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Fiddle Contest Rules

There's plenty to know when competing in a fiddle contest: your tunes, what order to play then, how long to play each to fit into the time limit. Where to go ... and when to be there.

Each contest runs somewhat differently, and each has its own set of rules and divisions, still you'll find many similarities between contests. This web page offers general ideas about performing in a contest and enjoying it too. A quick read through will probably prove informative.

You'll learn best by observing, by participating, and by joining in the fun. You'll encounter fiddlers furiously rehearsing their rounds right out in the open. Perhaps six yards away you'll find another fiddler running a routine with an accompanist or two. Little or nothing gets hidden backstage. You can walk right up and listen. Most fiddlers rather like this sort of attention, and I've never observed any complaint about onlookers making recordings or taking photographs.

Non contestants whoop it up too. You'll find people playing all sorts of instruments in spontaneous jam sessions, most of which are open to others. Enjoy the journey, laugh at your mistakes, be sure to listen to the jams ... maybe even jump in!

Here are a set of links to the various "fiddle contest" topics and concepts on this page, including some details specific to the 2006 Cloverdale Old Time Fiddle Contest. These links are a collection of notes based on my experience, my opinions, and my participation in contest the arena.

For the official word on the 2006 Cloverdale Old Time Fiddle Contest and Festival, go to:


31st Annual Cloverdale Old-Time Fiddle Contest and Festival (2006)

Date: January 27th and 28th 2006


Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds
#1 Citrus Fair Drive
Cloverdale,  CA 95425

Produced by:

The Cloverdale Historical Society
P.O. Box 628, Cloverdale, CA 95425
Phone 707 894-2067



At many contests the rules and regulations regarding contest divisions and rounds are scattered over many forms or web pages. I put this chart together to show a consolidated list of pertinent information: divisions, age ranges, entry fees, prizes, what to play in your rounds, and the total time allowed. While this information is specific to this year's Cloverdale Contest,* it provides a pretty good idea of how things go at many contests, especially other large NOTFA (National Old-Time Fiddler's Association) contests.

*In assembling this chart I may have created some disparities .. .if so, my apologies! Always go by the official statements and rules for any contest. The divisional information for the Cloverdale contest is at:

Entry Fee
    Division Age Range Cash Prizes Rounds
Pee Wee
8 and under
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$20 $15 $10 $8 $5
Round 1 - Total of 3 minutes: Two tunes in order: a hoedown and a waltz. No second round.
9 to 12
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$40 $30 $25 $20 $18
Round 1 - Total of 3 minutes: Two tunes in order: a hoedown and a waltz. No second round.
13 to 17
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$60 $50 $40 $30 $25
Round 1 - Total of 4 minutes. Three tunes in order: a hoedown, a waltz, a tune of choice. Round 2 - Total of 3 minutes. Two tunes in order: a hoedown, and a waltz.
Adult This is a common division in fiddle competitions, but it is NOT part of the Cloverdale contest. See "old-time" below.
18 and older
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Round 1 - Total of 4 minutes. Three tunes in order: a hoedown, a waltz, a tune of choice. Round 2 - - Same rule as Round 1.
60 and older
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$200 $125 $100 $75 $50
Round 1 - Total of 4 minutes. Three tunes in order: a hoedown, a waltz, a tune of choice. Round 2 - Same rule as Round 1.
Special Divisions
Entry Fee     Division
Age Range
Cash Prizes
Progressive This is a division is primarily Texas-style fiddling, but you can play swing, jazz, or blues if you want.
Any age
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$250 $125 $75 $50 $40
Round 1 - Total of 4 minutes. Three tunes in order: a hoedown, a waltz, a tune of choice. Round 2 - - Same rule as Round 1.
Old -time Waltz This is a special division of the Cloverdale contest honoring Aunt Edith Thompson
Any age
1st 2nd 3rd
$350 $150 $100
Round 1 - Total of 2 minutes: One waltz. Round 2 - Same rule. NOTE: All waltzes in this division must be pre-1910.
Old-time Play old-time tunes in old-time style. Don't play fancy modern tunes in this division. Many contests do not have a specific old-tme division. Some are strictly old-time, other they lean specific styles like Texas style, or regional styles like New England or French Canadian.
Any age
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$250 $125 $75 $50 $40
Round 1 - Total of 4 minutes. Three tunes in order: a hoedown, a waltz, a tune of choice. NOTE: Rags are not allowed in this division. Round 2 - Same rule as Round 1.
Twin Fiddle The $15 fee covers both fiddlers. Each fiddler wins the amount show is the prize column.
Any age
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$150 $100 $75 $50 $50
Round 1 - Total 3 minutes. Two old time tunes “of choice”: A fast tune and a slow tune. Round 2 - Total 3 minutes. A tune or a medley.
Any age
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
$100 $75 $50 $35 $20
NOTE: Registration required. Winner determined by number of contestants accompanied on stage over both days combined. No trophies in this category.

Have fun

If you haven't been to a fiddle contest before, or if you're nervous about playing, consider attending a contest once just to watch. Then you can decide if you want to give it a try sometime. If you do, you'll feel more relaxed because you'll know basically how they work.

Above all, when competing, don't worry too much about winning or getting a prize. Go for the fun of playing for people, for a chance to try your best, to hear other fiddlers play, to meet musicians and fiddlers, to play in the spotlight, and to perform by heart in public. Win or lose, you'll probably encounter some astonishing musicians. The inspiration of hearing good fiddlers and finding music buddies is worth far more than a ribbon, a trophy or the prize money. Be sure to bring a recorder.


Choose tunes that you already play well, or that need only a little polishing. If you want to try a new tune, be sure you've memorized it at least three weeks before the contest date. Every day or two play it completely by heart a couple of times. Make sure you really know the tune. In other words you can start it and play it without having to think. This level of certainly will give you confidence and focus, and will help keep any contest day jitters at bay.

Prepare your tunes and rounds so you stay within the rules. Make sure your tunes fit within the time allowed. Most contests take some points off for playing overtime, so work with a clock and time your rounds. The judges may also dock you if you leave more than 20 or 30 seconds unplayed.

Make sure your beginnings and endings are solid, and that you give clear signals to your accompanist (eye contact is quite helpful, especially if you're playing together for the first time.) Common kickoffs include: Chop, chop, Four potatoes, three note lead-ins. Many fiddles signal their endings with a kick of the foot -- again eye contact never hurts.

Nothing prepares you for performing like performing. Try performing your tunes for friends, family or a class. Do this several times before any contest or recital.

Play your best tunes first. This gives you the best chance of advancing in multiple round contests. Don't worry about speed. You'll earn lots of points by playing well, even at a medium speed. If you play so fast that your playing suffers, the judges will definitely notice. Their last concern is blazing speed. They want to hear solid rhythm, clarity, good intonation (correct pitch), finesse, some variety, and stylistic details that fit the idiom. Play fast only if you want to, if you're good at playing fast, and if it's appropriate for the tune.


If you know some variations use 'em. Three or four short variations are all you need. If add them in inventively, you can make it sound like you have endless ideas.

Here's a good approach. Start out simple. When you repeat, add a variation. The next time you play that part again add a different variation. For instance:

A         A  (with a variation)
B         B  (with a variation)
  (with two different variations)         A  (with just one variation)
  (with a variation)         B  (with two different variations)

A good variation is not necessarily exotic. Actually the more outlandish you get, the more likely you'll offend the sensibilities of a judge. Keep it simple. Use grace note, triplets, drones, switch two adjacent notes. (It's easy to find triplets -- just fill in the missing note between thirds.) Whatever the case, don't feel the need to spice up your tunes with variations at the last minute. That might just prove distracting. Don't prepare for an upcoming contest by adding on lots of new details. Practice playing well and with spirit.

Choosing your tunes

American fiddle contests generally prefer that you play mostly American fiddle music: old-time, Appalachian, southern, Texas-style, New England and northern tunes. Cajun could fly, but few people go that route. Most contests allow one European tune per round (Irish, Scottish, English, German even Scandinavian, especially the waltzes), but I'd stay away from eastern European gypsy styles. Some contests don't allow any non-American tunes. Some have specific division that requires only American tunes, or tunes for a specific era, such as pre-radio. Read the rules and ask around. Get yourself roughly on track with the categories, and play what ever you want, and in particular, play tunes that you play well.

Tunes of Choice

Many fiddle contests require contestants to play three types of tune in four minutes. Along with this prelimary rule, it usally follows that: "the three tunes must fall into the category of hoedown, waltz, tune of choice. And the three tunes will be performed in that order."

The most confusing tune category is "Tune of Choice." A "tune of choice" is consistently described as "anything but a hoedown or waltz". You'd think that leaves you wide open but it doesn't.


For instance some contests require that each tune be dance music ... whatever that means.  I mean, it's as if some music is intrinsiclally undanceable. That aside, a judge could ding you at any time for playing something he considers outside the defination of dance music. Same goes with contest sometime defavoring music with bluegrass or texas-style

But back to tune of choice. *** A jig, slip jig, march, schottische, polka, schottische clogs, strathspeys, or hornpipes, presumably an air or other slow piece that's not in 3/4. If you choose to play a hornpipe, make sure you play it with swing, otherwise it may be considered a hoedown. Many contests allow polkas, even though they are rarely performed fast enough for dance ... so much for true danceability! Before you consider playing a rag, or anything bluesy, consult the rules or ask the judges. And here's a rickety twist: Just because a tune has the word "rag" in the title doesn't mean the judges necessarily consider it to be a rag. For instance, Ragtime Annie is consistantly, and appropraiately considered to be a hoedown. And visa versa. Judges may deem a tune a rag, even though the title does not contain the word "rag."

Rags make ideal tunes of choice because the A part is usually 16 bars long. (In most hoedowns, the A Part and B Part are 8 measures each, or roughly that in "crooked tunes." AA BB (eight measure each) is the pattern mostly universally agreed upon as squaredanceable. Therein in lies danceability. Nevertheless some contests disallows rags entirely. Two-steps and other material that conforms to a 6-2-5-1 chord progression is fair territory. I've heard fiddlers play John Phillips Souza marches like Washington County (Kenny Baker.)

In an old-time division or an old-time contest, crooked tunes make great tunes of choice. I'd even play one in a regular division at Cloverdale or Weiser. The judges may prefer Texas-style repertoire, but they really appreciate good old-time American fiddling. Good choices might be Stobord's Tune (Dirk Powell), Jeff Stugeon (John Salyer and Stuart Duncan), Lady Hamilton (Marcus Martin and Ruthie Dornfeld). Something like Texas (Henry Reed) is likely to be viewed as a crooked hoedown.

A tune with one or more four-bar parts might also make a good tune of choice. Some of these are a regular romp, and in certain circles people dance to these sorts patterns, even the crooked four bar tunes. Corn in the Crib has a four bar A part and a 8 bar B part. I know a three part Dry and Dusty (Ruthie Dornfeld), which I play AABBCC. I'm guessing that would qualify.

At Weiser (and in similar contests that emphasize Texas-style and progressive playing) fiddlers occasionally play tunes of the swing repertoire for their tune of choice. Anything from Sweet Gerogia Brown to Dihna. While variations and improvisation are welcome, try to stay pretty close to the melody—in other words, don't spend a lot of time blowing cool riffs over the chords. Someone once said, "When I walk in during someone's solo, I like to know immediately what song they're playing." If you're not clear on Texas-style, listen to the original trailblazers like the following (listed in alphabetical order):

Dick Barrett

Orville Burns

Major Franklin

Dale Morris

Texas Shorty

Norman and Vernon Soloman

Benny Thomason


Lot's of information on individual players at:

There's a new generation of fiddlers who taken up the Texas-style contest tourament torch, including:

Jimmy Don Bates

Luke Bulla Tashina

Clarridge Tristan Clarridge

Matt Hartz

J'Anna Jacoby

Joey McKenzie

Megan Lynch

Gary Lee Moore

Randy Pollard

Mark O'Connor

Roberta Rast

Danita Rast ....the list goes on.


Here's a short list of fail-safe Tunes of Choice:

Allentown Polka

Back Up And Push *

Barbara Polka

Beaumont Rag *

Black and White Rag

Calgary Polka

Clarinet polka

Cotton Patch Rag

Dallas Rag

Dill Pickle Rag

Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

East Tennessee Blues

Faded Love

Florida Blues

I Don't Love Nobody (Nothin' to It)

Heel and Toe Polka


Jesse Polka

Peacock Rag

Red Apple Rag

Smith's Rag

Red Wing

Stone's Rag

Tennessee Blues

Twinkle Little Star

Wild Fiddler's Rag

* Don't include any double shuffle variations!

Cross Tuning

The use of alternate tunings (such as AEAE, ADGE, AEAC#) is not terribly common in contests. However it’sgenerally OK ... often it’s welcomed in old-time divisions. However, I don’t know of any contest that allows contestants to change tunings on stage. If you want to play in both standard tuning AND in a cross tuning, bring two fiddles on stage — don't cross tune your fiddle between tunes on stage! Fine tuning is allowed, of course, but no cross tuning. If you use two fiddles, make a quick transition when you switch . Don’t waste a portion of you playing time and hold up the contest .

Imagine that you’re prepared to play cross tuned pieces, but right before the contest you hear a disconcerting rumor that it’s not gonna go over well with the judges, so what. That may just be talk. Sure, there’s a chance that one or more judges will feel that cross tuning is not OK, so that judge would mark you down accordingly ...but maybe not that much. To be sure it's allowable, attend the Judges Meeting and ask the judges if they’re open to cross-tuning. If so, see if they mind it for all three tunes? If not, ask if you are allowed to bring a second fiddle on stage.

If the rules aren’t clear, if you fail to check with the judges, or if you don't agrees with their stance, if you're mainly there for performance, just do what you want. The audience may love it., you may deeply inspire other fiddlers and musicians ... and that's the real point of playing music anywhere. Play something you love and send it out with a little prayer that in may fall on a receptive ear.

I play music mainly because I enjoy doing it, and because I hope I might occasionally cause someone the same joy that I’ve found in listening.

Here’s a related story. I received my highest score at the National Old-time Fiddle Contest on my tune of choice in round three by performing Morrisons’s Jig. I knew I was in questionable territory, but the crowd went wild. I wasn’t expecting that. I admit, I played Morrison’s really well, and it was nicely styled with Celtic ornaments. I pretty much forgot about the contest and was really “in the music.” Immediately offstage, numerous contestants patted me on the back. With big smiles they said things like, “It’s so great that you just did that.” Meaning, “Wow, you just played what you wanted, even though it might cost you the contest!” But it wasn’t a ”devil may care” attitude on my part, or an attempt to make some sort of fiddling statement. Though this was my first contest, I knew an Irish jig was well outside the “winners circle” repertoire, but I was of the opinion that I knew only two tunes that qualified as "tunes of choice": Beaumont Rag and B&B Rag, and I’d already spent those in round one and two. I didn’t feel I had many options. With nothing particularly "appropriate" left in my bag, I chose to play a tune that was currently under my fingers. The score I received moved me up from 10th to 7th place. Granted, when you take a risk the results are unpredictable. I’m just saying, good playing and a little variety will set well with most judges.


You can play with any accompaniment combo that fits within the contest's rules. The norm is one of two guitars. A two piece accompaniment of guitar and tenor guitar is also common ... or guitar and bass. Rarely do fiddlers compete with banjo accompaniment, however this is more common in old-time divisions. DADGAD guitar accompaniment is OK, but bear in mind, it adds a Celtic quality to your sound. This could negatively influence a judge who wants to hear an overall sound that's more purely Texas style or tranditional old-time. But you never know. The judges might appreciate the variety. You can't predict. Ideally judges listen beyond the accompaniment, and focus primarily on the talent of the fiddler. If you like the DADGAD sound, if it fits your style and helps you play betteer, and want to perform that way at a contest, go ahead, the audience will probably love it. The judges might too.

Being "contest ready."

Stay alert. Each contest asks you to show up at various places at specific times. Much of this information is posted ahead of time, but of course all plans are subject to change ... and sometimes schedule changes are made know with little more than an announcement by the emcee. Keep an ear to the rail, or make sure someone you know is on top of the current course of events. At some point you'll have to fill out and turn in a form with the names of the tunes you're going to play. This allows the emcee to announce your tunes to the audience, and it provides a list for the judges. Usually you bring this with you to the stage door area, but in some contests, they have you submit them in advance. If you've lost your form, you can usually get a new one at the stage door, and fill it out just before you play. Above all, be present at the stage door 10 to 15 minutes before they want you to go on stage. If contestants scratch (drop out) then your performance time will come earlier. It helps to have a buddy along, so if you need to get a message to someone, or you need to locate someone, they can do it for you, while you wait "on deck."

Being on stage

When on stage, stand about 8 to 18 inches from the microphone. If; you're too loud the person running the sound system can easily turn you down, but if you're too far from the mic, sometimes there's not much they can do to increase your volume ... and of course everyone one wants to hear you, particularly the judges. Sometimes the mic is on a mic stand in front of you, sometimes it's suspended from above and you stand directly beneath it. There may be a single mic for everyone, or a separate mic for each musician. Usually you'll get a chance to see contestents play and observe the distance they stand from the mic.

If you've never played over a mic in a large auditorium, you may find it a bit disorienting. There's usually a strong echo, which the sound of the music bouncing off the far walls. Everything may sound a little unclear and unfamiliar, and when you hear your fiddle booming across the room for the first time, it's easy to think it too loud, but that's usually a good sign. If indeed your fiddle is too loud the sound person will deal with it. As mentioned, it better to play too loud than too quietly.

Audience appreciation

Due to time constraints and other contest reasoning, the audience is usually instructed to remain silent until you've completed your last tune. They won't clap after each song. It helps to know this in advance. Even if they love your first tune, they dutifully withhold their applause until you've completed your round.


Be sure to read the rules for any contest you enter. Unfortunately they rarely make perfect sense, but sometimes there are clearly defined minor issues that can make a huge difference in your score.

Click here for the rules for the Cloverdale contest

Often the are different rules for different divisions. The main differences are usually: the length of play, the number of tunes, and what type of tunes are to be played.

Ultimately you have to base your decisions on your own interpretations. But before you come to conclusions, talk to other fiddlers. You can usually ask question of the judges. Most contests set aside a few minutes before the competition for a "judges meeting" where you can ask questions and get clarifications about rules and categories. Ask what they like to hear. I'm sure they'd speak to that.

For this year's Cloverdale contest, all contestants are invited to attend a Judges' Meeting on:

     Friday 2:15 p.m.        -- or --      Saturday 8:45 a.m.


The following rules usually apply to most fiddle contests:

Contestants may play unaccompanied, or with one or two accompanists. That's the norm, but some contest allow more people on stage. If you haven't arranged for an accompanist, you can ask around on the day of the contest to see if anyone will agree to accompany you. This happens a lot. If you take this approach, do your best to make time to practice your round with the accompanist before you perform. By asking someone to back you up may actually help them win an award and some cash. There is usually a prize for the person who provides the most accompaniment. If place in the top five it's considered polite to offer some of your prize cash to your accompanist. Piano accompaniment is rare, so check to see if it is allowed. You may change accompanists from round to round

Contestants are not allowed to play the same tune twice in the contest.

Contestants may enter only one age division, except for special divisions, such and a waltz or twin fiddle division. A fiddler may not be strictly restricted to his/her age group. I found this notion nicely phrased at (

"Contestants may have the option of moving up or down one division if appropriate. For example, a 12-year old with 9 years experience should participate in the senior division, while a 12-year old who has played for only 1 year may opt for the junior division. The idea is to make the divisions fair, so use your best judgment. People who intentionally register for the wrong division to gain advantage may be disqualified."

Open divisions are just that. They're open to fiddlers all ages and expertise.

Judges allot points based on a certain formula such as:
40% Danceability,
30% Old-Time Technique and
30% Rhythm
. Sometimes there's a category called Tone and Clarity.

Like everything else in contests, the exact formulas vary, even from one division to the next. You probably don't need to concern yourself much about the judges' interpretation of tone, clarity, or rhythm. Play well and you'll get good scores in each of these areas. However, rhythm can be an important factor when related to "danceability." For instance, to play a danceable hornpipe, you better play it with swing. Regarding "old-time technique," that's mainly a matter slurs, accent, slides, drones, stylistic phrasing. This is where they easily separate the book-learned fiddlers from the those who've thoroughly listened to the great fiddlers and studied the details of their style.

Contact microphones and amplified instruments are not permitted.  Contestants may only play acoustically over the microphones provided.

Music reading is not allowed on stage. I've never seen music allowed on stage, except maybe a discreet chord sheet for a guitarist, usually taped to the side of the guitar. Most fiddle contests are instrumental only - so no vocals. Contestants are not allowed to speak over the mic.

Trick fiddling antics (like the Listen to the Mockingbird) and string plucking (right or left hand pizzicato) may not be allowed. The famous "double shuffle bowing ," also called hokum bowing,, is usually off limits. In some contests it's an automatic disqualification, or a zero score for that tune. I wish this weren't the case, because in moderation it can be used to good effect. I think this rule originates from the older audience-judged contests. Pretty much any fiddler who played hokum bowing could easily "wow" and audience. This was an unfair advantage over other excellent fiddlers who didn't include that trick, so the contests banned it altogether. Just my guess.Double shuffle bowing is used in many tunes including: Orange Blossom Special, Back Up and Push, Beaumont Rag ... for some tunes, like Orange Blossom, if you take out the double shuffle, you've dismantled the piece; but there's usually three parts to Baumont rag, plus the double-shuffle section. If you want to play a tune like Beaumont Rag in a contest, just leave out the double shuffle section.

Vibrato Most contests include a rule says something disparaging about vibrato, like "vibrato will be frowned upon." (This has always left a question in my mind. I've never be able to decide if that means the judges will actually take points off, or if they'll simply make mean faces in the judges' booth.) Nevertheless, without fail, the winner's waltzes are drenched with vibrato. Still it's wise to use restraint with vibrato. It's a spice not a meal. Don't use it at every opportunity. You needn't even play in on an entire note -- it's great to start a long note without any vibrato, wait a bit, then gently add a narrow vibrato, widening it over the course of the note, simultaneously increasing the volume in the middle. This produces quite a dramatic and emotional effect, and it's far more interesting than vibrato everywhere possible. Be honest with yourself; if you haven't mastered a good sounding vibrato don't use in contest. On fast tunes use vibrato sparingly -- if at all -- and only on long notes.

Tuning / Tuning on Stage. Do your best to tune up before entering the stage. This is challenging because there are few places as noisy as a fiddle warm up area. If you have trouble tuning because of all the noise, find a spot outside. However, if there's a big difference in temperature or humidity, make your stay outside as brief as possible, and double check before you go on stage. If tuning is difficult for you, spend a little time practicing it each day. If you're out of tune at the contest and can't fix it, ask for help. It’s OK to take a moment on stage to double check your tuning before you begin. (The stage may actually be one of the few quiet locations available!) If you tune on stage, do so as quickly as possible, maybe 10 to 15 seconds. Tke more time if something is seriously wrong. After you’ve successfully tuned, wait for a moment, then start your tune loud and clear. The judges start the clock when you start playing. If you find that you're out of tune after you've started, finish the tune you're playing, step back from the mic and tune quickly ... the clock keeps running.

False starts — Some contests allow one false start without penalty. I don't think it's a big deal if you have a really short false start, the judges will understand this, especially if it is an accompaniment problem. But a false start should be no more than one or two measures in length. If you're further in than that, just keep playing. Remember the clock keeps ticking.

If a string breaks or slips. If a contestant or accompanist breaks a string, or if a peg slips, the fiddler has two options: continue through the tune, or stop the tune and replay it after fixing the string. If you choose to replay the tune, you MUST stop before you complete it. If you play through, it will be judged as played. It’s best to make your decision soon after the string breaks. If you play through, you may pause between tunes to fix the string. The score of tunes already played in your round are final. You don't get to play the entire round again. There is usually a limit of 5 minutes for fixing a string.

Disqualifications. You can be disqualified for a number of reasons: for unsportsman-like behavior; entering a wrong division; failing to appear for your round (you ought to show up at least 15 minutes early). Playing longer than your allotted time will usually cause you to lose a set amount of points, but it probably won't disqualify you. Playing a tune out of category may result in a zero score for that tune, or a slight dedcution, at the judges discretion. The same may hold true for playing a tune or technique not allowed: Orange Blossom Special, double suffle bowing, pizzacato. Unsportsman-like behaviour may include use of drugs, alcolhol, tamtrums or an outburst of anger, skateboarding ...

Scoring In contests with five judges, they usually throw out the high and low scores. This prevents a cranky judge (perhaps a judge who just doesn't like your style or a tune you picked) from having a drastic impact on your overall score. And visa versa, it also prevents a judge from increasing you position because you played his or her favorite tunes. In contests with three judges usually all scores are counted.

Score sheets: Most contests will provide you with score sheets afterwards so you can see how the judges graded your playing, but you may have to request them. Sometimes the score sheets are quite detailed. At Weiser you get a score sheet from each judge for each round. Each sheet lists exactly how you earned your points for each tune: danceability, old-time style, rhythm, tone (which usually includes pitch.) This is valuable feedback from the experts. Additobnally a judge may make a written comment, some sort of congratulation, advice or admonition. Also, you may request overall scoresheets that show the rankings of contestants throughout the rounds. This listing is usually posted after the winners are announced. NOTE: In many contests, the judges cannot see you, nor can you see them. They may be in a seperate room listening over speakers or headphones.


Read and print the schedule so you'll know when to be where, and bring a copy to the contest:

Your rounds may be at different times of the day, so plan to stick around, and be at the right place at the right time.

Contestants must check in (usually at least 30 minutes) before the scheduled start of their division. If you fail to check in, you may lose your place in the competition. The same holds true if you fail to appear at the stage area sufficiently ahead of your playing slot. There is no set time. It's based on contestant order, which may be determined by registration order or by a drawing. If another contestant fails to show, your turn is moved forward. But if you're not there ...

It's smart to go to the stage door immediately after your category is announced. Usually you can warm up and rehearse in this area. Have a buddy with you who can run contact people for you or run errands.


On stage at the Cloverdale fiddle contest, six year old Pat Reilly stood with his fiddle poised to perform. I was right next to him ready to to accompany on guitar. He looked up at me.I nodded, signaling that it was OK for him to play. The instant he began it became painfully apparent that the boom holding the microphone that pointed at my guitar had not been adequately tighten. Slowly it began sinking toward the floor ... at the rate of about a half yard a minute. By the middle of the second song I'd was practically on one knee with my guitar only a foot above the floor. Fortunately at this point the mic ceased it's downward trek, and we successfully finished the round. A friend in the audience said she had no idea there was a problem with the mic stand. She just thought it looked cute that I slowly got down to a kid-size level.


© John J. Blasquez 2005
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