What the judges want to "hear" when they listen to your dressage horse's musical freestyle!

When the judges are listening to your music, what are they listening for?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do the judges evaluate my music?”

I’m going to go over the guidelines that are given to the judges so you can be on the same page as they are. In last month’s newsletter, I did an audio clip on what the judges are looking for. But so many of you have asked me to put it in print so here it is.

There are four categories that the judges must consider when listening to and watching your dessage freestyle. They are:

1. Suitability

2. Cohesiveness

3. Editing

4. Phrasing and dynamics

Let’s go over them one by one.

1. Suitability- The actual definition in the USDF rulebook says, “The music matches and expresses the horse and the gaits.”

What does this mean? “Matching the gaits” means that the music tempo or beats per minute (BPM) is the same as your horse’s down beat in the foot fall pattern of the walk, trot, and canter. (For the upper levels, it must also match piaffe and passage.)

The downbeat of the measure (the one you tap your toe to) should match the down beat of your horse’s gait. For example, in the canter the main down beat of the right lead would be the third beat, when the right front hits the ground. If the judge can tap his toe to the music and it matches when the right front foot is hitting the ground in the right lead, then the tempo matches your horse’s gait.

Matching your horse’s “expression” can be a bit more subjective although it’s very obvious when it does NOT match. If you’re riding a big springy warmblood, then cute circus music is not appropriate. On the flip side, a smaller, more average mover would look even more average if he had a large piece of music. Large music may draw wrong expectations from the judges because of the depth of the music. Bigger music is not always better.

2. Cohesiveness is defined in the rulebook as, “Music that is linked by genre, theme or orchestration.” This means that the judges should easily be able to hear the connection between the pieces of music.

The music should sound as if it were one piece for all the selected gaits. The link could be music of the same genre, like jazz or rock and roll, or the same instrument could be featured throughout the piece.

The link could also be music from TV shows, or a movie series. In any case, the connection of the music should be obvious to more than just you. You may think that the connection is apparent, but ask a few friends if they “get it” before you finalize your selection of music.

3. Editing is defined as “Music that has a smooth flow; there are no abrasive cuts, transition or fades.” If you can hear a cut or clip in a piece of music, it’s not a good edit.

Remember that music has phrases. You should never cut or edit a piece of music in the middle of a phrase. It would be like leaving off the end of a sentence. You’d leave the judges hanging.

Imperceptible edits are seamless. Elements that play an important role in a good edit are pitch, key, and where the beats are in the measure.

4. Phrasing and dynamics-Phrasing is defined as “The way sequences of notes are grouped together to form units of melody; the expression of musical sentences.”

This means that a line of notes or measures are grouped together with a clear beginning and end, like a sentence. You should almost feel like taking a breath at the end of a musical phrase much like you would at the end of a sentence.

Dynamics are the variations of the intensity of sound such as the changes in volume and intensity that would help define a change in a movement. For example, going from working trot to a lengthening, or a collected trot to half pass would be more enhanced with a clear, dynamic musical change.

The judges don’t want to guess when your lengthening was supposed to start. They want to hear a clear change in the music, volume, or intensity.

Hope this helps get you on the same “page” as the judges! Ruth

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Comment by Elizabeth Gormley on November 19, 2009 at 4:19pm
This is informative and well written. I think the more musical knowlege a rider has the better they will do in their freestyle. As a jumper owner that is making a freestyle for my boy ( we want something artistic to come from our flat work) this blog post you have made is super helpful!
Comment by Ruth Hogan Poulsen on November 16, 2009 at 10:08pm
you are so welcome. ruth
Comment by Michelle Miller on November 16, 2009 at 3:40pm
Ohmigosh that helped me so much, thank you!!

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