The song of a great American Singer canary cannot be rivaled; free-flowing, interesting, and pleasing to the ear, the song is a welcome addition to any household. What makes an American Singer song unique is its very uniqueness- unlike the song of other canaries bred for singing ability, the American Singer has no song standard. It is not required to sing particular tours in the twenty minute judging period- only to sing fully, freely and with good variety, tone, showmanship, and overall quality.
Many fanciers of other breeds of song canaries have the incorrect perception that American Singer judging is based purely on a judge’s personal preference due to lack of an official song standard. While it is true that certain judges have a particular sound or quality they prefer, a great bird will place under many different judges. This is illustrated by results from the annual Quad shows in California, where the same birds will turn up again and again in the top six places under different judges.
Something that critics fail to take into account is that the American Singer canary is a reflection of the country of its origin- democratic, egalitarian, continuously evolving, and valuing freedom and personal achievement over bloodlines and rigid conformity to a particular system. The thing which many criticize the breed for is the same one which attracts so many fanciers that the breed is capable of supporting more than thirty American Singer sections a year across the U.S. - far more than any other song breed. It is possible for a novice with a basic understanding of song to begin winning at shows with American Singers without the lengthy study of notes, tours, score sheets, and pedigrees required to master the breeding of rollers, waterslagers, and timbrados. As with all subjects however, study improves performance. For this reason a discussion of American Singer judging would be of assistance to the novice as well as to those seeking a greater understanding of song judging.
The American Singer is judged on a 100-point scoring system, which breaks down this way: Song, a total of 70 points may be earned- 10 points for Freedom (one point for each complete song), 60 points for Rendition; Conformation, a total of 20 points; and Condition, a total of 10 points.
The judging period is 20 minutes long and is subdivided into two 10 minute segments- the first is called the freedom period and the second the rendition period. During the freedom period birds are awarded one point for each complete song they sing- cheeps, trills, and call notes are not counted- to a maximum of 10 points. According to the American Singer constitution, birds which do not sing during this period can receive points for freedom if they sing during the second 10 minute rendition period but common practice among judges is to not award freedom points for singing during the rendition portion as a bird which does not sing early fails to meet the basic qualification of being a free singer. The second 10 minute portion of the judging period is called the rendition period. It is during this period that the song itself is evaluated. (Although in reality song evaluation begins as soon as a bird begins to sing on the bench.) Evaluation of the song includes issues such as tone, volume, variety, and range. Shrillness, harshness, excessive chopping (defined as more than six chops sung in a row; some chopping is expected due to the American Singer’s Border ancestry), and other faults cause deductions to be made to the rendition score. Freedom plays an essential role in the rendition period as a bird who does not sing often cannot be fully evaluated.
Conformation, which accounts for a maximum of 20 points, refers to how well the bird conforms to the physical model. Points are lost under conformation for crossed wings, skinny bodies, flat heads, missing toes, fish tails, size, plumage, and similar issues. In practice, faults such as missing body parts are sometimes deducted under condition but in these cases the bird is really failing to conform to the breed standard- which includes two eyes, eight toes, etc. One point is deducted for each fault. Color is irrelevant and is not considered under conformation.
Condition accounts for a maximum of 10 points and considers issues such as apparent health, vigor, cleanliness of both bird and cage, and conformity of cage setup to standard. Points are deducted for dirty plumage; long toenails, missing bottom perches, incorrectly sized or misplaced perches, etc.
As outlined in the ASC Constitution, ties are broken by conformation and condition scores.
The rendition score is the judge’s overall evaluation of the song. This score can be a cause for both confusion on the part of novices and a source of contention for experienced exhibitors. One thing that every exhibitor should be aware of is that birds sound very differently from the position of the judge’s table. Having sat there myself as I begin preparation to become qualified for my judging card, I can attest to the fact that a few feet of distance between the birds and the listeners can make a world of difference in what is heard.
Rendition can be defined simply as a musical performance. Judgment of musical performance is inherently subjective but judges- as do all good music critics- have certain values in mind when critiquing song. These include, but are not limited to: volume, tone, range, variety, melodiousness, and showmanship.
An American Singer should be neither too loud nor too soft. This is quite obviously very subjective (and highly sensitive to variables such as the acoustics of the judging room, the relative volume of other birds in a class, etc.). In broad terms, a bird which overpowers all the other birds in the room is too loud and one which cannot make himself heard is too soft.
Tone is defined as music or sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength. To those who prefer a simple explanation- such as myself- this refers to the bird’s ability to sing on key with a beautiful, strong, rich fullness to the song. A bird without good tone can sing the best song ever produced by a canary, but it just doesn’t sound good.
Range refers to the lowest and highest pitches a bird can sing. Rollers sing in the low range while borders tend to sing in the high range. An American Singer should be able to sing both low and high notes.
Variety in simplest terms refers to the collection of distinct notes, tours, or song passages the bird sings. A bird which repeats the same limited number of notes and passages over and over again lacks variety. The term variety could also be used to more broadly describe the way in which a bird mixes the notes and tours- singing notes one way and then another and changing the order of passages and tours.
Melodiousness refers to the pleasing, harmonic way the bird puts his song together. The song should flow from one passage to another in a pleasant, coherent stream of sound rather than bounce from one sound to the next with little connection.
Showmanship is a vital part of the American Singer’s performance. Often the major difference between a Grand Champion and a good singer is that the Grand Champion puts on a show- he is proud of his song and wants to be heard. He will not stand on the bottom perch, hide behind a water or seed cup, stand on the floor of the show cage- he perches confidently on a top perch, looks the judge in the eye, and sings. The judge cannot help but notice a bird who is a good showman.
Good judges will include notes about both positive and negative aspects of the bird’s song to assist the exhibitor in developing a clear understanding of the bird’s strengths and weaknesses. Judges, like music critics, have personal preferences- some prefer louder or softer volume, longer songs, wider range, or place heavy emphasis on tone but every judge notices quality song. Knowing the sound of the birds the judge breeds him or herself does not guarantee that an exhibitor will be able to predict with any certainty what the judge will choose. The one guaranteed thing that will grab any judge’s attention is a truly exceptional song