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The following is a brief overview definition of the BHS contest & judging system. Complete information and rules can be found at the following Barbershop Harmony Society page.


The barbershop style can be viewed as having two major components: technical and artistic. The technical aspects of the style relate to those elements that define the style regardless of how well it’s performed. The artistic aspects relate to those performance aspects that are equally essential to the style’s preservation.


The performance of each song is judged by three categories: Music, Presentation and Singing. Each category judge will determine a single quality rating or score, on a scale of 1 to 100. The judge will determine whether the level of the performance is excellent (A-level, from 81-100), good (B-level, from 61- 80), fair (C-level, from 41-60), or poor (D-level, from 1-40), and award an exact score based upon an evaluation of all the elements in the performance that have an impact on his category. If no quality rating is appropriate, owing to an unequivocal and definite violation of the rules, the judge will forfeit his score by awarding a zero.

There is no appropriate formula for weighting the various elements in a category; rather, it is up to the judge to view the total performance from his particular orientation, and evaluate the elements of the performance on a song-by-song basis. Elements that are particularly crucial in one song performance may be less important in another song performance. The judge will evaluate the overall effect or value of the performance.

The major responsibilities of each judging category are as follows:

  1. Music
    1. Music is defined as the song and arrangement as performed. The Music judge evaluates the suitability of the song and arrangement to the barbershop style, and the performer’s musicianship in bringing the song and arrangement to life.
    2. Major elements in the category are: consonance; theme; delivery and musicality; execution; and embellishment.
  2. Presentation
    1. Presentation is defined as the net impact of the performance upon the audience. The Presentation judge evaluates to what degree the audience is entertained through the performer’s communication of the story/message/theme in its musical and visual setting.
    2. Major elements in the category are: entertainment value; “from the heart” delivery; audience rapport; artistry and expressiveness; and unity between the presentation’s vocal and visual elements.
  3. Singing
    1. Singing is defined as quality, in-tune vocalization accomplished with a high degree of unity, ensemble consistency and artistry. The Singing judge evaluates the degree to which the performer achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style.
    2. Major elements in the category are: intonation; vocal quality; unity of word sounds, flow, diction and synchronization; expansion and “ring”; and artistry.


An audience member experiences the art form of barbershop music as a whole. Thus, even while evaluating a performance from a particular perspective, an audience member will experience the total performance. Each of the three categories – Music, Presentation, and Singing – should be a particular orientation or perspective from which a judge views the total performance, rather than a blinder that restricts his focus to a certain domain. Accordingly, all judges judge the total performance and, to some extent, certain elements of a barbershop performance will be evaluated by judges in two, or even all three, categories. Those aspects of a barbershop performance that are evaluated by judges in all three categories are: the preservation of the barbershop style; ringing, in-tune singing; vocal quality; the suitability of the song to the performer; self-expressiveness and heartfelt performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do contest judges come from?
They are typical barbershoppers just like you who have gone through extensive training to get certified in their category specialty. In addition, they must successfully complete Category School every three years to get recertified.
How do I become a judge?
You must apply during the open season that is offered every third years from August 1 – December 31st.  The next open season will be in 2010 and will be offered every three years thereafter.
What should I do first?
You should study the Contest & Judging Rules and read and study about the category to which you aspire in the C&J Handbook posted on the BHS web site.
What does the application process consist of?
The application process consists of the following things that you must do:
  • Provide a letter of recommendation from two certified judges in the category that you wish to be considered for that is provided by letter or email to the district C&J officer.
  • You will also need FIVE Society members who know your abilities and who can comment on your suitability for the judging program that can provide character references to vouch for you as an applicant for the C&J program.
  • Complete the application form for your category.
What does it cost to apply?
There is no charge to apply.
When will I know if I am selected as an applicant?
Once your application is received and processed by your district C&J person, he will then forward it to the applicable category specialist (CS). The CS along with his board of review members will then review each application against anticipated vacancies and determine how many applicants to accept. Applicants that are accepted will normally be notified in late January or early February depending on the number of applications to be processed. Once accepted and notified, the applicant training process begins.
What does the training consist of?
The training consists of various exercises and tests to determine your current capabilities to be considered for your category. Successful completion of this process results in an invitation to Candidate School that is normally held the weekend prior to Harmony University. Once you have successfully completed Candidate School, you are designated as a Candidate Judge in your category. During this two year program you will attend a minimum of THREE conventions a year as a GUEST panelist to ply your trade and learn from the certified panel you will be working with. You will also have some homework to complete during those two years which will also help determine whether or not you receive an invitation to attend the Category School. It is not an automatic invitation anymore.
What does it cost to be a candidate?
That depends largely on the individual and where he can get opportunities to practice on a panel. As you read the C&J Handbook section on applicants and candidates, you will see that the expenses of a candidate are born by the candidate. However, during the candidate cycle there are often several candidates that are guests practicing that are willing to share rooms with other candidates. It is your responsibility to get to and from the convention site and to pay for lodging. Some districts do invite candidates that are on the practice panel to pay the costs for official meals provided to the official panel. Some districts also provide a small stipend to candidates to offset some of their expenses.
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