The Barbershop Judging and Scoring System
A Guide for Music Educators
The barbershop scoring system is a little bit different from what you might find at a standard choral festival. Rather than a panel of judges judging the exact same way with the exact same adjudication sheets, our scoring judges are trained and certified in only one of three different categories. Each judge goes through a rigorous three-year training process (at his expense) to become certified, and must re-certify every three years by attending a category-specific school. The three categories are Music, Presentation, and Singing.
Music judges the song and arrangement, as performed. Judges do not have copies of the music in front of them during your performance, and are judging solely what they hear. This allows you the liberty to make modifications in voicing, small and appropriate lyric or rhythm changes, and even compose different introductions or tags (codas) to the song. Music judges adjudicate the musical elements in the performance: melody, harmony, range and tessitura, tempo and rhythm and meter, construction and form, and embellishments. They judge how well the musical elements of the performance establish a theme and the degree to which the performance demonstrates an artistic sensitivity to that theme. They also adjudicate the degree to which the musical elements of the song and arrangement display the hallmarks of the barbershop style.
Presentation evaluates how effectively a chorus brings the song to life; that is, the believability of the theme in its musical and visual setting. They respond to both the vocal and visual aspects of the presentation, but they principally evaluate the interaction of those aspects as they work together to create the image of the song. They adjudicate the quality and appropriateness of the overall effect. The Presentation judge evaluates everything about the performance that contributes to emotional impact upon the audience. This may or may not include choreography. Choreography is not required to score well in barbershop contests. The believability of the performance outweighs any moves your chorus might incorporate into a song.
Singing evaluates the degree to which the performer achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style. This is accomplished through precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill, and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Mastering these elements also creates a feeling of fullness, ring, or expansion of sound throughout the performance. When artistry is present, these elements will be natural, un-manufactured, and free from apparent effort, allowing the performer to fully communicate the theme of the song. While there are some subtle stylistic differences in barbershop singing, the fundamentals of singing are the same as classical or standard choral singing. The focus is on correct breathing, breath support, posture, tall and open vowels being sung without tension. Vibrato is a normal phenomenon of proper breath management. In barbershop quartet singing, some vibrato in the voice, especially the lead voice, can be very effective in enhancing the emotional content of the music. However, too high a vibrato rate (especially in choruses) or excessive pitch or volume variation will erode ensemble sound. Barbershop singing is more akin to the vocal production of Renaissance madrigal singing, or even vocal jazz, rather than a Verdi or Puccini aria.
Each judge awards up to 100 points per song. At the youth festival, there will be six judges, two in each of the three categories (1800 possible points at the Youth Chorus Festival). Unlike the standard academic grading scale, barbershop uses the following numbers to determine a letter grade:
40 and below D
What is important to remember is that our best quartets and choruses in the world work very hard to score in the 90’s, and only a few ensembles each year even reach this plateau. Most of the choruses and quartets in our organization score in the high 50’s to mid 60’s, which by an academic scale would be D- or even “failing”, but actually equates to average or slightly above average quality. If you bring a chorus to the youth festival, and score a 70 average (middle B range), that’s really like scoring an 85 on the academic scale. Don’t be discouraged if the initial numbers you see are surprisingly lower than what you’re used to seeing.