Playing and Judging at Music Contests

Red Henry

Some of you may have entered a music contest from time to time. A few of Murphy's students enter contests as often as they can. If you live in a part of the world where there are contests, you might consider entering a few yourself.

There are several benefits from entering contests. The first reason (and maybe the biggest) lies in the preparation. This works into the "Quality" theme of Murphy's post yesterday. Your tunes need to be thoroughly learned, as smooth and good-sounding as you can get them, so that you could play them without thinking about them-- because at first, when you get on a contest stage to play, your mind may go blank and you've got to just PLAY. As well as you can. Without thinking. This simply takes a lot of practice, and practice is good for you!

At contests you get to play in front of different audiences, in different places and situations. You might be indoors in a poorly-lit school auditorium. You might be on stage in a big music hall with good lights and sound system. Or you might be playing on a flatbed trailer outdoors in 45-degree weather. If you can play your tunes well in ANY situation, its good for your music.

And why can you win some contests without being the best picker? It's because of the judging. Some local contests simply do not have musical experts available as judges. So your job at those contests is not to play the most advanced tunes you can. Your job is to play a tune that sounds good, and to look like you know what you're doing. If on stage you LOOK confident of being a winner, you'll have a better chance of actually being one.

At a lot of contests, the best player does not win. The judges may pick their favorite based on looks, facial expression, posture, gender, age, or other un-musical considerations. On the other hand, there are contests where the judges are excellent musicians and very well qualified to judge, in great and accurate detail, how well the contestants can actually play.

But no matter how the judging goes, you accept it and roll with the flow. Playing contests is not about the judging, it's its own reward. You endure the waiting and the drawing for playing-order, you go out in front of the people, and you play your tunes as well as you can. (The first one or two contests, your playing may not exactly be your best. But keep at it.) And when you've played some contests, your music is so much more solid than it was before. If you're placed a few times, your confidence is too.

So if the judging seems weird, don't take it seriously. At a contest, the judging is not the point. Winning prizes is not the point. Your music is.


Posted in banjo, By Red, guitar, Practice and tagged , on by .

About Red Henry

Began playing mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo in 1967-69. I married Murphy in 1974. We led the Red & Murphy bluegrass band, playing professionally, from 1975-87. Since then I've handled the technical side of Murphy Method cassette, videotape, and DVD production. When you call I usually answer the phone, and I'm normally the one who sends out the orders.