SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: The judges must understand what the band is attempting to achieve, and then credit the quality of that achievement. Many people think that the judges' job is to find mistakes. That is not the case. The judges are there to credit achievement, not to search for individual momentary errors (although a lot of momentary errors can affect the score). Remember - judges credit (and numerically rank) levels of achievement - that is the key to understanding adjudication. And this takes us to the concept of 'Content.'
On the music side, in competitive music evaluation, if a band plays very simple music with lots of unison parts well (like a very fine middle school band might choose to play at a concert), chances are that it does not achieve to the same degree as a band that plays more complex music well (like a very fine high school or college band). The style is not important - it does not matter if the band has chosen rock, jazz, classical, or any style music - it does matter that the musical arrangement has the 'Content' necessary to display the musical style and in turn that the band plays their music very well. A part of the challenge is how well the band adjusts to playing on a football field - are they able to adjust their volumes for good balance, and are they able to play together with precision, good breath support and intonation despite the physical challenges of marching a demanding drill at the same time? And does it all fit together in an appropriate and interesting manner, communicating the musical concepts to the audience?
On the visual side, the casual visitor in the audience might see straight lines and watch flags that seem to move together most of the time, and think that alone will make the band score well. If the lines and rows are straight, but the performers have bad posture and march with all different kinds of styles, and the flags simply do the same thing over and over, they are not achieving the same level of visual excellence as a band whose lines are straight, but have great posture and march, move, and even dance with identical styles, and where the people moving flags use different, perhaps challenging appropriate moves to express elements of the music, and their scores will reflect this.
The support caption of 'Color Guard' is evaluated two ways. First of all, it is evaluated on a 'stand alone' basis at prelims by a judge whose score does not enter into the total band score. The Color Guards are, in a way, competing at prelims for their own 'Best In Class' award independently of the band itself. In addition, the Color Guard can add visual interest to the band's presentation, enhancing their total show. A band is not required to have a Color Guard, and it is possible for a band to qualify for semi-finals and even for finals without a color guard. (For example, one band in FMBC 2010 Finals did not even have a color guard!). However if the band does not have a color guard, their visual presentation of the instrumental members of the band then has to 'stand on its own' and the band must be able to present and communicate the visual side of their program without the help of a color guard unit.
The support caption of 'Percussion' is evaluated in a manner similar to the Color Guard Caption. First of all, it is evaluated on a 'stand alone' basis at prelims by a judge whose score does not enter into the total band score. The Percussion Units, including Marching Percussion and stationary percussion are, in a way, also competing at prelims for their own 'Best In Class' award independently of the band itself. A band is not required to have a marching percussion section, and it is possible for a band to qualify for semi-finals and for finals without a moving percussion section. Many bands - especially smaller bands - choose to 'ground' their percussion sections in one or two areas of the field (often called the 'pit' no matter where the grounded percussion are located) rather than to have the percussion section moving around the field. Of course, if the percussion section or a portion of the percussion section is moving, the judges are asked to credit the increased difficulty of moving while playing.
When a band qualifies for FMBC Finals, the scores from their prelimins performance are discarded, and they start 'from scratch' with a clean sheet of paper, and except for 4A bands, they are performing in a very different venue. The scores of these five finalist bands in each size class are usually very close, and very slight differences in performance from Semi-Finals to Finals can affect the order of finish. Because of this, a band that finishes 5th in its class in Semi-Finals can in fact finish first in its class in Finals. The performers are often able to tell you as they leave the field that they had a 'good run' or that things did or did not 'click' for them at a specific performance. But it is important to remember that although they can control their own performance, so can the other bands that they are competing against, and although they have 'notched up' their Finals performance, their competitors may well have done the same thing!
Bands do a blind draw to determine their order of performance at Finals. Since the Finals Judges are for the most part different judges than those who evaluated the band at Semi-Finals, and the Finals judges do not know the scores or order-of-finish at Semi-Finals, it is very possible for the band in fifth place entering Finals to notch up their performance and be the Class Champion at the end of the day.
And finally, always keep in mind that the judges are there to reward achievement, not to take points away because of individual errors. No judge is overly concerned with an error by a single performer, even if the error is musically or visually large - for example, the student who may slip and fall on the field will not affect the score nearly as much as the student who never trips and falls, but marches out-of-step or with bad posture for an extended time during the show. So when you are watching bands perform at FMBC events, look for and listen to those elements, and you may know the order of finish, even before the scores are announced! But above all reward these students with your applause, and then sit back and enjoy the show.