K-8 About & FAQs

Special Music School (M. 859) is a K-12 public school that provides students with an intensive music education program with fully-funded lessons, music classes and ensembles along with academics.

Founded in 1996, Special Music School is a unique public/private partnership between Kaufman Music Center, which is responsible for the music program, and New York City Public Schools, which provides the academic program. The music program is fully funded by Kaufman Music Center through private contributions. Each year, 335 students from across New York City receive this education without the financial barriers usually associated with the study of music.

Special Music School students have been featured on NPR’s “From the Top” and have won top prizes in the Sphinx Organization Competition, the YoungArts Competition, and many other U.S. and international competitions. They have performed with the iconic Kronos Quartet, Grammy-winning violinist Joshua Bell, Pulitzer Prize and multi-Grammy Award winner Caroline Shaw, flute legend James Galway and opera star Ailyn Pérez, and have appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show, GMA3, NPR, The View, and the BBC. During the pandemic, Special Music School students made an album in collaboration with Grammy nominee Nathalie Joachim and published a best-selling children’s book about the pioneering Black composer Florence Price.

K-8 FAQs

Q: What do you look for when you seek children who demonstrate musical aptitude?
A: We look for many things, including accurate pitch, good rhythm, musical memory and engagement in music.

Q: My child hasn't had any formal musical training. Can we still apply?
A: For grades K–1, yes; one of our goals is to offer our training to every child, regardless of prior training. For grades 2 and up, we ask every child to audition on an instrument. For grades 4 and up, applicants also take a theory placement test to ensure they can keep up with their returning peers.

Q: I don't live in school district 3. Is my child eligible to apply for the school?
A: Yes. Any student living within the five boroughs of New York City is eligible.

Q: If my child applied the previous year and did not get accepted, is his/her application valid for the following year?
A: Applications for Special Music School must be completed and filed for each year that the child applies.

Q: Can you describe the assessment process?

A: Grades K–1:

The first round of assessment features two different activities which take place on the same day. In small groups, children take a 25-minute music "class" in which they are asked to sing, clap and move to music. In addition, each child is given a short, one-on-one individual assessment.

Children who score above a certain level on these two tests are called back for a lengthier individual assessment, after which they will be either accepted or not accepted to the school, or placed on a "delayed decision" list. Children on the "delayed decision" list may be asked to re-test toward the end of the assessment process.

Children scoring below a certain level on the first round of tests will not be asked to continue. While we recognize that there are many factors that may affect a child's performance on a given day, and that children who are not recommended for advancement to the next level may be deeply talented, it is our policy not to re-test children at any level except in truly exceptional circumstances.

Grades 2 and up:

Candidates for the upper grades will be asked to play 3 or 4 pieces on their instrument and to play scales and arpeggios. They will also be asked to take a written theory test, a short ear-training test involving singing and a short sight-singing test. Audition requirements vary according to the grade level, so feel free to contact us to discuss auditions.

Q: My child is not playing at the level of pieces listed in the Sample Repertoire List. Should I still apply?
A: Of course! We look for many qualities in our students, not just their current playing level.

Q: My child does not speak English. Can they still participate in the assessment process?
A: We encourage students of all backgrounds to apply. The group assessment for grades K-2 is designed to be non-verbal and many children who do not speak English do very well. The individual assessment is more language based but will be given less consideration for children who do not speak English. However, assessments will ONLY be given in English. There are no exceptions.

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