Everything You Need To Know About NYSSMA

NYSSMA is back in person this year! Here is everything you need to know to have a fun and successful festival experience.

If you haven’t already, you and your teacher will decide whether or not you should participate in the NYSSMA festival. NYSSMA is an optional statewide music festival, in which students will be judged on their performance. For those who have never done NYSSMA before, the process and adjudication can seem intimidating. We have compiled a list of answers to the most commonly asked NYSSMA questions, as well as tips and tricks to help you succeed. Watch our video to find out everything you need to know about NYSSMA:

Below are some of the questions we have answered in the video:

1. Who can participate in the festival?
NYSSMA is both for soloists and ensembles. Almost all instruments are included in the NYSSMA festival. Typically, NYSSMA papers are given out from your public school teacher. If you are playing an instrument outside of school, you will need to approach a music teacher and let them know that you want to participate.
2. How is NYSSMA graded?
NYSSMA levels are a way of telling where you are as an instrumentalist or vocalist. NYSSMA levels are 1-6. Levels 1-4 are graded out of 28, and levels 5 and 6 are graded out of 100. The adjudicator (who is usually a retired or current music educator) will award or take away points for criteria such as tone quality, dynamics, expression, articulation, note accuracy, rhythm, the performance itself (i.e. While you are singing, are you conveying the meaning of the piece correctly?), sight reading, scale playing, and many other things. It’s best to consult your teacher for a specific guideline of your instrument and level.
3. What are the NYSSMA requirements?
Each student is required to select a solo piece to perform, located in the NYSSMA manual. In addition, there is sight reading and, depending on the instrument, scales to perform. Each level has it’s own difficulties as they increase, so make sure to discuss with your teacher exactly what you’ll need to know.
5. How can I participate in All-County and/or All-State?
For levels 1 through 6, if you do very well, you may be nominated to participate in All-County. This is where they select the best students from each adjudication, and combine them into an ensemble. The techniques learned and experience gained from this is invaluable. Level 6 soloists may be able to participate in All-State, which is state-wide. Furthermore, level 6 All-State students may be selected for All-Eastern or even a National ensemble. These are great goals to strive for!
6. How can I prepare for NYSSMA?
The first thing you can do to prepare is START EARLY! Too many students start too late, not allowing enough time to prepare accordingly. It is a good idea to have your scales perfected and memorized early. Stay on track with your piece and work closely with your teacher to develop your piece in a fluent manner. Allow yourself plenty of time to practice sight reading. The more you do it, the better you’ll get! You can pick up any piece, and read through it slowly as you play. This is a fun way to prepare, while also learning something new in the process! You may also want to practice in front of people. This will help keep your nerves down on the day of to eliminate the possibility of nerve related mistakes. You can also practice in front of a mirror. The mirror will allow you to check your posture, facial expression and body language. You always want to mirror the mood of the piece you are performing. You wouldn’t want to seem angry when you’re singing a happy song! Get your sheet music and accompanist early! Don’t wait until the last minute to get these details finalized. You wouldn’t want to stress if the books are out of stock, or there are the inevitable shipping delays. Accompanists are hard to book around NYSSMA time, so might as well book them early and have the ease of mind!
7. Tips for NYSSMA Day:
Arrive early! Many times you’re going to a new place, so make sure to allow time for getting lost and figuring out where to go. Arriving on time is an important part of the process. You’ll also want to dress nicely! This helps in making you feel good about yourself, while simultaneously showing respect for the judges and the music. Lastly, have fun! This is meant to be a fun and happy experience. Remember, nothing bad will happen if you don’t perform at your very best so don’t put too much pressure on yourself!

Additionally, make sure you are following NYSSMA’s copyright rules when it comes to sheet music! Use of illegally copied music is prohibited at all NYSSMA events. Unless you perform your solo from memory, you must purchase 2 legal copies to use at the festival (one for you and one for the judge). If you are using an accompanist, they must also have a legal copy of the music. So for example, if you are singing from memory you still need 2 legal copies: one for the accompanist and one for the jugde. With that being said, you are allowed to use pre-recorded accompaniment at the festival. You just need to provide your own playback equipment. If you are using a phone or tablet to play the track, make sure you have an external speaker so that the track can be heard well (phone speakers are usually not loud enough).

We hope that these tips have helped you prepare for NYSSMA. Good Luck!


  • What is the conversion chart for scores of a level five solo to a level six solo? (i.e. 100 level 5= ? level 6)

    • Hi Colin! Level 5 & 6 are both graded out of 100 points. Level 5 & 6 are different difficulty levels, so there isn’t really a conversion chart between the two levels.
      For both levels 5 & 6: Any score of 97 – 100 is an “A+”.

      Hope this helped! Let us know if you have any other questions!

    • For a level 4, do you need to play all 12 scales or is it just 7?

      • Hello Colin!
        Depending on the instrument you are playing, the requirements do change. What instrument are you performing at NYSSMA on?

        Brass level 4 requires 7 scales (all in one octave)
        Woodwinds level 4 requires 7 scales (all in one octave)
        Violin/Viola level 4 requires 7 scales (2 in two octaves & 5 in one octave)
        Cello/ Bass level 4 requires 7 scales (1 in two octaves & 6 in one octave)
        Piano level 4 requires 7 scales (all in three octaves, duplet or triplet 8th notes)

  • Hello, does a solo piece have to be memorized for level 5 or 6? Thank you.

    • Hi Malgosia!

      The solos do not need to be memorized. However, for vocal NYSSMA we do suggest that the students memorize the music if they can (no matter what level it is).

      Hope this helps! Good luck on NYSSMA!

    • Hello!

      The number of movements you are required to play depends on which specific piece & level you are playing. This information can be found in the NYSSMA manual. If you give me the level and name of the piece, I can look it up for you!

    • Hi L!

      The best way to determine the level of your student is to see which criteria they can meet successfully within the different levels. This will include scales, sight reading, and their solo piece. For example, a level 1 piano student is required to prepare 7 1-octave major scales but a level 2 piano student must prepare 7 2-octave major scales. There are also different sight reading criteria for each level and instrument such as rhythm, intervals, key signatures, range and more. After you’ve decided which level best fits their scales and sight reading skills, then look at the solo pieces listed for that level and pick the best one for your student. Hope this helps and please let me know if you have any other questions!

    • Hi Jake!

      Depending on the level you are doing determines how many scales/octaves you will need to prepare for NYSSMA. (This info can be found in the NYSSMA manual).

      When you get to NYSSMA, the adjudicator will randomly choose 3 scales to hear you preform.

      Let us know if you have any other questions!

  • For level 4, is it ok to have bowing and fingerings written in the music?

    • Hello Christine,

      It is okay to have fingerings and bowings written in your copy!

      If you make any changes to shifts/bowings that were in the original, I always suggest to pencil them into the judges music as well so that they know those changes were intentional and not a mistake.

  • Hello,
    We don’t have a performance time for piano solo on March 5th. Is there a website? We are still waiting on our school music teacher to let us know, but it is in 5 days. We were told that there is no performance ticket to take to the adjudicator this year.

    • Hi Resh!

      So sorry we did not see your comment sooner! The school music teacher will always be the direct contact for NYSSMA scheduling. They usually don’t have the schedules for the festivals until the week of the event. Hope you had a great NYSSMA experience this year!

  • Question! I have a student who has changed their mind regarding which song she wants to sing. I have already filled out and sent the paperwork for the first choice. Can we swap songs as long as its the same level?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Tara!

      Yes it is possible to change your student’s song since it is the same level. Contact your student’s school teacher and/or local NYSSMA Representative for the next step to take. Hope this helps and good luck!

  • can a level 5 soloist still make all state? what are the opportunities for a level 5 in viola and voice?

    • Hi Robin! Only soloists performing for a rating on a Level VI piece are eligible for All-State considerations. According to the current NYSSMA Manual, at Level V you “will be evaluated on a 100-point grading scale and will receive final ratings indicated by standard letter grades. The A+ rating is awarded to students who exhibit extraordinary achievement and ability.”

      Ask your school music teacher if there are All-County opportunities through your NYSSMA solo evaluation for both viola and voice. There typically are, but it can vary from school to school. Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Hi! My son attended NYSSMA today. When and how will he get the result (score)?
    Thank you!

    • Hi! Scores are typically available within 1-2 weeks and returned via his school music teacher that registered him. Hope he had a great time at NYSSMA!

  • When you go to NYSSMA, do they make you introduce yourself before you start playing? Or do you just start playing once you get out on the stage?

    • Hello Tim!

      The judge will have a sheet with your name, grade, solo & scales you will be performing. However, it is always a good idea to introduce yourself and greet the judge. Make sure to dress to impress as well!

  • For Vocal Level 1 solo, do the students have to perform the three scales?

    • Hello! For voice NYSSMA they do not have to perform scales. Just the prepared solo, and sight reading.

  • For all-state orchestra, which score is the minimum to be accepted? Specifically, would someone who got a 96 have a chance of being recommended and accepted, or is it only 98 and above?

    • Hello!

      As per the NYSSMA website: The All State adjudicators are responsible for evaluating every All State solo of the same instrument. At the conclusion of the festival, the All Stage adjudicators create a rank ordered proficiency list of all students being recommended. Every student who earns a score of 98-100 must be recommended. The process continues with the adjudicator ranking every recommended student by score first with the 100’s ahead of the 99’s etc. If there are multiple students with the same qualifying score, the adjudicator must list those students in a proficiency order based on his/her evaluation of all performances.

      Please feel free to take a look at the NYSSMA website for more info on All State qualifications: https://www.nyssma.org/parents-students/the-all-state-process/

  • Hello, what happens if I don’t bring two copies. And can I bring one book and a copy?

    • Hello G!

      If you have memorized your piece, you do not need to bring a book for yourself, you. would only need to bring the book for the judge. If you do bring a photocopy that does not follow the copyright laws, there is a chance the judge will not allow you to perform. To be safe, always have two original books that are approved as per the guidelines set forth by the NYSSMA manual. If you have any specific questions in regards to the correct books to purchase you can ask your public school teacher or feel free to call us if you would like as well and we can check the manual we have in store!

  • When do I get the results of my performance because they said that I would receive it from school?

    • Hello Jack! Once your NYSSMA is completed, it usually takes around 2 weeks for the score sheets to be distributed to your school. Once they receive the score sheets and review them, they will hand them out to the students!

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