National Piano Guild Auditions – Part I

37Throughout 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 do 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!

About the Author

Yiyi Ku
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 As... [Read more]


  1. Soni Conville

    As a veteran of 14 annual Guild auditions as a child, it was interesting to read positive comments about them from a teacher’s point of view. As a student my auditions were traumatic experiences that I dreaded. My teacher made far too big a deal about the importance of the auditions. She forced ambitious International programs on me and actually shamed me the one year I was “only” prepared enough for a State program. I approached every audition a nervous wreck. All of her students did. When I was 11 we had a sadistic judge who delighted in adding to our misery. One by one students came out of their auditions crying. As I entered the room for my turn, dizzy with fear, the judge gleefully remarked, “Another little lamb coming to the slaughter.” I burst into tears and not surprisingly turned out my worst performance ever (and had to face my teacher’s wrath in the aftermath). I detested the auditions so much that after earning my Guild High School Diploma as a HS senior I quit taking lessons much to my parents’ and teacher’s dismay. I couldn’t deal with the pressure anymore. When I started teaching I vowed never to put my own students through that and to date I haven’t. I prepare the kids for annual recitals and put the emphasis on the enjoyment of performing for others.

    Today I acknowledge that my distaste for the Guild auditions was the fault of my teacher and not the auditions themselves. The NGPT is a wonderful organization; if approached correctly their auditions offer students a tangible goal to work towards. I still have all my report cards, certificates and pins. Your glowing review has me considering the possibility of giving the auditions a second chance.

  2. Yiyi Ku

    WOW! Thank you for sharing with us your childhood experience. I am so sorry to hear that the Guild Auditions were such terrible experiences for you. I do hope that you encountered at least one nice judge during those 14 years!? I guess we can take consolation in knowing that when and if you do enter your own students for the Guild Auditions, you will approach it in a healthy and supportive way, and your students will be lucky to have you on their side. I wonder if you remember who that sadistic Guild Judge was? I think he/she should be reported to the Guild headquarters, for saying what they said – utterly unbelievable! I certainly hope that person never comes to CA to judge my students! So, please, if you do remember the name, let me know! Thank you again for sharing with us such a personal story. Best wishes to you!

  3. Soni Conville

    No worries…my auditions were a long time ago. I don’t remember the judge’s name, but because that happened nearly 40 years ago I’m sure he’s no longer judging. He was the only bad judge I ever had. The rest ran the gamut from extremely low-key to enthusiastic and supportive. I believe my teacher did report him to the Guild…I remember her lacing into him after I came out hysterically crying, calling him a “stupid man”.

    Regardless of how nice the judges were, I was always a nervous wreck because my teacher hyped the auditions up to the extreme — and not knowing any better, my parents bought into the hype so I faced serious pressure to excel in my piano studies at home as well. Anyway, that’s all in the past and I’m willing to look into the auditions as a positive learning experience for myself and my students. Thanks again for enlightening your readers.

  4. H Korn

    I joined ACM a few years ago in hopes of entering these “important” auditions. I got the GIANT syllabus and had 2 teachers explain it to me and still couldn’t figure out how to get these kids prepared for this event. If it is so easy, why is the syllabus for these auditions so ANTIQUATED, cumbersome and UN-USER Friendly?? I never entered any students and since them, have not renewed my membership.

    I don’t have time to wade through these rules and programs and commit an entire year to “figuring it out as I go” so by Spring we may be able to enter or pass the audition. The syllabus is just way too much AND TINY PRINT – oh lord, I can hardly stand to look at it! The ACM needs a desperate makeover of YOUTH and VITALITY – it appears to be a an old, stuffy, antique of an organization in a fast paced, modern, musical world. Parents and today’s kids don’t have this kind of time or patience either. Make it easier to understand and easier to prepare for – until then we won’t be going Guild Auditions. There are much easier events to participate in that provide the same kinds of experiences and benefits.

  5. Yiyi Ku

    H. Korn,
    I agree that the Guild syllabus book could use a makeover and better layout. In my article, I said that the auditions can be very flexible and teachers have a lot of freedom in designing each student’s program. Because of this flexibility, I can see how some people can be quite lost as to exactly what they need to do in order to prepare for Guild Auditions. We as teachers do need to spend a lot of time reading and understanding different syllabi before we can confidently enter students. I know that I certainly have spent a lot of time trying to understand the RCM Music Development Program this last year, as it is such a new program. I have entered students in many dfferent testing systems, and I still believe that for the average student, Guild Auditions is the most achievable. I am not an employee of the Guild, just a happy teacher with many happy students who use the Guild programs. There are indeed lots of other programs out there, so all is not lost if you choose not to use Guild in your studio, but I would recommend that you give it another chance by entering may be just one student and see how it really is. If you have any questions on how to do this, I am happy to help!

  6. Eileen Horgan

    Your blogs are so informative to me as I am newly introduced to the Guild system after many years teaching in Europe to the requirements of The Associated Board of the Royal School of Music. A new piano student who completed Prep Class B in Classical repertoire with a former teacher,wishes to enter for HS Diploma B in May.My search for the requirements for such is not yet successful after googling many sites.
    I would appreciate guidance and advice .Thank you

  7. Yiyi

    Thank you for commenting. My advice is as follows:
    1. Become a Guild member. You can find out how by going to the Guild website. There is a form you fill out and instructions on where to send it along with the fee.
    2. Once you become a member, they will send you the current syllabus. STUDY that syllabus and read in detail from front to back. It will take a while but it will give you a good overview.
    3. Find out where is your nearest audition center and who is the representative. There is a list at the back of the syllabus. Call the representative and make an appointment to go visit. Usually they are quite helpful and will be happy to answer questions.
    4. For your student, I recommend entering for Preparatory C next, so you can become familiar with the test first. Also, HS Diploma programs need to be pre approved, and the deadline is approaching. Since the student is new, you may need some time to figure out his/her strengths and weaknesses, before deciding on a HS Diploma program.
    5. For regular auditions, you do not need to decide on the exact pieces when you register, just how many pieces the student is going to do, ie. a State audition, National audition, etc. If your student needs extra motivation, they can always aim for the next category, so if they did National last year, they can try International in 2014, and do HS Diploma in 2015.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!