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Contest & Judging Program

Information and Documents

Whether you aim for the gold, or want an objective benchmark of your abilities from year to year, the Contest and Judging system helps everyone get more from the hobby.

Note: All competitors must be current, registered members of the Barbershop Harmony Society. Please visit our Join page to register a new quartet, or click here to renew your existing quartet.

    Contest & Judging Quick Links

    The Three Judging Categories

    All chorus and quartet competitors are scored in three categories: Music, Performance, and Singing. A brief description of each category is below. Expanded information can be found in the Contest & Judging (C&J) Handbook.

    View the Contest & Judging Handbook

    Review the BHS Contest Judging Assignments

    Learn more about What It Takes To Be A Judge

    Music Category

    Music is defined as the song and arrangement, as performed. The Music Category judges the arranger’s skill and the performer’s musicianship in bringing the mood or story of the song to life, and the suitability of the material to the barbershop style.

    The Music judge is responsible for adjudicating the musical elements of the performance. He judges the degree to which the musical delivery demonstrates an artistic sensitivity to the song’s ongoing predominant musical element(s) and mood or story, as well as the extent to which the musical performance displays the hallmarks of the barbershop style. One of the primary hallmarks of barbershop music is its consonant harmony. Thus, the quality of performance depends largely on the ensemble presence, accurate execution, and artistic delivery of the consonant harmonies traditionally identified with the barbershop style. Indirectly, the Music judge evaluates the work of the composer and arranger. A basic prerequisite for a successful barbershop performance is that the song be appropriate to the barbershop style.

    See more information on Music And Performance Elements

    Download the Contest & Judging Handbook

    Watch a presentation from Harmony University 2017 on the Music Category

    Performance Category

    These judges evaluate how effectively a performer brings the song to life. They judge the entertainment value of the performance; the art of the performance.

    One significant goal of any art form is communication. A barbershop performance refers to how the artist communicates his/her message and vision via the transformation of a song into an entertaining experience for an audience. The performance of a song is the artist’s gift to the audience; whose experiences, memories, and imagination transform that gift into an emotional experience. The performers’ goal is to create a high level of entertainment through the performance. The means to that end are as varied as the personality, abilities and creative skills of the performers.

    See more information about the Performance Category

    Read the Full Performance Category Description

    Watch a presentation from Harmony University 2016 on the Performance Category

    Singing Category

    In the Singing category we judge artistic singing in the barbershop style – listening holistically for ringing in-tune voices that use a free, beautiful and rich vocal quality, which is wonderfully unified and vocally expressive.

    Judges in this category evaluate the degree to which the performer achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style: the production of vibrant, rich, resonant, technically accurate, and highly skilled sound, created both by the individual singer’s use of good vocal techniques, and by the ensemble processes of tuning, balancing, unity of sound and precision. They listen for a sense of precise intonation, a feeling of fullness or expansion of sound, a perception of a high degree of vocal skill, a high level of unity and consistency throughout the performance, and a freedom from apparent effort that allows the full communication of the lyric and song.

    See more information on the Singing Category

    Download the Contest & Judging Handbook

    Watch a presentation from Harmony University 2018 on the Singing Category.

    Definition of the Barbershop Style

    Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a primarily homorhythmic​ (the same word sounds at the same time)​ texture. The melody is consistently sung by the lead​ (second tenor)​, with the tenor ​(first tenor) ​harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

    Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that often resolve around the circle of fifths, while also making use of other resolutions. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard meter. The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide appropriate support of the song’s theme and to close the song effectively.

    Barbershop singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords ​(instead of tempered tuning like the piano)​ in just intonation while remaining true to the established tonal center. Artistic singing in the barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill, and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Ideally, these elements are natural, not manufactured, and free from apparent effort.

    The performance of barbershop music uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. Barbershop singers traditionally do not hold sheet music. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout. The most stylistic performance artistically melds together the musical and visual aspects to create and sustain the illusions suggested by the music.​

    Barbershop can be performed in quartets as well as choirs, and can be found all over the world in male, female, and mixed ensembles.