NYSSMA solo recommendations

I’ve received many questions already this year (and in years prior) regarding what solo a student should prepare for NYSSMA adjudication. The intention of this post is to clarify my process of making these recommendations.

When it comes to selecting a solo to perform at the NYSSMA Solo Festival, every teacher has their own approach and interpretation of the approved list. Solo selection is a very personal process, and students should remember that no two people are alike in their musical development and progress through the six NYSSMA levels.

My interpretation of the ideal progression through the NYSSMA Solo manual was heavily influenced by many years of positive Solo Festival experiences that my own private teacher enabled for me. Our lessons were not aimed at a Spring performance at the NYSSMA Solo Festival, but rather, they were intended to help me develop a multitude of aural and technical skills which happened to also correspond with approved Solo Festival pieces. I first began attending the NYSSMA Solo Festival as an elementary school student, though the first time I walked into the adjudication room I was not yet ready to perform on NYSSMA Level 1! I had recently learned the final variation in the Twinkle Twinkle Variations in Suzuki Violin Volume 1, and my private teacher suggested to my parents that I give NYSSMA a “trial run.” My parents paid the small registration fee, and I performed the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Theme and Variations and received a “festival grade” which consisted of just comments from the judge. This early exposure to performance helped ease me into subsequent NYSSMA Solo Festival experiences.

Public school students start later than I did — in 3rd or 4th grade, rather than in Kindergarten — but this type of “pre-NYSSMA” experience is available to school students at any age. Older students who still might not feel ready to take on a solo festival experience can also test the waters with a duet or trio performance at the same festival.

As for what level is appropriate and what solos are available to you, it is good to start with an understanding of the requirements of each level. Requirements as published in the NYSSMA Manual are written in red, and my comments follow in italicized type. My comments are almost exclusively specific to violinists and violists — my particular area of expertise — but cellists and bassists can use a similar guideline.

Violin & Viola Levels 1 & 2

  • Prepare and Perform 3 Major Scales from memory in 1 octave, ascending and descending in quarter notes at a moderate speed. For Level 1, I recommend that 1 of these 3 scales be in 2 octaves, and that the “moderate speed” is between quarter note = 60 beats per minute to quarter note = 100 beats per minute. Students should be able to discuss the differences between scale fingerings (“high/low” fingers, “whole/half-steps” between notes, etc). One of these scales should be in the key of the student’s solo selection.  I recommend that these first 3 scales be C(2 Octaves – viola & cello), G(2 Octaves – violin), and D Major. For Level 2, students are strongly encouraged to prepare 4 scales (and at least one of these 4 scales in 2 octaves). I recommend that these first 3 scales be C (2 Octaves – viola & cello), G(2 Octaves – violin), D(2 Octaves – viola), and A Major (2 octaves – violin).
  • Level 1: Prepare to sight read in the key of D Major; in a tempo of quarter note = 60 beats per minute; in time signatures 2/4 and 4/4; with rhythms of quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes; in detache and legato articulations; in intervals of 2nds and 3rds on the D and A strings (in 1st position). 
  • Level 2: Prepare to sight read in the keys of D and G Major; in tempos ranging from quarter note = 60bpm to quarter note = 72bpm; in time signatures of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4; with rhythms of quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, eighth notes, and dotted half notes; in detache, legato, and slurred articulations; in intervals of 2nds and 3rds on the G, D, and A strings (in 1st position). Sight reading can be a source of anxiety for students at any NYSSMA Level, and it is much more difficult to practice sight reading than it is to prepare a solo piece. Requirements for sight reading are aligned with the difficulty level of the solos on each NYSSMA Level. There are many ways to practice sight reading, but the most effective way is usually by playing with other musicians (either in group class, school lessons, or school orchestra). A subscription to SightReadingFactory.com is useful for students on any instrument at any level! At the very least, students should be able to clap and count rhythms from their selected solo piece.
  • Selected Level 1 Solos (that I recommend): 
    • Etling: Solo Time For Strings Book 1: Dream Waltz, Evening Song, My First Solo, March Melody
    • Suzuki: Volume 1 (must choose 2): Allegro & Long Long Ago, Allegretto & Allegro, Andantino & Allegro, Etude & Long Long Ago, Etude & Allegro

Once you have earned a rating of “Outstanding” on your Level 1 solo, go back and visit some of these other recommended solos from Level 1 during the remainder of the Spring semester and through the Summer months. During this time, add an additional Major Scale to your repertoire.  The main focus of this level is sound production and the tone that is produced through a student’s good posture and position. On average, students should plan to spend their first year of study on NYSSMA Level 1. If you received a rating of “Excellent” at your Level 1 adjudication, plan to perform another Level 1 solo next year. You can get started early!

  • Selected Level 2 Solos (that I recommend):
    • Etling: Solo Time for Strings Book 1: Achievement March, Star Light Waltz, Marionettes
    • Etling: Solo Time for Strings Book 2: American Dance, Americana, The Brook, String Along
    • Suzuki: Volume 1: Minuet 1, Minuet 2, Minuet 3
    • Suzuki: Volume 2: Minuet in G, Lully:Gavotte, Gavotte from “Mignon”

Once you have earned a rating of “Outstanding” on your Level 2 solo, go back and visit some of these other recommended solos from Levels 1 & 2 during the remainder of the Spring semester and through the Summer months. Add THREE more scales to your repertoire after earning an “Outstanding” on your Level 2 solo for a total of SEVEN Major Scales. I recommend that these scales be: C, G, D, A, E, F, and Bb Major. Two of these 7 Major Scales should be playable in 2 Octaves prior to beginning a Level 3 solo piece.

On average, students should perform on NYSSMA Level 2 during their 2nd and 3rd years of playing (or, 4th–6th grade). If you received a rating of “Excellent” at your Level 2 adjudication, plan to perform another Level 2 solo next year.

Students who are getting ready to perform their first Level 3 solos should also be beginning private study with a teacher whose primary instrument matches theirs. Fourth grade students do well with 45-minute private lessons each week, though some may be ready to work one-on-one for up to an hour. Regular lessons are more useful than long lessons if a choice has to be made. I can help you find a teacher who can meet with you and your child for 30-45 minutes each week (which is better than 1 hour every other week).

Violin Levels 3 & 4

  • Prepare and Perform 7 Major Scales from memory, ascending and descending in quarter notes at a moderate speed. Two of these 7 scales are performed in 2 octaves, the remaining 5 scales are performed in 1 octave. Only three scales will be selected by the adjudicatorSelection by the adjudicator is a big change from Level 2 (when students are able to tell their judge which 3 scales they had prepared for adjudication). For Level 4, students are strongly encouraged to prepare 3 scales in 2 octavesnot just 1. Expect to be asked to play 3 scales that are in a different key than the key of your solo piece.
  • Level 3: Prepare to sight read in the keys of C, G, D, and F Major;  in tempos ranging from quarter note = 60 beats per minute to quarter note = 80bpm; in time signatures 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4; with rhythms of quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes, eighth notes, dotted half notes, sixteenth notes, and dotted quarter notes; in detache, legato, staccato, martele, and slurred articulations; in intervals of 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths on all four strings; with quarter and half rests; and with dynamic contrasts from piano to forte.
  • Level 4: Prepare to sight read in the keys of C, G, D, A, F, and Bb Major (including accidentals); in tempos ranging from quarter note = 60 beats per minute to half note = 76bpm; in time signatures 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4; with rhythms of quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes, eighth notes, dotted half notes, sixteenth notes, and dotted quarter notes; in detache, legato, staccato, martele, hooked, and slurred articulations; in all intervals including the octave on all four strings up to 3rd position; with quarter-, half-, and eighth rests; and with dynamic contrasts from piano to forte, including crescendo and decrescendo.  
  • Selected Level 3 Solos (that I recommend): 
    • Etling: Solo Time for Strings Book 4: any (except Bach Minuet, which is not approved); you must shift in these selections!
    • Kreisler: Schon Rosmarin (you must shift)
    • Reiding: Concerto in G Major, Op. 34 (mvt 1 or 3)
    • Suzuki: Volume 3: Bach Bourree
    • Suzuki: Volume 4: Seitz Concerto No. 2 mvt 3, Seitz Concerto No. 5 mvt 1, Seitz Concerto No. 5 mvt 3
    • Suzuki: Volume 5: Bach Gavotte

Once you have earned a rating of “Outstanding” on your Level 3 solo, go back and visit some of these other recommended solos from Level 2 during the remainder of the Spring semester. Begin listening to the other suggested solos in Level 3 and select one to study throughout the summer. Depending on your level of mastery with this new Level 3 solo, you may be ready to advance to Level 4 at the beginning of the next school year.

On average, students should perform on NYSSMA Level 3 during their 3rd and 4th years of playing (or, 6th–8th grade). If you received a rating of “Excellent” at your Level 3 adjudication, plan to perform another Level 3 solo next year.

Students who are getting ready to perform their first Level 3 solos should also be beginning private study with a teacher whose primary instrument matches theirs. Fourth grade students do well with 45-minute private lessons each week, though some may be ready to work one-on-one for up to an hour.  Students who seek a private teacher in middle school can be considered “older beginners,” and they may initially be assigned exercises and solo pieces that seem below their ability level. Observing private lessons, recording these lessons whenever possible, and talking with your child’s private teacher regularly about the type of practicing being done at home will help ensure that assignments and expectations are reasonable.

  • Selected Level 4 Solos (that I recommend): 
    • Anderson: Fiddle Faddle
    • Barber: Solos for Young Violinists Volume 2: DeBeriot Air Varie No. 14, Bohm Sarabande
    • Fiocco: Allegro
    • Kreisler: Liebesleid (you must shift), Sicilienne & Rigaudon (in the style of Francoeur), Tempo Di Minuetto (in the style of Pugnani)
    • Nardini: Concerto in e minor mvt 1
    • Suzuki: Volume 4: Vivaldi Concerto in a minor mvt 1 or 3
    • Suzuki: Volume 5: Veracini Gigue
    • Suzuki: Volume 6: Handel Sonata No. 3 mvts 1 AND 2, Rameau Gavotte

Once you have earned a rating of “Outstanding” on your Level 4 solo, go back and visit some of these other recommended solos from Levels 3 during the remainder of the Spring semester. Begin listening to the other suggested solos in Level 4 and select one to study throughout the summer. Depending on your level of mastery with this new Level 4 solo, you may be ready to advance to Level 5 at the beginning of the next school year.

On average, students remain on NYSSMA Level 4 solos throughout their high school years if they are not studying regularly with a private teacher. There are many more Level 4 solos to choose from! The list above is just a sampling of the solos that I find particularly valuable for students to study. 

Violin Levels 5, 6, and All-State

  • Level 5 & 6: Prepare and Perform 15 Major Scales (from memory) in 2 octaves
  • Level 5: Prepare to sight read in the keys of C, G, D, A, F, Bb, and Eb (including accidentals); in tempos ranging from quarter note = 60bpm to eighth note = 120 bpm; in time signatures of 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8; with any rhythm patterns from the previous 4 levels (now, including triplets).
  • Level 6: Prepare sight read with the criteria from Level 5 with the addition of 4th position notes, syncopated rhythms, sixteenth note rests, and the keys of E and Ab Major.
  • Selected Level 5 Solos (that I recommend): 
    • Accolay: Concerto No. 1 (entire)
    • Bach: Concerto in a minor mvt 1 or
    • Barber: Solos for Young Violinists Volume 4: Haydn Concerto in G Major mvt 1
    • Dvorak: Sonatina, Op. 100 mvt 4
    • Massenet: Meditation from “Thais”
    • Schubert: L’Abeille (Bee) Bagatelle, Op. 13 No. 9
    • Smetana: Aus der Heimat (entire)
    • Suzuki: Volume 5: Vivaldi Concerto in g minor mvt 1 or 3
    • Suzuki: Volume 6: Handel Sonata No. 4 mvts 1 AND 2
    • Telemann: Twelve Fantasies Nos. 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10 (any 1 complete)

Once you have earned a rating of “Outstanding” on your Level 5 solo, go back and visit some of these other recommended solos from Levels 3 & 4 during the remainder of the Spring semester. Begin listening to the other suggested solos in Level 5 and select one to study throughout the summer. Depending on your level of mastery with this new Level 5 solo, you may be ready to advance to Level 6 during the next school year with your private teacher.

Serious students perform solos on NYSSMA Level 5 through careful preparation with their private teachers during their junior high school (or beginning of high school) years. There are many more Level 5 solos to choose from! The list above is just a sampling of the solos that I find particularly valuable for students to study.  Students who intend to pursue collegiate or conservatory study after high school should be preparing solos on NYSSMA Level 5 by their freshman year. Concertos on this level are often appropriate for use in local youth symphony auditions. 

  • Selected Level 6/All-State Solos (that I recommend): 
    • Bach: Concerto No. 2 mvt 1
    • Beethoven: Romance in F Major, Op. 50
    • Bruch: Concerto in g minor, Op.26 (any 1 movement)
    • Kreisler: Liebesfreud, Praeludium & Allegro, Concerto in C Major in the style of Vivaldi
    • Mendelssohn: Concerto in e minor mvt 1 or 3
    • Mozart: Concerto No. 1 in Bb Major K.207 mvt 1 or 3, Concerto No. 2 in D Major K.211 mvt 1, Rondo K.373
    • Saint-Saens: Havanaise, Op. 83
    • Ten Have: Allegro Brilliant Op. 19
    • Viotti: Concerto No. 22 in a minor mvt 1 or 3, Concerto No. 23 in G Major mvt 1 or 3
    • Vitali/Auer: Ciaccona in g minor
    • Vivaldi: Concerto Op. 8  (any 1 complete)

Serious students perform solos on NYSSMA Level 6 through careful preparation with their private teachers during their high school (and into college) years. There are many more Level 6 solos to choose from! The list above is just a sampling of the solos that I find to be good introductions to this advanced level. Students who intend to pursue collegiate or conservatory study after high school should be preparing solos on NYSSMA Level 6 with their private teacher prior to their Junior year of high school. Concertos on this level are often appropriate for use in college/conservatory auditions.

All-State Solo Auditions require piano accompaniment! Students should plan to hire an accompanist when they register for the solo festival in December/January. Schedule rehearsals when you hire! You’ll want to rehearse with your accompanist at least twice before your All-State audition (and your private teacher should be present for at least one of these rehearsals).

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