National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a group of boarding school student having a music class

Why Students Should Consider Attending the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)

Attention all virtuosos, musicians, performers, and creative students alike! If you’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to participate in music-related competitions, we’ve got some excellent news for you. The National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) are annual performance and competition opportunities for eager students who wish to put their talents and passion on display with the chance of earning recognition. The competitions are judged and some even allocate cash prizes to winners.

If you’re frustrated with the academic rigor and theory-based focus of AP Music Theory, accompanying exams, or other music-related programs, the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) give you a great opportunity to let your creativity shine. As a chance to display your talents, potentially earn an award, and gain valuable experience to put on your college resume,  these competitions really are a win-win-win.

The AdmissionSight team is all about giving students the resources and information they need to succeed. Here, we’ll explore the various National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME), what you can expect from each, and how you can best prepare.

playing the piano in NAfME

What is the National Association for Music Education (NAfME)?

For many students, the sheer opportunity to flex their musical muscles is enough to generate genuine interest. In order to best introduce these competitions, it’s good to start by explaining the group that makes an effort to host these events a year in and year out. The National Association for Music Education, also known as NAfME, is one of the world’s largest organizations dedicated to arts education.

NAfME states that its the only organization to address music education in all of its aspects. The group advocates at national, state, and local levels to further its advocacy of music education. It offers resources for administrators, parents, teachers; hosts development and professional events; and provides students with myriad opportunities – namely, National Association for Music Education Competitions. The group has been operating for over a century and has helped millions of students find success in the music field both academically and professionally.

What are the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)?

The competitions hosted by NAfME are designed to encourage involvement in music, to recognize some incredibly talented people, and to help students develop an academic and even professional future in the field. There are four different competitions, each of which targets a different area of musical interest and offers students with varying talents to shine. Here, we’ll outline the different National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) and provide some helpful information about each.

The NAfME Student Composers Competition seeks out original pieces of music that have been composed by students. This is perhaps the NAfME competition at the height of creativity and vision. Selected admissions are featured to perform at the NAfME National Conference each year. Students are encouraged to submit their original compositions for Reed Quintet or Symphonic Orchestra.

a male student typing unto his laptop

Students in graduate school, college, secondary school, and even elementary school are able to submit their student compositions. AdmissionSight singles this competition out for high school or incoming college students because of the advantages (which will be discussed later) it can have for students at this point in their academic trajectory.

If a student submits a composition that falls outside of the realm of the chamber or orchestral instrumentation, it will be judged but not awarded any prizes nor will it be considered for performance.

One of the most exciting and unique parts of this competition is the allotment of cash prizes to honorable mentions and winners – something that many student competitions lack.

A total of ten student composers are eligible to receive these cash awards if their composition is judged worthy. The funds for these prizes are donated from the European American Musical Alliance. Even if you don’t end up receiving an award, you’ll still receive a written evaluation of your composition if you participate.

NAfME Electronic Music Composition Competition

The NAfME Electronic Music Composition Competition puts a modern spin on the Student Composers Competition. In this contest, students are asked to submit custom compositions that include electronic equipment. The pieces will be judged on their incorporation of electronic media, their aesthetic taste, and the overall composition.

Although higher schoolers, college students, and even those in grade school are all eligible to apply, winners will be selected from each category. That is to say, there will be separate judgments amongst submissions of each group.

In order to participate in the program, you either have to be a member of the NAfME Collegiate or sponsored by a teacher who’s a member of the association. If you’re not familiar with either of these possibilities, it can be helpful to have an admission specialist, like AdmissionSight, on your side who can help you qualify for the program. Each composition should only be 5 minutes long and can be composed entirely electronically or with electronic instruments.

Acoustic and vocal instruments can certainly be used alongside electronic instruments. The most important distinction for entries into the NAfME Electronic Music Composition Competition is the inclusion of electronic equipment in some manner. For a better idea of what’s expected in this category, take a look at what the winners of previous years submitted.

NAfME Student Songwriters Competition

One of the most popular of the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) is the Student Songwriters Competition. While still requiring the same amount of artistic prowess, this contest is typically seen as easier to prepare for when compared to the composition-related competitions.

However, that’s an assessment that should be left up to each individual participant. Similar to the first competition, the winners of the Student Songwriters Competition will have their song performed at the annual NAfME National Conference – an honor that won’t go unnoticed by admission officers when applying for college.

zoomed in picture of people playing the cello and violins

Students are encouraged to submit an original piece for the All-National Honor Modern Band. This is yet another competition with cash prizes. In fact, both honorable mentions and winners will be given monetary awards. High school students are encouraged to submit their own songs, and all submissions – whether they are given distinction or not – will receive a written evaluation. Even songs that are not within the competition guidelines will be judged but not given an opportunity for performance.

NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles

One of the more intriguing National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) is much more than competition or contest. The NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles represents some of the top-performing musicians from across the United States. This ensemble is focused on high school students and, as a result, is the perfect experience for those looking to improve their college applications.

The winners of the program are all chosen to perform at an annual special that showcases the talented students who were selected. Instead of winning a cash prize, the opportunity to perform in the show itself is the award.

This ANHE is described as being much more than a musical showcase though. Instead, NAfME expresses it as a comprehensive educational experience. High school students will submit an audition tape to the NAfME admission board that will determine whether it meets the requirements to earn the student a place in the show. Students must be in grades 9, 10, or 11 in order to apply. All applicants are also required to attend school in the US, D.C., or in the Department of Defense School. Furthermore, you must also be a member of your school’s instrumental, guitar, string, or choral ensemble in order to apply to the corresponding ensemble of the performance. Perhaps the trickiest part is finding a school director who is an active and current member of NAfME to earn the potential of participation.

Although applications are no longer being accepted, the 2020 All-National Honor Ensembles performance will take place on November 5-8, 2020, at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Florida.

What are the benefits of participating in the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)?

  • An award or prize – One of the more appealing distinguishing aspects of the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) for students is the cash awards given out to winners. While other academic contests and competitions might only award students with distinctions or other accolades, the idea of coming away from the competition with some cold-hard-cash in hand is enough to make any student click through to read more information. While it’s critical to not get lost in the pursuit of these prizes, it’s still a nice addition and can’t go without recognition when discussing the benefits of participating in these competitions. Just be sure to not let the potential prizes cloud your creativity and passion for the musical entries that you create.
  • Application distinction – One of the hardest realities to accept the college admission landscape is its competitiveness. No matter where you apply to college, there will thousands upon thousands of fellow students competing for a limited number of spots. We advise students to do everything within reason to help distinguish themselves from fellow applicants. Participating in the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) will undoubtedly give you an advantage over other students. Admission officers will note your willingness to go out of your way to pursue your academic interest.
  • Practical experience – AdmissionSight is a huge supporter of extracurriculars, summer programs, and other endeavors that give students practical experience in their academic This real-life application isn’t only a great way to distinguish your abilities and display your skills, but they’re also an excellent test to see if this particular field is worth pursuing either academically or professionally. This insight will make it easier for you to land on a major and make it through college without setbacks caused by such hesitation.
  • Lifelong achievement – Participation in these competitions and the potential accolades that come along with it shouldn’t be taken lightly. While this inclusion on a college application will certainly help students stand apart, the benefits don’t stop there. No matter what academic and professional field you venture into, the inclusion of these competitions on your resume will reveal several positive attributes such as dedication, perseverance, and mastery that will help distinguish you at any point in your career.

What skills or experience should students have before participating in the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)?

While some of the requirements in the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME) are spelled out clearly (such as age and connection to the association), that doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t possess other skills or experiences before applying. Just because you’re eligible doesn’t mean you should rush to apply.

student musicians performing with their mentor

First and foremost, AdmissionSight recommends that students have an expressed, demonstrated, and long-standing interest in music that’s been explored, developed, and pursued both in and out of an academic setting. Secondly, we advise students to have a singular interest in pursuing a music-related field in college before applying to one of these competitions.

Although you might have a passion for music, your valuable time might be best spent elsewhere if you’re going to end up studying an unrelated subject. This leads us into the last skill that we recommend that students possess before applying: patience. Not only do you need to put in a lot of time to create and perfect your entry-piece, but you also need the free time to which you dedicate this project.

 What are some tips for participating in the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME)?

Practice, practice practice – There’s no substitute for practice when preparing something like a piece of music or composition for entrance into one of the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME).

We advise students to start preparing for months ahead of the deadline in order to ensure sufficient time to develop strong ideas and to practice sufficiently. Instead of burning yourself out over a shorter amount of time, you can sprinkle practice time into your daily schedule for an extended period of time.

Pencil and music sheet

Learn how to record properly – While completing a composition, writing a song, or performing on an instrument are the focus, having an ability to record properly will also be key for success in some of these competitions. Your piece could be the next classic, but it will go unappreciated if the recording is poor.

While you shouldn’t let this concern overshadow your focus on the real project at hand, learning to record properly is a key component to submitting a great entree piece. You could always outsource the recording if you’re not confident in your ability.

Perform your piece for other people – Unlike mathematics, science, or other fields where answers are objective and correct response is easily discernable, music is highly subjective and open to interpretation. This is one of the trickiest parts of preparing a piece for the National Association for Music Education Competitions (NAfME). That’s why we recommend playing your piece for friends, family members, or music teachers.

Not only is it good practice, but it gives you an accurate idea of how other people respond to hearing your piece. It’s an excellent source of constructive feedback that you might not have been able to discover yourself.

 AdmissionSight is here to help

AdmissionSight has dedicated itself to college admissions and academic pursuits for over a decade. Our team of admission experts has earned a reputation for helping students achieve their academic goals. In fact, we’ve helped countless students make their way into some of the best Ivy League Schools in the world, like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford – just to name a few.

Whether you’re looking for assistance preparing an admissions essay, choosing a fitting summer program, or getting into an academically-related competition, the AdmissionSight team is here to help. We have the expertise, experience, and tools to aid you in your pursuits. You’re encouraged to contact us to learn more about what we offer.


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