Throughout the teaching year, there are many student opportunities that I encourage my students to participate in – recitals, music festivals, state-run assessments such as Certificate of Merit in California, RCM Music Development Program, National Piano Guild auditions, competitions, etc. I believe that through performing in recitals and playing in front of judges, students experience growth in many ways. I know that many music teachers share this same belief. The following paragraph may sound familiar to you:
“You have learned the discipline and concentration necessary to achieve goals. You have learned how to focus and share your talent with adjudicators. You have learned to accept both praise as well as constructive criticism with poise. In essence, you have learned qualities that will be part of your character your entire life.”
The above quote is taken from the back of the Pupil’s Report Card for the National Piano Guild Auditions. It is so well worded, that I make a point of reading it to my students after their audition. For the last several years, the National Piano Guild Auditions has been the main program in my studio, and about 50% of all my students participate yearly. Those that do not participate are usually the ones that have done it for many years and are now studying for other programs such as the RCM assessments.
So what is it about the Guild Auditions that I like so much? If you are one who does not believe in any type of assessments whatsoever, I hope to convince you that this one is worth doing. Here are some unique qualities about the Guild Auditions that may be different from other types of assessments out there:
1. Everyone can participate.
The Guild Auditions have so many different levels, that there is definitely one that is right for your student. The levels go from Elementary A through F, then Intermediate A through F, then Preparatory A through D, then High School Diploma, and there are advanced levels for Collegiate and beyond (Young Artist Diploma). So, Elementary A is the easiest level, and students do not even have to be able to read music notation to participate! In addition, there are separate categories to recognize special disciplines – Jazz/Pop, Duet/Duo/Trio/Quartet, Social Music (Hymns, Patriotic Songs, Folk Songs, Popular Songs), Bach Plaque, Sonatina Plaque, and Composition. There are plenty goals for the classically trained students as well as those that want to study other genres.
2. The syllabus is very flexible.
Unlike many other assessments out there, which of course have their merits, the Guild Auditions do not have a set list of pieces that students must choose from – the teacher is responsible for selecting the repertoire for each student. For the Elementary levels, students can even use Method book pieces. There are a few rules but they are very reasonable, for example, students that are at Intermediate levels and beyond must balance their program by choosing at least one piece in each of the four main stylistic periods, and those that study for advanced diplomas must have their programs pre-approved.
3. The teacher and student decide how many pieces they want to play.
Students can play anywhere from 1-20 pieces. The standard audition requires everything to be memorized, but there is also a category called Hobbyist where memorization is not required. So, even if a student has tremendous difficulty in memorization, they can still participate and receive a certificate and adjudicator feedback just like everyone else. Students who enter the audition playing only one piece receive a “Pledge” certificate, if they play 2-3 pieces, they get a “Local” certificate, then District (4-6 pieces), State (7-9 pieces), National (10-14 pieces), and International (15-20 pieces). Therefore, the audition can be as easy or as difficult as the teacher feels a particular student is ready for.
4. Mandatory as well as optional musicianship skills.
Beyond Elementary A, students must be able to play the scales and cadences associated with their chosen repertoire (so if their piece is in C major, they must demonstrate to the judge how to play a C major scale followed by cadence). The length and speed of the scales and the complexities of the cadences increase as the levels go higher. These are called the IMMT – Irreducible Minimum Musicianship Test – everyone must do it, unless they are only Elementary A level. This ensures that students have the “bare minimum” technical skills. Other than that, teachers and students can choose whether or not they want to do Sight Reading, Ear Training, Improvisation, or more techniques such as Arpeggios, Chords, and even Transposition. The Diploma levels have more strict Musicianship requirements, but for the average student, the program really can be tailored to showcase their strengths, so if a student is just terrible at Sight Reading, they can choose to not do that until they become better at it next year. I am not saying Sight Reading is not important, of course it is, but the syllabus allows beginners and intermediate students flexibility in designing an audition program that celebrates their strengths. As the students progress through the levels, of course teachers should gradually increase more musicianship skills as part of the audition program, and those that do choose to do these extra things get rewarded by getting extra “Commendation” checks on the report card under “Added Phases.”
In my next blog, I will suggest teaching materials that are suitable for use with the Guild Auditions. If you are a seasoned teacher that also uses the Guild Auditions, I would love to hear your experiences and how you use the Guild syllabus in your music studio. If you are a Guild judge, thank you for all your time and work. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below. Thank you for reading!
Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National Association and American College of Musicians/National Guild of Piano Teachers. She has also been certified as Advanced Specialist in both Theory and Piano from RCM. Yiyi has maintained a busy private studio for many years, and enjoys teaching students of all ages and levels.
Dear Yiyi, thank you for sharing this information. I guess it took the change from MTH -> Duet for me to notice the article, based on the publication date. Please let me know if you have a suggestion to understand the intricacies of the program better (or I could look on the website). I’m also a longtime fan of Certificate of Merit, Jr. Music Club festivals, and local competitions / programs through our professional organizations, but would appreciate this alternative. However… it comes across as rocket science in planning / prep. Any suggestions?