Judging Criteria for the Flatfoot Dancing category is on the Dance Page
Please click HERE

Download a PDF Copy of the
Judging Criteria Document

Download a PDF Copy of Judge Shelah Spiegel’s “Playing in the Contest”

The judging methodologies used by the Topanga Banjo•Fiddle Contest have developed over the years and will continue to do so as new suggestions are received and considered. Beginning with an article on Banjo and Fiddle Judging by Allan Hjerpe, subsequent refinements have been contributed by Bill Jackson, JoEllen Lepidus, Howard Yearwood, Dorian Keyser and others.

2018 Masters of Ceremonies:

Judges for 2018

Stage Management

Judging is based upon a 100 point scale using the guidelines listed below:


INSTRUMENTS Banjo Fiddle Guitar Mandolin Other Instruments
Pitch 10 25 10 10 15
Rhythm 25 25 25 25 25
Musicianship 25 10 25 25 25
Technique 30 30 30 30 25
Stage Presence 10 10 10 10 10
TOTAL 100 100 100 100 100


Pitch Instrument tuning and proper bridge placement
Rhythm Measure-to-measure as well as the entire number (speed-up / slow-down). It can be very difficult for a judge to determine if tempo changes are intentional
Musicianship Based upon the overall performance. Was it tasteful and dynamic? Was it entertaining?
Technique Technical competence including fingering, bowing, picking, etc.
Stage Presence An average score of five is enhanced or diminished depending upon presentation

Other Considerations:

Timing All numbers (incl. intros) MUST complete within three(3) minutes or judges will deduct ten (10) points and sound will be cut.
Back-up While no extra credit is given for the presence of a superior back-up, points may be deducted for a poor performance
Original Material Since the judges may have no way of knowing the origin of music or style, only performance may be considered
Difficulty Judges will consider the difficulty of the piece as performed when deducting for mistakes
* Fiddle Category When a fiddle is being judged in any category, there must be no other fiddles being played on the stage.

Band Judging

A band consists of at least three members including at least one banjo or fiddle. Each band shall play two numbers: one instrumental and one vocal. Vocal numbers shall have two or more members singing in harmony with instrumental backup, and may include breaks and runs. Entries deviating from this requirement shall have no score awarded. Both numbers (incl. intros) should complete within six (6)minutes.

Band Scoring



Pitch/Rhythm 20 Vocal Pitch/Rhythm 20
Technical Ability 30 Instrumental Support 20
Musicianship 30 Harmony Blend 40
Performance 20 Performance 20


Performance: Entertaining, connect with the audience, stay within time constraints, comfortable on stage
Timing: Both numbers (incl. intros) MUST complete within six (6) minutes or judges will deduct ten (10) points and sound will be cut.


Pitch/Rhythm: Instruments in tune with clear tonal qualities. Maintain a good steady tempo that others are able to follow
Technical Ability: Technique, degree of instrument proficiency of each of the band members, difficulty of piece
Musicianship: Group instrumental blend, back each other up well, play well together to create a "band sound," use of microphones, song selection


Pitch/Rhythm: Everyone sings in tune, voice quality, good steady tempo
Instrumental Support: Proficient backup, tasteful, create a good blend, good solos/breaks, timing, nice fills and runs
Harmony Blend: Blend is what makes a great vocal band - complexity, smoothness, tasteful, original "band sound"


Any song may be performed but in general, songs should be chosen that will allow the judges to rate your performance and the quality of your singing.

Contestants are judged on Pitch, Enunciation, Sound Quality, Rhythm, Style, Material and Stage Presence.

Songs should not be profane, rushed or excessively loud.

Lyrics should be clear and understandable.

Objectionable material or interpretation will result in performance termination and\ disqualification.

NOTE: If you desire to be judged in Singing while competing in an instrument category, then you must compete in the morning elimination contest to qualify to be judged in Singing on the Main Stage. If you score at least as well as the lowest-scoring finalist that has entered in Singing only and advanced to the Main Stage, then you may be judged in Singing on the Main Stage while competing in an instrument category.

Singing Scoring


Pitch 25
Enunciation / Sound Quality 25
Rhythm 15
Style / Material 20
Stage Presence 15

Singing Considerations

Timing All numbers (incl. intros) MUST complete within three(3) minutes or judges will deduct ten (10) points and sound will be cut.
Enunciation Can the words be understood?
Pitch In tune with instruments? Absolute pitch if unaccompanied. Instruments in tune?
Rhythm/Pace In time with back-up? Pace suitable for chosen song?
Style/Material Is the style consistent with the song and its traditions?

Backup Instruments Scoring

Pace/Rhythm 25
Chords/Chord Changes 25
Fits into the group 25
Runs 15
Pitch 10

Pitch 15 
Rhythm 25 
Musicianship 25 
Technique/ Fits into group 25 
Stage Presence 10 

Backup Instrument Considerations

The back-up instrument should provide a steady rhythm, pace and complementary runs. Attempts to 'dazzle' detract from the performance of the contestant.

When a fiddle is being judged in any category, there must be no other fiddles being played on the stage.

Suggestions for all categories:

Pick material that is within your capabilities. Even though difficulty is considered, the point system penalizes mistakes and unevenness far more than it rewards dazzling technique.

Keep an even tempo. Start on the slow side and try not to speed up. Rehearse with your back-up if applicable, before coming to the stage.

Observe how others utilize the microphones. Crowding them causes distortion, but you must be heard to be judged.

It is valuable to know in which areas you were strong or need improvement and to see how you compare to the winners in your category. You will automatically be sent an email with your scores shortly after the Contest. If you do not receive your scores with two weeks, requests may be called in to the Hotline at 818-382-4819 or requested via e-mail to the Registrar. Good luck!