First published in the Pacific American Singer newsletter, volume 7, number 4, October 2000.
At an American Singer Canary competition the judge does have the final say on the winners, but he doesn't have the final say if your bird should be off to the pet store the next day. We have all had birds that are rated low with one judge and are rated higher at another show with another judge. This year we have 4 different shows in California with 8 different judges to give their different opinions on your birds. If you take each one's judgement to heart you will go nuts! Why does this difference occur? It is the nature of the American Singer Judging Standard. It does not require certain tours and notes to be sung like the Rollers, Waterslagers, and Timbrados. The majority of the points depend on the Judge's personal opinion if your birds' song is superior or not. Since people come from different backgrounds and environments, their likes and dislikes will also differ. This goes for the Exhibitor too. It can be frustrating and stressful at the shows watching someone judge your birds and to hear fellow breeders comment on your birds. Especially if they are negative comments. Let me give you a few insights and techniques on how to understand and benefit from a American Singer Show.
The information I am giving you is based on my own personal experiences. I have been on both sides of winning and losing, and understand the confusion that can come about when your trying to figure out what is required to win at the shows. The first thing you have to do is realize that you really need to be your own judge. By being you own judge and focusing on what makes a good song in your American Singers, you will have a better sense on what to breed for. Depending on your own judgement about which birds have the better song will also relieve the stress of being at the mercy someone else's opinion. If you realize improvements are needed in your birds at the shows, you will have left the show with valuable information and then you can find out how to improve your birds for the next breeding season. Since you are at the show it is an ideal opportunity to ask fellow breeders about how to improve or add a trait in your birds.
Depending on you own opinion is key because others just might be wrong! I have had birds that couldn't even place in a group of 7 judged, but would win BOS the next day with another judge. I've heard a judge say that he didn't like that sound a particular bird (a fellow breeder's) was singing, but place that same bird in the BOS ranks the next year with the same sound! It is also unfortunate when you hear a fellow breeder announce to everyone how much he hates a particular bird. This is very hurtful since the breeder of that bird spent many hours of care and had great hopes for that bird. So if this happens to you take heart, I have this happen to me many times. The best thing to do is ignore that insensitive person and realize that it is only one opinion and not a general consensus. One funny example is that I had this bird that was very loud for that particular room it was being judged in, I could see the judge smirk and some of the observers give a little chuckle and comments, well that bird sounded perfect and won at a show which was in a very large room. Just think if I was so embarrassed that I kept that bird at home! Some of my winners are descendants of birds that some judges and fellow breeders did not like, but I understood the good points of these birds and incorporated them in my breeding program.
The best thing to do is to learn the basics of song and analyze how your bird is performing at the shows and compare your birds to others. When you are at the competition imagine that you are the Judge and that you have to sort through a 100+ birds to find the best one. If you can do this, it will give you a whole different perspective. Let's go over the different categories that song is judged on and I will also give you some insights on how a judge may view these.
Performance/freedom: The bird needs to sings 10 times to get his maximum 10 points for freedom. Point qualification can vary from judge to judge. Some accept a note or two sung, others require at a short song as a minimum for one freedom point. Performance usually means if the bird is relaxed and sings freely with no distractions and stays on the top perches to sing. Negatives are not singing, hiding behind a cup, staying on the bottom, eating and drinking excessively, preening themselves too much, and being jumpy. The ideal bird sings constantly on the top perches and faces the Judge and just wants to out do his fellow birds. He just wants to show off!
Volume: Some Judges will penalize the bird quite severely so it has no chance of placing if a bird's volume is too low or too high. So what is too low or too high? Well it's really unknown. As mentioned before, a loud bird may sound perfect in a large room, a bird that is too soft may sound just right in a small room will hard walls to bounce the sound. It also depends on the Judge's personal preference. Your best bet is to have a variety of birds with different volumes entered. On a side note this is a benefit to your breeding program to have soft to loud birds so you have birds to correct your volume if required.
Tone: There are "Tone" judges where this is the number one priority with them. Their view is that if the bird doesn't have good tone the song will not be outstanding. From my experience, this is the toughest trait to develop and maintain. I think these judges know this and value it. I have a hard time defining this so I rely on the musical definition of tone. Tone - A note; the basis of music. Tonality - The term used to describe the organization of the melodic and harmonic elements to give a feeling of a key center or a tonic pitch. I think "Tonality" is closer to what describes what tone means in AS terms. I think the easiest way to understand a good tone bird, is to listen to a bird that is med. to high volume. The tone quality is easier to identify this way. Usually the bird's song should be "on key" and not sound "off key" or sour in his song. Along with this the bird must have a fullness to the sound, but not mushy. A bird with good tone has notes that are easy to hear and you are not trying to decide where the bird is trying to go. A bird's tone can also be too thin. Thin is where the bird hits the notes but that's it. It is like you pluck on a very tight guitar string and it goes "pink!", the string doesn't vibrate after its plucked, it just gives you that note. As you know in string instruments, the complete sound depends on the string continuing to vibrate and how the housing it is attached to reverberates the sound to give its "fullness and richness". This analogous to the birds vocal cords and its cavity (made of the chest cavity, throat, and nasal cavity) that it's sound reverberates in. This is how the physical structure of your bird can affect its song.
Variety: This one is tough to pin down on what a Judge wants. This is highly subjective. There are several ways I can explain variety. Variety can be based on how many different tours or phrases can be sung by a bird. For some judges it also depends how the variety of tours are put together. Does it make logical sense how one tour or phrase follows another? Can the bird put all tours or phrases together in the right combination where it makes a pleasant and an enjoyable song? Sometimes too many sounds can make the song confusing. Other Judges don't care, so the more tours the better no matter how it's put together. Variety can also appear with in a single tour. For example, within a roll tour it can be varied by changing it's beat and have a range of different notes, but some judges will not see this any different that a bird that sings a roll with one constant note and beat. Also if a judge doesn't like a certain tour or phrase a bird sings in his song, he can be severely penalized and not be placed in the final standings. Other judges see it as one fault and may only minus a point or two. Sometimes some of the faults I see in my own birds are not perceived as faults to the judges. This is why it is smart not to throw out a bird in your breeding program if it has a fault in his song. Especially if the rest of his song is exceptional. You can maybe eliminate that fault in your breeding program and produce a great bird! Other associated faults with variety are Holding where the bird holds on to a note or a phrase too long so it becomes irritating to the Judge, Repeating where a bird repeats the phrase often, and Cutting-Off where a bird suddenly stops the song before it should end in the opinion of the Judge. Lack of variety may also cause a fault of a song that is too short by the opinion of the Judge.
Range: This is the ability of the bird to sing high to low notes. The wider the margin the better. Low ranges seems to be the hardest to obtain and most pleasant to listen to so many Judges seemed to favor the bird that can go into the low range, but also can sing up to med. to med.-high notes too. Of course the bird that can sing very high to very low would be ideal but this is hard to breed for and doesn't appear often. One common fault that can occur in the low range is a muddy sound. If you breed birds for the low range watch out for this.
I hope that this information can give you better insight at the shows. Be your own judge to decide if your birds are good and be open to appreciate the attributes of your fellow breeder's American Singers. Good luck at the shows and if you don't win, well there is always next year with a new set of young birds and Judges!
Return to PAS Articles Index