Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PIANO PROGRAMS-National Guild of Piano Teachers

I've decided to start an occasional series on the choices available in the piano teaching world when it comes to exams. I'm going to begin with a national program that is taken in the spring. It is sponsored by the American College of Musicians, and is called the National Guild of Piano Teachers Audition. The student is auditioning for a membership in the student chapter of the guild. It is repeated annually to retain their "membership".

The event was founded in 1929 by Irl Allison, who termed it a "tournament" and it was held in Abilene, Texas. Last year, 118,000 students were part of this annual event held in over 800 locations around the US and abroad; it is dubbed the "largest piano event in the world".

The "piano guild" as they like to refer to themselves, has many fingers under its umbrella. I'm going to focus today on the annual report card. The teacher pays dues of $65 annually, which includes syllabus and a quarterly magazine. We are then considered eligible to enter students.

The student fees range based on program chosen from $18-50. Last year, most students paid around $30 for a 10 piece elementary program. In my opinion, it is a reasonable fee for the quality time spent with an examiner.

The student and teacher have many diverse options. The critical idea to notice immediately is that there is no list of repertoire that you must choose from within. The structure of the event is almost entirely at the teacher's discretion.

The students may play solo, memory is optional, hobbyist, duet, jazz, ensemble, early and advanced Bach, or Sonatina programs. They may choose from 1-20 pieces. The teacher and student together choose their repertoire, but at upper levels, classical repertoire is encouraged. If you perform one from each broad time period, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary, you are rewarded with more points on your report card.

The student receives a critique of their strengths, areas which were both outstanding and that could use more attention, a bronze, silver, or gold pin and recognition by the national office in Austin, Texas. They are also given an end of the year, report card type grade.

The teacher receives the benefit of a non-local judge, a teacher conference after auditions with the judge, and a confidential written opinion report from the judge.

The result is that ALL students are welcome here. Average students can feel they have accomplished goals over the year, have achieved a program worthy of playing in front of someone, and it's not just for the super star students. Everyone wins. It is accessible to all students regardless of ability. Some teachers do not send everyone to the auditions. They only send their better or best students. It is my opinion that it is because of their own insecurities and does their studio and those students a great disservice. This event is the only mandatory part of your study here. Of course, students would like to get out of their math tests too, and sometimes students have less than stellar exams. But it's not about me.

Teachers choose the repertoire and skills. I get the opportunity to meet the student's ability and strengths rather than trying to make the student fit the program. A report cards is the understood language of learning. There are 44 items listed that the adjudicator listens for in each piece. The assessment is complete, and also looks at the overall musician.

There is a minimum scales and chords requirement that matches my studio philosophy. This event marks year-end progress, which is also a check and balance system for the parent. And it is an international program. I have some families that are part of global companies; they move around the United States or abroad and can take this report card with them.

If there is a downside to this program, it may involve antiquated language. Many of the forms and the syllabus are in dire need of contemporary updating. I have volunteered to help but my request has fallen on deaf ears. Several colleagues and I also grouse occasionally about inconsistent judging. I've had adjudicators that were lovely grandmothers who scored my entire studio as top talents, which is not helpful. I've had crabby men and women who made the exam miserable. Texas can not do much about this aspect of the event unfortunately. And almost every program we use has a stinker within its midst.

If you'd like more information, forms, or an application, visit here.

Another national program is next up: The National Federation of Music Clubs.


  1. Must there always be a "stinker" in the works? I do like the fact that it is open to all regardless of talent, and that each should be encouraged. And as much as I enjoy classical, this does sound a bit in favour for that. All forms should have an equal balance here, methinks.

  2. It's a good programme but it could probably benefit from a broader approach. My children are doing jazz at the moment and their teacher tried to talk them out of it because she was out of her comfort zone, which is primarily classic. Yet, where does that leave children's innate curiosity and desire to explore other forms of music?

    Good post. I look forward to the next one.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Hello there! Welcome back all! There IS a jazz element program and I've used it for students like your children. We learned stride, boogie, contemporary jazz stles, and some improv. Much fun was had by all.

  4. I always found the guild to be a great motivator for my students, in spite of the corny and archaic language. I usually tried to tie that in with the historical aspect of playing classical music. I usually tried to get my kids to do ten piece programs so it was like a big final project at the end of the year. They always enjoyed having a judge they'd never seen before at any of the state or local festivals, and they all like having the same judge (unless it was one of those ones you mentioned above).

    The thing I've enjoyed most about judging for the Guild in the past is the fact that you can get a really clear picture of the kind of teaching that has taken place when you hear one student after another displaying the same general strengths and/or weaknesses regardless of the level of talent. And the one thing I can't stand is that there often isn't enough time to write some really meaningful comments after you've finished the business of doling out all those points and listing the pieces in which they occurred.


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