Piano Lessons – Festivals


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. I realize that 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 Festival – Fall

The NW Arkansas Music Teacher Association (NAMTA) is the local affiliate to MTNA. It presents the Sonatina Festival each early November; check my Piano Lessons Calendar to find the exact date. It was created in 1995 based on some similar festivals in other regions, but it’s otherwise a home-grown and run piano festival to promote piano performance. It is held at NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) in Bentonville – the entrance is at White Hall, which along with the Choral Room serve as our performance venues.

The concept is simple and straightforward: The student learns and memorizes two movements of a Sonatina or Sonata – that keyword has to appear in the title. Each student is placed in an age-designated group. First through third graders perform together, fourth through sixth graders, and so on. Each group has 6 to 8 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 45-minute 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 just 1.5 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.


  • 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. Therefore, you might find a wide spectrum of achievement, especially in the upper groupings. I’ve heard a Lynn Freeman Olsen Beginner Sonatina performed in the same session as a Beethoven Sonata movement. There is no reason to be concerned about this – I just point it out so that you are aware of what you will experience.

♫ State Regional Festival – Spring

The Arkansas State Music Teachers Association (ASMTA) governs this piano festival, held in several regions across the state. It is held on a Saturday in April; check my Piano Lessons Calendar to find 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 the two festivals, other than the requirement for memorizing two pieces. However, the selection of pieces is governed by a list that requires a piece from two different music periods, with the exception being for the early levels.

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 far away, like Little Rock and Jonesboro.

Where I Don’t Participate

There is another large national organization called the National Guild of Piano Teachers, in which I don’t participate. The main component of membership is an annual performance exam where you can choose to play any number of pieces and get a rating and comments. It’s a wonderful group with local affiliates throughout the United States. As a child, I participated in these exams in upstate New York.

If you prefer to study with a teacher who participates in the Piano Guild, as it’s called, I completely understand. Some teachers participate in both MTNA and the Piano Guild, which for me would be quite overwhelming. Here in NW Arkansas, our local NAMTA group is very active, offering a variety of continuing education and get-together experiences, in addition to the two festivals mentioned above. That’s the choice I made for myself, and effectively for my students.

There’s another piano teachers group in Springdale, unaffiliated with MTNA, that does an amazing piano festival each year where students perform on multiple pianos led by a conductor. I don’t have the time to join another group and contribute the way I like to do. I want to make sure wherever I join a group that I can be a full participant, not just go along for the ride. Between MTNA and my lifetime participation in the American Guild of Organists, there’s just so much one can do!

Posted 2019-08-16