Piano Festivals

Last Updated on 2024-02-26 | Originally Posted on 2019-08-16


I belong to the Music National Teachers Association (MTNA), as well as the state and local chapter affiliates. This enables my students to participate in a piano festival in the fall and spring.

Piano festivals are not for everyone. However, many of my students do participate, and most have found them a rewarding part of their overall music study.

♫ Sonatina/Sonata Celebration – Fall

The NW Arkansas Music Teacher Association (NAMTA) is the local affiliate of MTNA. It presents the NAMTA Sonatina Sonata Celebration each November; the link has the exact date.

It was created in 1995 as a local festival based on similar festivals. It is typically held at NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC), across the street from Sam’s Club in Bentonville.

The concept is simple and straightforward: The student learns and memorizes two movements of a sonatina or an allegro movement of a sonata – one of those two keywords has to appear in the title. Each student is placed in an age-designated group. Kindergarteners through third graders perform together, fourth through sixth graders, and so on.

Each group has 10 or more students who perform their pieces before an adjudicator and a small audience consisting of the other participants, their families/friends, and teachers. At the end of each hour-long session, ribbons and trophies are presented for the current day performance and accumulation of points from prior years’ festivals.


  • Total time commitment at the event is about 2 hours, including arriving 30 minutes before to get registered and warm up.
  • It’s just performing – there is no testing of any sort: theory, ear training, sight-reading, technique, keyboard harmony.
  • Each student is competing against him/herself, not against others in his/her group. Your ribbon color or trophy is based on how well you perform your selected piece, and is not ranked against other participants.
  • Groupings are by age and not by the level of the piece you select. Students get to hear what other kids around their age are playing, and it might encourage them to learn a piece that they heard in the program.


  • It’s a public performance of a memorized piece. You don’t want this to be the first time you do both of these together. It’s best to have some experience of performing in public, even if it’s just participating in a group recital that’s held at the end of the semester.
  • Groupings are by age and not by the level of the piece you select. This might discourage a student who is a late starter or who might not have practiced a lot despite starting earlier. Particularly in the 7th- through 9th-grade groupings, you may hear kids playing beginner, intermediate, and advanced repertoire.

♫ Arkansas State Regional Festival – Spring

The Arkansas State Music Teachers Association (ASMTA) offers this piano festival, with each of five regions having their own event. Ours is held on a Saturday in April. It presents the Arkansas State Regional Festival each April; the link has the exact date. It is held in the Music Building on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

There is not much else in common between this and the Sonatina/Sonata Celebration. The selection of pieces is governed by a list that requires a piece from two different style periods, with an exception for levels Primary A&B and Level 1.

In addition to playing, there are two separate tests. The level of testing is based on the levels of pieces you select. The theory test is pen-to-paper, in a room with other students taking tests at many levels. There is a separate playing test that’s proctored one-on-one. This testing includes ear training, sight-reading, technique, keyboard harmony.

Although the results of the festival rest on the level of your performance, these tests are important since they can serve to disqualify advancement to the state festival in the event you excel during your performance.


  • It’s a great opportunity to test your total musicianship skills, of which performance is just one part of the package.
  • You perform one-on-one in teaching studio for an adjudicator. Although you still must play from memory, there is no audience to make you feel nervous. Even your teacher can’t be there to hear you.
  • If you perform at a high level in your level, and you do well enough in your other testing, you may be invited to the state finals.
  • If you get invited to the state final, it’s quite an honor. You may even luck out and win in a year in which the finals are held in Fayetteville.


  • The first pro is also the first con. Preparing for this festival takes many months of preparation, and the theory component in particular trips up some students.
  • You will likely spend nearly an entire morning or early afternoon due to travel, performing your pieces at a set time, and fitting in the theory and playing testing as well. Once you are done with those three components, you are free to leave, and will be notified of the results by your teacher later in the day.
  • Although the competition component of the festival is not emphasized, you are effectively being ranked against the other participants in each level. If you score high, you may be considered either as an alternate or winner of your level. Only about 10-15% will receive that honor, so you can do really well but not well enough to move on.
  • The state festivals rotates between Fayetteville and other venues several hours away, like Little Rock, Arkadelphia, and Jonesboro.

♫ Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) – Late Spring

This is an option for families that want an exam system that’s modeled on the English system, like ABRSM or Trinity. Since these exams are available throughout the U.S. and Canada, they work well for families that tend to move a lot. The nearest testing centers to us are in Tulsa and Kansas City.