Musical Musings

Sharing musical thoughts and ideas.

The Music Events that make the grade

Monday, November 30, 2020 by Paula Augustine | Parent Ideas

Spring is the time for music festivals, competition, exams, auditions, and masterclasses!

           We will be registering for the various opportunities available to your young musician after the holidays. It can be quite confusing to understand what all these opportunities mean and what would be good for your child. You probably didn't know there was so many options. Additionally, students can participate in more than one category and they may play a solo as well as a duet or an ensemble.    

           These types of local events can be very good for your child's musical growth. It may seem scary to prepare music to an excellent level and then go and play in front of one or more "judges" to get a score or a grade or a prize. But the experience goes beyond the day of the event and the life skills learned are invaluable. First, the student decides or makes this event a goal, the selections are made and the paperwork filled out. Next comes the long preparation time leading up to the day. The big goal of the event is broken down into weekly work. During this time the student has to show up and put in the hard work each week. Finally, the day of the event, the student shows up and learns how to be their best even under pressure. At the end the student has completed the goal and the day is done. The score or prize is not the main feature. These are nice, but the challenge of working hard and showing up is the big lesson.    

           What goes into getting to one of these events? Usually your teacher will need to be a member of the association. Your teacher will have the information to sign their students for the event. There is generally a fee to register. Many times when the student registers they must also register the pieces they will be performing and may have to give other information, such as how long the pieces are or the composer and musical time period of the piece. Most events run over one or two days and students are given their specific adjudication time about 1-2 weeks prior to the day. The day of the student arrives early and gets whatever information is needed and plays for the judge at their specified time.    

           Each type of event is a little different, so here is the basic general idea of each type of event.

Music Festival or Adjudications:

           Music Festivals are for any music student at any level. Generally the student is graded on a scale from fair to superior. The student is graded on their time on that day. They are not judged against other students, but only graded on how they completed preparing the pieces they played. Generally, the adjudicator gives written comments. The comments are helpful tips and also praises about how the student performed. Sometimes the organization is a part of a national group and the students' scores are recorded at the national level.    

           In our area I have had students participate in NFMC (National Federation of Music Clubs) and AMTA (Appalachian Music Teachers Association). Both of these associations hold adjudications in the spring of each year. They have generally been held at the ETSU campus. The school system also has a solo/ensemble day many instrumental and vocal students can participate.    

Music Competition:

Competitions come with a little more pressure, generally scores are not given and only top prizes. Competitions can be very similar to adjudications or very different. Some competitions are closed and it is just the student and the judge. Many times competitions are open and the public can sit in and listen. Since prizes are usually given, multiple judges may be used to keep the judging more fair. Students who are competitive and who work hard and excel are good candidates for competitions.

In our area there is a yearly music competition with the Bristol Music Club. ETSU also has a piano competition every other year. Students who receive a Superior rating with the local AMTA adjudications are invited to move on to the state level with TMTA. This state level is a competition unlike the local level.

Music Exams:

Testing and exams happen in the music world, just like school. Exams follow a curriculum and students are assessed at specific levels. The curriculum and assessments are designed to provide a standard of music education and a way to track and measure progress. An assessment is more in depth for the student. Students are expected to not only prepare pieces, but also show their knowledge of scales and chords, sight reading, theory, and aural skills to show their musicality. Organizations that offer exams can be a guild or a school of music. The levels of some organizations are recognized worldwide.

There are many exam organizations. It is helpful to choose one organization and stick with it so your student follows their specific curriculum. The Royal Conservatory of Music testing centers are available a few times a year in our area. This organization is out of Canada. The American College of Musicians has a piano guild exam board here in America. The ABRSM is an exam board for the Royal Schools of Music based out of the UK. I have been associated with the Royal Conservatory of Music since they offered local exams.

Music Auditions:

           Auditions are generally a test to be placed in a specific program. Auditions might be as simply as playing one selection or as complex to include scales, sight reading, and more.

Band and choir students are very familiar with auditions and each year are placed in an order in their music group at school after playing an audition. Many summer camp experiences will have an audition Any student wanting to enter in music at the college level will need to prepare an audition. Students will also 


Masterclasses are a pure learning opportunity from a master teacher. Generally, these are similar to a lesson where an audience listens to the teaching. Students registered to play will prepare one selection and the teacher will teach in front of all in attendance. Students can attend as a performer or simply come to

Many colleges will have open masterclasses in conjunction with a professional musician coming into an area.