect adjudicators to assess your ensemble based on the composer’s score. Adjudicators should hear from the performing ensemble what they see printed in the music. Understand that each adjudicator brings his/her own strengths, limitations, and experiences to the adjudication panel. For instance, the adjudicator who is also a flute player may feel more confident addressing woodwind concerns, rather than percussion or brass, and vice versa. Because a concern is not mentioned by all adjudicators does not mean it is not relevant. The most skilled adjudicator in that genre may choose to elaborate. Ideally each adjudicator will provide a critique offering both positive remarks and constructive comments.

orchestra basses on stage during adjudication

Photo: Bob O’Lary


Several years ago, I collaborated with two colleagues to create a best practice for our fellow county-wide band directors preparing for adjudication. In addition to preparing our own ensembles, all three of us frequently serve as adjudicators for instrumental festivals. We have recently refined our checklist for success and shared it as a resource. Although it was specifically intended for band, we have generalized it for implementation for any ensemble.


Musical Selections: If the shoe fits …          

  • Sight-read and analyze several possible selections for performance with your ensemble months prior to the adjudication.
  • Select music that showcases your ensemble’s strengths.
  • Rehearse the selections within an appropriate time frame and educational pace:
    • Performance expectations and excitement may peak too soon if selections are rehearsed too early.
    • Panic may occur if selections are rehearsed too late.
  • Master the warm-up selection and be certain it includes participation by all musicians. For band, consider a march as a suitable warm-up.
  • Choose two contrasting adjudicated selections.
  • Re-orchestrate the music to ensure no part is left uncovered:
    • Assign more lower voices per section (three on 1st, four on 2nd, five on 3rd, etc.)
    • Perform written cues if an instrument/voice part is missing.
      • Examples specific to band:
        • Drop flutes an octave when intonation is a concern.
        • Use muted trumpet if lack of oboe.
        • Use alto saxophone if lack of horn.
        • Use tenor saxophone if lack of trombone.
        • Use bass clarinet/baritone sax if lack of tuba.
        • Do not double snare drum.
  • Record your ensemble throughout the preparation phase for director and/or student assessment and feedback.
  • Utilize clinicians through critique rehearsals and master-classes as an extension of student learning, not the ultimate tool for learning.


Taking the Stage: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  • Invite administration, staff, supporters, and the students’ families to attend the performance.
  • Realize adjudicators “see” your ensemble, before they “hear” music:
    • Professionalism begins with the conductor (appearance, attitude, behavior, uniform, etc.).
    • All members, including the conductor should:
      • appear united in uniform.
      • reflect pride.
      • express confidence.
      • demonstrate enjoyment (not dread!).
  • Process on stage by order of row/section.
  • Set-up the stage to mimic your rehearsal space.
  • Move all equipment, such as chairs, stands, piano, or percussion to your ensemble’s preference to match your rehearsal space.
  • Avoid tuners/phones on stage.
  • Avoid visual distractions on stage (water bottles, hair bows, unique socks/shoes, folders under chairs).
  • Perform a chord/scale before being announced.
  • Prepare to perform the warm-up selection the moment the announcer finishes speaking.


Performance: Yes, this IS a performance!

  • Maintain posture.
  • Retune soloist, sections, or the ensemble between selections, if necessary.
  • Adjust equipment placement between selections, if necessary.
  • Emphasize that tone always wins over dynamic contrast.
  • Enhance the melodic line.
  • Demonstrate musicality:
    • Do not neglect long notes.
    • Taper the ends of phrases.
    • Add expression beyond what is written.
  • Demonstrate pride.
  • Expect the unexpected in regards to errors.
  • Acknowledge soloists.
  • Encourage musicians to accept an applause by not moving at the end of a piece. Instruct students not to touch/change their music until the conductor does.
  • Acknowledge the ensemble before the warm-up and after the final selection by asking all members to stand uniformly. Practice this prior to the performance.


Sight-Reading: By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

  • Establish a plan for sight-reading and practice it routinely.
  • Enter this space as if you are entering the performance.
  • Mimic your performance set-up, when space allows.
  • Move all equipment such as chairs, stands, and percussion to your ensemble’s preference.
  • Ask for a piece of equipment, if needed, such as additional stands/chairs.
  • Be certain all students are attentive when the adjudicator is speaking, both during the instructions and for the critique.
  • Use nonverbal communication during the director’s study time. For instance, when a conductor “air conducts” during the silent study time, valuable information can be communicated to the students before they even see their music, such as time signatures, tempi, cues, and even dynamics.
  • Ask to perform a warm-up note/chord/scale.
  • Maintain student behavior while waiting after the session has concluded.
2019 ANHE mixed choir male singer

Photo: Bob O’Lary


Audience: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

  • Expect superior behavior throughout the entire adjudication process (on/in the bus, hallway, restroom, auditorium, audience, cafeteria, etc.).
  • Encourage only positive remarks to be made about the performances of other ensembles.
  • Acknowledge the adjudicators if your paths cross.
  • Say “thank you” if your ensemble is complimented.


Reflection: Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.

  • Share your ratings/comments with your administration and/or community.
  • Listen to the recordings before your students for appropriateness and audibility.
  • Share written commentary with your students.
  • Reflect on suggestions and attempt to implement them as an ensemble.
  • Contact the adjudicator if questions arise or to show gratitude.

Download this checklist as a printable PDF.

About the author: 

band directorNAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl is an author, educator, and consultant. Visit her at

Join Lori for a week-long graduate course reflecting the ideas shared each month in this column: AMUS 605: Making Key Changes: Refresh Your Music Program, 3 credits, July 20–24, 2020, through the University of the Arts at the Villanova University location in Pennsylvania.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

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