Solo and Ensemble Festivals

Proven Practice Round for College Auditions

One of the most important events that can help prepare you for the college audition process is participating in the Solo and Ensemble Festival sponsored by your state music educators’ association. In most states, a student can participate in three events at the festival. Most states will find adjudicators who are either collegiate studio professors or professional performers. This is a great way to be exposed to a college instructor and to get a small glimpse of what taking lessons from him or her could be like. Even more exciting, their comments and ranking will be a strong indicator of how you will fare in a collegiate audition.

Make sure that you read and understand all the rules associated with the festival before you select your performance repertoire, just as you will read and understand college audition requirements.

I’ve included two charts to show how two students might approach solo and ensemble festival. The Good Student chart shows how a good to very good performer might participate over their middle and high school career. The College Prep chart shows how a student who wants to play music in college might approach the solo and ensemble festival. There are just a few differences between the charts. See if you can spot them. After the charts, I’ll tell you why those differences are important!

Good Student Vs. College Prep

Good Student College Prep Student
Grade Event Music Grade Rating Event Music Grade Rating
6th Solo NP Solo NP
6th Small Ensemble NP Small Ensemble I Good
7th Solo NP Solo II Excellent
7th Small Ensemble I Excellent Small Ensemble II Superior
8th Solo I Excellent Solo III Superior
8th Small Ensemble II Good Small Ensemble III Excellent
9th Solo II Excellent Solo IV Superior
9th Small Ensemble II Superior Small Ensemble III Superior
9th Small Ensemble III Excellent Small Ensemble III Superior
10th Solo III Excellent Solo V Superior
10th Small Ensemble II Superior Solo V Excellent
10th Small Ensemble III Excellent Ensemble IV Superior
11th Solo IV Excellent Solo V Superior
11th Small Ensemble IV Excellent Solo* VI Excellent
11th Small Ensemble III Superior Ensemble V Superior
12th Solo IV Excellent Solo VI Superior
12th Small Ensemble IV Superior Small Ensemble V Superior
12th Small Ensemble III Superior Small Ensemble V Superior
NP – Non-Participation
CO – Comments Only

The average student’s participation results in five solos performed over seven years, with a Grade IV as the highest level performed. The college prep student has eight solos over seven years and the student performed Grade VI compositions by the eleventh grade.

For the college auditioner, the solo prep is so much more important than the participation in small ensembles.

Grade Level

Many high school programs compete for the Overall Outstanding Performance Award given by the state music educators’ association for the entire yearly program at the school. This requires a certain number of Superior Ratings at Solo and Ensemble. For many instructors, this can be the benchmark for salary increase and/or bonuses. Admittedly, these directors may have their students perform easier grade level compositions to hedge their bets on getting a greater number of Superior Ratings. My advice to you is to go with the grade level of music that your instructor is requesting you perform, even if this is below your proficiency level, because maintaining the reference and relationship is important. Truth is, you can work on the stronger music grade level compositions and perform your own recital and/or participate in a Master Class on a nearby college campus and get a solid critique that way.

Regardless of the track you select, participation in your state’s Solo and Ensemble will always prove to be a great practice round for your college auditions.

Keep Practicing,

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO