An Analysis of Taped Comments from a High School Jazz Band Festival

By Ellis, Mark C. | Contributions to Music Education, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Taped Comments from a High School Jazz Band Festival


Ellis, Mark C., Contributions to Music Education


The purpose of this study was to examine comments taped by judges at a competitive festival for high school jazz bands. To accomplish this, comments from 48 tapes were categorized through a series of questions: Was the feedback positive or negative? If negative, was the criticism direct or implied? Was the comment specific or non-specific? What was the focus of the comment? At whom was it directed? Was the comment coupled with a suggestion for improvement? Among the findings: (a) About 15% of all judges' comments were direct-negative, 49% were implied-negative, and 35% were positive; (b) The number of comments per tape varied significantly among judges; (c) Whereas bands with high numerical scores received negative and positive comments in equal proportions, low-scoring bands received negative and positive comments in a 4:1 ratio; (d) Rhythm sections and soloists attracted disproportionate numbers of negative and positive comments, respectively; and (e) About 23% of negative comments were coupled with suggestions for improvement.

Contests and rated festivals hold an important place in the yearly activities of many high school music programs. Music competitions are so plentiful that in some districts an active student might participate in ten or more events in an academic year. The scope of these events ranges from local festivals organized by individual schools, to regional contests managed by education organizations, to statewide and even national competitions sponsored by colleges, universities and corporations.

Whatever the setting, the primary purposes of a contest or rated festival are usually two-fold: (a) to assess the relative quality of performances, and (b) to provide the participants with instructive feedback about the performances. To accomplish these purposes, contest managers employ one or more judges whose job it is to generate numerical ratings and verbal comments in reaction to the performances they are assigned to audit. For the most part, the numerical ratings provide the assessment of quality and the verbal comments provide the instructional feedback.

For several reasons, numerical ratings are likely to receive a greater share of attention than verbal comments. First, numerical ratings usually are made public a short time after the performance. Second, numerical ratings allow quick and easy comparison of performances across ensembles. Third, numerical ratings often determine the classification of performances ("Superior," "Good," etc.) and in some cases indicate whether an ensemble will advance to a higher level of competition. Fourth, the exposure of numerical ratings continues beyond the contest setting as they are reported to administrators at the home schools, published in local newspapers and perhaps state music journals, and posted on web sites (e.g., Weskan Schools-Regional Music Contest Results, 2007).

Researchers in music education also have given more attention to numerical ratings than to verbal comments. One body of work examined the effects of selected variables on rating reliability. The variables included the number of judges on a panel (Fiske, 1975), the age of the judge (Towers, 1980), the manner of presentation, live or taped (Massell, 1978; Vasil, 1973), the judge's ability to play the instrument being judged (Fiske, 1977; Gomez, 1980), and the efficacy of training sessions for judges (Fiske, 1978). Fiske (1983) concluded that other than increasing the number of the judges on a panel, these studies revealed little about how to improve reliability. The results of a more recent study, however, suggests that the use of criteria-specific ratings scales can not only strengthen reliability but also provide valuable diagnostic information to individuals who audition (Saunders & Holahan, 1997).

Another group of studies involved numerical ratings from large-ensemble events. These investigations measured the internal consistency of an adjudication form (Burnsed, Hinkle & King; 1985), the relationship between subscores for various elements of performance (e.

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