Skip to main content
Search Icon

Piano Competency Requirements

***Revised Preparation Plan***
Dr. Daniel Rieppel
Professor of Music, SMSU, Marshall
Fall Semester 2014

In conjunction with the MN Board of Teaching guidelines and those of our accrediting body, National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and in accordance with the SMSU Music Program Goals from our handbook, these guidelines will help shape music students preparation to take the Music Program’s piano competency exam that is required of all vocal and instrumental majors at SMSU. Here is an overview of some of the philosophy behind these revisions as well as the structure of the exam itself.

MN Board of Teaching (BOT) Guidelines:

Subp. 3. Subject matter standard. A candidate for licensure as a teacher of vocal music or instrumental music must complete a program under subpart 2, item C, that must include the candidate's demonstration of the knowledge and skills in items A, B, D and E or A, C, D and E.
A. All music teachers must have the ability to:
(3) perform simple keyboard accompaniments and play parts from a musical score
B. A teacher of vocal music must:
(2) demonstrate ability to accompany a vocal ensemble on a keyboard instrument

NASM Guidelines:

Keyboard competency:
(3) Functional Performance.
In addition to the skills required for all musicians, functional performance abilities in keyboard and the voice are essential. Functional performance abilities in instruments appropriate to the student’s teaching specialization are also essential.

SMSU Music Program Goals (per our handbook):

Although keyboard fluency touches on most, if not all, of the goals of our music program, it specifically relates to these two main areas—

Goal #1: Performance Skills/Student Outcome 1B. Students will demonstrate the piano skills
necessary to become successful musicians in their emphasis of study (performers, educators, composers and managers).

Goal #2: Theoretical and Aural Skills/Student Outcome 2C. Students will recognize and reproduce common melodic and rhythmic structures by sight and sound.

Bearing this in mind, the exam will henceforth take this shape

  1. Scales
  2. Arpeggios
  3. Primary/Secondary Chordal Patterns
  4. Accompanying Folk Melodies with Chordal Patterns 
  5. Sightreading Folk Songs and Simpler Classical Pieces
  6. Reading score examples in alto/tenor clefs/reading score examples in differently tuned instruments (for instrumental majors only)
  7. Playing warmups for choral groups and vocal instruction (for vocal majors only)
  8.  Performing a solo piano piece fluently and in good musical taste (not more than 2 mistakes)

Scale practicing remains an important part of the exam as well as any serious attempt at keyboard practice. The “usual” regimen will be followed—2 octaves, ascending and descending, hands together in all major and harmonic minor keys. For the exam, no more than two mistakes can happen to pass this portion of the exam, i.e. wrong notes, missed notes, hesitations, et. al.

Although this section has traditionally been included in the exam in years past, we’ve all kind of inverted our gaze when it came to this….well, they’re back! Again, these are two octaves, both hands ascending and descending, but not all keys are involved. Only C, G, D, A, F, B-flat and E-flat major and minor will be tested.

Primary/Secondary Chordal Patterns
This section may be new to some of you; others have already started learning how to form I-IV-V chord patterns, as well as secondary chords (ii, iii, vi, and vii°) in what is sometimes referred to as “close” position. In this sense of the term, that means keeping all accompanying chord formations as close to tonic as possible. A chart will follow to help clarify this situation. This is a very important part of the exam, as it shows how much you have absorbed certain aspects of theory study.

Accompanying Folk Melodies with Chordal Patterns
Also an important part of the exam that will in a sense synthesize your knowledge of the section above. Folk melodies will be chosen, not as extensively as in the past, but with an eye to using either only primary chords or a combination of primary and secondary chords. Here are two websites from which several of the kinds of folk melodies will be gleaned.;i=1;q=American+Folk+Melody

Sightreading Folk Songs and Simpler Classical Pieces
This section is probably self-evident—folksongs and quite simple pieces of Bach (i.e. from the Anna Magdalena Büchlein, the earliest pieces of Mozart, simple Telemann dances, Mikrokosmos I and II of Bartok and the like….)

Reading score examples in alto/tenor clefs/reading score examples in differently tuned instruments (for instrumental majors only)
For this I will rely on the good graces of my colleagues Ginocchio and Kingsbury—forthcoming.

Playing warmups for choral groups and vocal instruction (for vocal majors only)
“Ad eundum quo nemo ante iit”—again, forthcoming.

Performing a solo piano piece fluently and in good musical taste (not more than 2 mistakes)
The playing of a prepared piece will be the capstone of your achievement in the piano competency exam. The piece will be chosen from the Repertoire Level III book that will be more or less in general use starting this semester, entitled: Exploring Piano Classics, written, edited and with added commentary by Prof. Nancy Bachus and published by the Alfred Music Company.


MUS 260, Piano Competency

A. The Piano Proficiency examination is a requirement for graduation in all degree programs with the music major/minor. It is required by the Minnesota State Board of Teaching prior to registration for student teaching.

  1. Piano Competency (MUS 260) is an exam, not a course. It is offered every semester.
  2. Students are expected to complete the Class Piano sequence in order to prepare for the competency. In situations where Class Piano is not possible, students should register for Applied Piano (MUS 161) until such time that they can be placed into the appropriate Class Piano course or successfully complete the competency.
  3. If a student does not pass all parts of the exam during the semester of registration, she/he may continue to work toward passing it without further registration.
  4. Each student is expected to continue taking Class Piano or Applied Piano (161) until the exam is completed.

B. Skills required for the competency will vary depending on the students’ major/minor and emphasis. See the Piano Competency Manual for a detailed listing of requirements. However, commonly required skills include (but are not limited to):

  1. Play major and harmonic minor scales, two octaves, with both hands in parallel motion.
  2. Perform major and harmonic minor arpeggios, three octaves (ascending and descending), hands together, with correct fingering.
  3. Harmonize selected melodies with both primary, secondary and secondary dominant chords.
  4. Sight-read a folk song or an elementary-level classical piece (including simpler Bach chorales).
  5. Perform a composition of first or second grade difficulty (e.g. solo pieces of J.S. Bach; one movement from a Clementi Sonatina; any piece from Burgmuller, Op. 100; pieces from Vol. II of Mikrokosmos by Bartok) in a musical manner.


Last Modified: 3/13/17 6:50 PM