About Special Music School

New York City’s only K-12 public school for musically gifted children

Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center (P.S. 859) is a groundbreaking K-12 public school for musically gifted students offering musical training, including private instrumental lessons, during the regular school day. The school combines intensive instrumental study with a rigorous academic program, providing a strong foundation for a lifetime of music without compromising academic studies. Modeled on the renowned special music schools of the former Soviet Union, Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center successfully ensures that music is a primary component of each student’s education.

Founded in 1996, Special Music School represents a unique public/private partnership between Kaufman Music Center, a nonprofit multi-arts organization, and the New York City Department of Education, which funds the academic portion of the students’ education. The music program is fully funded by Kaufman Music Center through private contributions. As with all public schools, tuition is free to residents of the residents of the five boroughs of New York City.


Special Music School combines the music program with a rigorous academic curriculum in a holistic learning environment that encourages children to make connections between all forms of knowledge, from music to mathematics. Its students consistently score at or near the top of all New York City public schools on statewide and citywide reading and math tests, and in 2010 The Wall Street Journal ranked the school 7th in its list of top-scoring schools. Every child (K–8) has two private lessons per week on an instrument in addition to at least three other music classes, which might include Theory, Chorus, Dalcroze Eurhythmics or Music History, and a performance class—all taught by distinguished music professionals. Approximately three-quarters of each student’s time is spent on academic subjects. The curriculum is based on New York State and New York City learning standards.

Parental support and involvement are very important due to the extra challenges presented by the dual focus of the curriculum on both music and academics. Parents also help support the school through service and voluntary contributions.


Special Music School is intended for students who exhibit strong musical potential and whose parents feel that music should be a primary component of their children’s education. Students must live in one of the five boroughs of New York City to be eligible. Each year, the school accepts a new kindergarten class, and there may additionally be a limited number of places for students in grades 1-8. Acceptance of K-2 students is based solely on an assessment of musical giftedness through a series of age-appropriate individual and group activities relating to music; no prior musical training is necessary. Children applying for grades three and above will have an instrumental audition.

SMS 9-12

The high school updates the traditional model of classical music education in order to prepare students for the multifaceted and diverse opportunities available to today’s musicians. At a time of rapid change in the professional music world, we are committed to putting our students on a professional music path that will answer the demands of 21st century music. In addition to helping students build extremely strong core skills as music makers, SMS High School prepares them to improvise and compose as well as perform, understand music technology and collaborate with other musicians both in small and large groups while providing meaningful experience working with living composers.

Open to SMS eighth grade graduates as well as students from all five boroughs of New York City, the high school admits 50 students per grade beginning with ninth grade.  For information call 212 501 3395.

Application Information

For an application, please use our new online application, which can be completed online. Open House meetings at which program information is provided and questions are answered are held several times throughout the year. No reservations are needed. More information on Open Houses can be found here.