Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the primary goals of the Special Music School?

Our goal is to provide an education for musically gifted students that combines a highly structured music curriculum with a standards-based academic program. The music curriculum at the Special Music School lays the foundation for the pursuit of a career in music without compromising academics.

2. Does the academic program suffer to make time for the music?

The academic program is as important as the music program. Our small classes make it possible to have a rigorous and innovative academic curriculum that rivals that of any school in the city. In fact, the SMS lower school has been among the highest-scoring schools in the entire New York State for both ELA and Math standardized tests.

3. Approximately how much time is spent on academic subjects and how much on music?

Every student (K–12) has a private lesson (either in school or with their own private teacher) each week, in addition to at least three other music classes, which might include Theory, Solfege, Chorus, Dalcroze Eurhythmics or Music History and performance classes.

4. I don’t live in the school’s neighborhood; is my child eligible to apply for the school?

Yes. Any student living within the five boroughs of New York City is eligible.

5. Is the SMS a regular New York City public school?

Yes. SMS (P.S. 859) is a Department of Education school, in partnership with the Kaufman Music Center, which started the School in 1996 as the private partner.

6. Does the Department of Education pay for the music program?

No. The music program – which costs at least as much as the academic program – is paid for through private contributions that are solicited annually by Kaufman Music Center. SMS parents help support the School through service and voluntary contributions.

7. What do you look for when you seek children who are musically gifted?

We look for many things, such as accurate pitch, good rhythm, musical memory and engagement in music.

8. My child hasn’t had any formal training. Can we still apply?

For grades K–2, yes; one of our goals is to offer our training to every gifted student, regardless of prior training. For grades 3 and up, we ask every child to audition on an instrument and (in grades 4 and up) to take a theory placement test, in order that new students will be able to keep up with their returning peers.

Refer to the Kaufman Music Center’s SMS Admissions page here.

9. Can you describe the assessment process?

For Grades K–2: The first round of assessment features two different sessions which take place on the same day. In small groups, children will take a 25-minute music “class” in which they will be asked to sing, clap and move to music. In addition, each child be given a short, one-on-one individual assessment.

Children who score above a certain level on these two tests will be called back for a lengthier individual assessment, after which they will be either accepted to the School, placed on a “delayed decision” list, or not accepted. Children on the delayed decision list may be asked to retest toward the end of the assessment process. Children scoring below a certain level on the first round tests will not be asked to continue. While we recognize that there are many factors that may affect a child’s performance on a given day, and that children who are not recommended for advancement to the next level may be deeply talented, it is our policy not to re-test children at any level except in truly exceptional circumstances.

For Grades 3 and up: Candidates for the upper grades will be asked to play 3 or 4 pieces on their instrument, and to play scales and arpeggios. They will also be asked to take a written theory test, a short ear-training test involving singing and a short sight-singing test. Audition requirements vary according to the grade level; phone the school for a more detailed list of audition requirements.

10. Are there any special expectations of SMS parents?

SMS is a small school, so parental participation is very important. There are many ways parents can be involved: through the PTA; through the School’s private partner, the Kaufman Center; by being a Class Parent; by serving on various committees or by helping out with assessment procedures. Parents also help support our school through service and voluntary contributions. SMS students have two kinds of homework: academic and music, including instrumental practice and theory work. Parental involvement in home practice is essential. Parents who are not musicians may need to obtain a little extra guidance (available at the School) on how to help their child practice, but should be confident about their ability to support their child’s music study.

11. Do you have a gym or play area? Do you serve lunch?

There is no gym in the SMS’s lower school building, but lower school students do have gym class once per week in another classroom space. There are three small play areas: one indoor and two outdoor, including a large rooftop playground. Most children bring a bag lunch, but the Department of Education provides a free cold lunch for all who desire it.There is a gym in the high school building.

12. Do you think you might be able to add second sections to your classes?

No, due to constraints of space and funds.

13. Does the Department of Education provide free transportation to your school?

SMS students receive the same transportation opportunities as any other New York City public school students and may receive school busing, full fare or 1/2 fare Metrocards, depending on age and place of residence.

14. Do you have a pre-K class or an after school program?

We do not have a pre-K class. We do provide tuition-based after school programs through the Kaufman Center’s Lucy Moses School, including a music program that offers chamber music/ensemble classes, lessons in improvisation and piano as a second instrument, musical theater and dance.