Making the Grade

Understanding the Audition Process
(Part 3b – Solo Repertoire / Music Grading List)

What Grade Is Your Music?

Music is graded. It’s not graded as "good" or "bad", it’s not even graded A through F like your school coursework might be. Music grading is on a scale from I through VI and the numbers don’t go with your school grade either. Music grades are based on how difficult a piece is to play. Grade I music is considered very easy and Grade VI is difficult — the level performed by a professional musician. To be prepared for your audition, understanding music grades is essential!

How is music graded and who grades it? Every state has a music educators association and divisions within the association. For example, The South Carolina Music Educators Association has a Band Division, Orchestra Division, Choral Division, College Division, and General Music Division. Each of these divisions has a Music Grading Committee, and each summer the committee meets to review new compositions. Most states have graded music for more than 50 years! What’s interesting is that each state has its own grading system. They grade music based on their students’ ability to perform it. That means that the same composition could have different ratings depending on the state where it’s played!

So there’s no national standard? Yes and no. There’s no official national standard, but there are a few state repertoires that music educators consider standard. Those states are Texas, New York, Florida, Virginia, and California.

Common Grade Ranking

When states grade compositions, they often peg them to a school grade. A lot of students begin learning their instrument in 6th grade, so you might see music graded similar to our table below:

School Grade    Music Level of Difficulty    Music Grade    Texas Music Grade   
6thGrade Very Easy Grade I Grade VI
7thGrade Easy Grade II Grade V
8thGrade Moderately Easy Grade III Grade IV
9thGrade General Standard Grade IV Grade III
10thGrade Moderately Difficult Grade V Grade II
11thGrade Difficult Grade VI Grade I
12thGrade Difficult Grade VI Grade I

(Texas ranks their Music Grading List opposite in numbers from most other states. The Florida List goes up to Grade VII.)

When it comes to your audition, check the audition requirements to see which grade the school will accept. Most will say solos should be Grade V or Grade VI. Some will tell you which state grading system they use to set their standard. If the college does not specify the state grading system, let the Texas ranking be your guide. Texas’ repertoire grade is often considered the standard. For example, Haydn’s "Concerto in D, (H.VII f, D1) for Solo Flute published by Southern Music Press is a Grade IV on the Maryland List, Grade V on the New York List, Grade VI on the Virginia List, and Grade I on the Texas List. So, if we’re taking the Texas List as our standard, this selection would be considered a solo appropriate for a professional-level flute performer and is certainly appropriate for any collegiate flute audition.

Not All Grades Are the Same

The final issue in relation to the Graded Music List is that the title of a selection can have different Music Grade levels because the selection could be arranged or transcribed for different abilities. For example, Fox’s "Air and Scherzo", Belwin Mills, Publisher is a Grade IV on Virginia List but Fox’s "Air and Scherzo", published by Presser is a Grade V on the Virginia List. Be sure to check the publisher when preparing your audition repertoire!

It all boils down to reading and understanding the audition requirements. Follow those requirements fully and without exception. If the college does not list the Music Grade Level, choose compositions that are Grade V, or even better, Grade VI. When you understand and apply the music grading system to your auditions, you should see even more success!

Keep Practicing,

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO