Special Music School Admissions: How To Get In To SMS!


The Special Music School (“SMS”) is a unique public school on the Upper West Side in New York City for K-12 musically gifted students. SMS is run as a partnership with the Department of Education and the Kaufman Music Center, providing both public and private funding for musical studies.

SMS can be a great choice for musically inclined students. This article gives an overview of the Special Music School admissions process and also offers an overview of the school itself so students and parents can evaluate if it is a good fit.

Special Music School | School Overview

SMS was founded in 1996 and has expanded to serve approximately 200 students in K-12 (with a separate campus for high school students).

The school itself is also strong in all-around academics, with students routinely achieving some of the top test scores of New York City high school. The SMS student body includes a diverse group from all five boroughs.

While academics are challenging across the board, the highlight of SMS is its musical training: while specific activities vary by grade level, attendees can expect to take several private music lessons every week, classes in music theory, composition, ear-training, chorus, and of course all the required elementary and middle school courses for graduation.

Students at SMS perform in recitals and in concerts at the Kaufman Music Center from time to time.

In addition to traditional academic and musical coursework, students have plenty of enrichment opportunities after school. SMS has a music ensemble for students to join, with practices in the afternoons; movement and dance courses; performance courses, and more.

The Special Music School is not only a great school for music aficionados. It consistently ranks very high on NY State tests. For example, in 2015, 4th & 7th graders scored #1 in NYC on the State Math  test, and 4th graders scored #1 on the English test. 

Visit the school website site for more information about the school.

Special Music School Admissions Information

SMS has admissions opportunities for each grade, with different requirements for K-2 and grades 3-8 admissions. Any student in the five boroughs is eligible to apply, and there is no particular consideration for school districts.

For the earlier years, SMS does not require students to have prior musical training. For admission in 3rd grade or later, students do need to audition with an instrument.

For admission in 4th grade or later, students must also complete a theory placement test. Applications can be found here for each admissions point.

Kindergarten to Second Grade Admissions

For kindergarten, the first four hundred applicants will be assigned an assessment date and time. (Applicants applying after the first four hundred will be placed on a waiting list and, if time, allows, will be assessed after the first 400 prospective students). Students must have turned four years old before taking the assessment.

On the assigned day, students will come to SMS and have a short music class with a small group, in which they are asked to sing, clap, and move to music.

Each student also receives an individual assessment. These assessments are designed to be non-verbal and accessible to students regardless of their English language abilities.

The top scorers from this visit will come back for a second, longer in-person assessment, and they will need to submit a teacher evaluation for the current school to fill out. Following this second round, SMS will extend acceptance offers to top performers.

The 1st and 2nd grade Special Music School admissions procedures are similar. However, fewer children are accepted as the 1st or 2nd graders will fill in spots where existing students have moved or transferred.

Applicants follow the same procedures as the kindergarten students. Only the first fifty applicants for each grade will be assessed, compared to the first four hundred for kindergarten.

Third to Eighth Grade Special Music School Admissions

For applicants in higher grades, SMS will require an audition. During this visit, students will play prepared pieces and scales, as well as have some sight reading and an ear training test.

The top performers from the audition will have an interview at SMS, and then submit both a teacher evaluation and a music teacher evaluation from the current school.

Starting for 4th grade admissions, students will take a theory placement test, though the purpose of this exam is for placement and not for admissions criteria.

Examples for both the audition content and sample repertoire are provided as guidelines for interested students. For both types of admissions, students will be accepted to the grade capacity and then placed on a waiting list.

As the focus for admissions is musical performance, students should make sure they have several pieces ready for audition and a good command of technical skills. Additionally, they will need get a good teacher recommendation (and possibly a music teacher recommendation as well) if they reach the second round of Special Music School admissions process.