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How to Get a High NYSSMA Score (For Pianists)

By: Sara Chatalbash

Owner | Teacher

Each year many of my students are interested in doing NYSSMA. I wanted to pull back the curtain and let you in of a few tips that I use to help my students.

These are piano tips but can apply to all NYSSMA testing, as well as college auditions.

1. The Sooner You Can Start, The Better

6 months in advance is ideal, but most school teachers do it 3 months or so in advance. Here in Massapequa, testing is usually in March/April, and I start discussing it with students in September.

Students are usually given their sign up sheets in the end of January or the beginning of February.

Select your solo piece as soon as possible. I highly recommend finding a piano teacher to help you with this.

Pick a song that is challenging to you, as the whole point to NYSSMA is to improve your skills. Many students go for something they know, or something they think is easy. This is fine, but if you are investing time and money, why not get the most you can out of it?

Try to find recorded versions of the song, professionally recorded if possible. Listen to the song over and over and OVER until you know it cold.

You know the song when you actually go through the whole song in your head without having to play it. Ingraining the song will insure your success.

Click Below to Learn More About Lessons Here and See If This is the Piano Studio for You

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Kids & Teen Lessons

Build their self-esteem. Playing the piano is meant to be fun and engaging, not stale and boring. 

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Adult Lessons

It’s never too late to start playing the piano. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can play music.

2. Purchase the Sheet Music Immediately

Make sure it is the correct version, from the correct book.

Your teacher will let you know what publisher is on the preferred listed in the NYSSMA manual. You need to have 2 purchased copies of the music. One is for you, and the other is for the judge.

If you purchase sheet music downloads, print your receipt. Also, if you have a songbook with several songs in it, tag or bookmark the page of your music for both pieces of music before you perform so you will both be able to go right to the page on performance day.

Put them in a safe place, and leave them there until the night before your performance.

3. Sight Read a Ton of Music

Practice sight reading every day for at least 15-20 minutes. Sight read your solo piece as you listen and practice to it.

Purchase a sight reading book (Alfred has a good one). Click here to see examples of what NYSSMA sight reading sheets.

Also, bear in mind the sight reading tempo in the NYSSMA manual. Practice with a metronome set to the tempo specified for your level.

I use this one online, http://a.bestmetronome.com/. There are also many apps available for phones and tablets.

4. Practice Your Solo Piece at Least 5 Times a Day, Monday Through Friday

It will get better each time. Just go through it front to back. By the time you do your solo, you will be completely comfortable with the piece.

Also, read the sheet music the first three rounds, and don’t look at it last two times. This is a great way to monitor your progress.

By the time you are in the room on festival day, you shouldn’t really need the music at all. Finally, make sure you understand what your piece is about. What is the story the song is telling?

Then, put that emotion into the song. The difference between a mediocre performance and a great one is the amount of emotion put behind the piece. EMOTE!

6. Practice Your Scales

There are specific requirements for each level so make sure you know them. Give yourself 2 scales per week to really master backwards and forwards.

Challenge yourself and play them in contrary motion and in parallel. These should be done as a warmup every single day before you practice your solo.

Make sure they are also at the specified tempo that is required for your level.

7. Record Yourself on Video and Audio

Make it a performance. Be expressive. I have had several students actually receive applause based on this advice.

Practicing in front of a camera is very revealing. Yes, I know….it’s uncomfortable and I hate it too, but that’s how you really look when you perform.

I also recommend recording yourself, and walking away for a few minutes and coming back and watching.

Or record yourself at the end of your practice session, wait until the next day before your practice session to view and make corrections.

Below I have a student of mine playing their level 6 NYSSMA piece. I have also added his NYSSMA score sheet below he scored 99 out of 100.

8. Get an Audience

Perform for your friends, your parents, your pets. Ask for constructive feedback. Feedback is one of the best ways to get better.

9. Dress Nice

Dress as you would for a school concert. White shirt and black or dark pants is the best option.

Young ladies, if you choose to wear a skirt, make sure it is below the knee. Simple black shoes for both young men and ladies.

Avoid sneakers. New stockings for ladies, matching socks for everybody. Have your hair neat and off your face.

No jewelry that will get in the way of your playing.

10. Be Prepared

The day of the NYSSMA Festival. show up an HOUR early. It will take some time to find a space, get your stuff, get in the building, sign in, find your classroom, then warm up.

Make sure you know exactly where you have to go for your presentation.

Be at your room at least 5 minutes early. Have all the stuff out of the envelope in your hand.

On top-Your permit, second, the adjudicator’s music, marked, then your music marked. Using a paperclip on the first page and a tag is very helpful.

Make sure your music is cued and ready to go. All you have to do is press play.

When You Are in the Room With the Judge

  • Take a huge breath and center yourself. Just relax.
  • Say hello to the judge, smile, and hand them the permit and your music.
  • If you can choose whether to do sight reading or performance first, I would choose the sight reading first to get it out of the way.
  • Remember, you have a FULL MINUTE to review your line of sight reading before you perform it. Take your time. Go through it in your head. Skip over the parts that look fairly easy and go right to the parts that are more difficult.
  • When you do your piece, make sure your music is cued. When you perform, go for it. Hold nothing back. Expect the judge to be writing things down, even after your piece is over.
  • Finally, HAVE FUN and RELAX. So many of my students worry about their score. Focus on just doing the best you can.

Focus on putting on a performance that the judge will enjoy. I can say from experience, when I focus on doing the best I can do, and giving it my best effort, all the other good things go along with it.

In Your NYSSMA Bag

1. Water-room temperature, not cold. You don’t want your hands to be rigid from holding it
2. Your envelope with both sheet musics-marked with paper clips or tags.
3. Tissues
4. Hair Brush

So to Recap Here’s How to Get a High NYSSMA Score

  • Start practicing early
  • Purchase your sheet immediately
  • Sight read a ton of music
  • Practice your solo piece at least 5 times a day
  • Practice your scales
  • Record yourself on video and audio
  • Get an audience
  • Dress nice
  • Be prepared

What Next? Select Below to Learn More About Lessons and Discover if This Is the Studio for You

female child in red shirt

Kids & Teen Lessons

Build their self-esteem. Playing the piano is meant to be fun and engaging, not stale and boring. 

adult piano student in red shirt

Adult Lessons

It’s never too late to start playing the piano. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can play music.

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