SAT Strings Program

The 2017 Student Achievement Test for Strings will be administered at EMU on Saturday February 25, for students who reside in the area of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, surrounding Washtenaw County and other surrounding communities in SE Michigan.

The Strings division of the MMTA is continuing with this opportunity for school age students playing violin and viola. This year students may take part who are beginner to advanced intermediate levels. Testing levels roughly follow the equivalent levels of playing expected in Suzuki Books 1 through 10, but this year we are prepared to test from Level 1 through Level 6, as we work through a process of revising the Handbook. Eventually we will be able to test through level 10 in violin and viola, and will expand the instruments taking the test to include lower strings (cello and bass).

FAQs from students, teachers and parents: 

What is the SAT? Does this have anything to do with Scholastic Aptitude Test?  No, this is the Student Achievement Test, which is an examination developed by, and offered through the Michigan Music Teachers Association.

What does is it cover?   The SAT is an exam that tests performance skills, sight reading, aural awareness, music theory and musicianship.

Who may take part?  If you are currently a violin or viola student of school age and not yet in college, if you take private lessons or are working with an orchestra teacher at your school, you may participate. Please note: teachers sending students may be asked to volunteer their help on SAT day, as well as parents.  It is an "all hands on deck" project.

Who sponsors the SAT for Strings?  The Michigan Music Teachers Association sponsors the annual test, overall, as a coordinator. But Achievement Tests are given and administered by MMTA local chapters throughout the state.

In Ann Arbor, we are still at the near-pilot stage, of the "revised" SAT String exams. We offer the SAT under the auspices of the Ann Arbor Area Piano Teachers Guild, or AAPTG, which is the local chapter of the Michigan Music Teachers Association for Ann Arbor and the surrounding area.

What happens on SAT Day?  For those who’ve registered, on the day of the SAT students come to play their prepared pieces, scales, and sight-reading, for a judge. They may also opt to take a written exam in other areas at their level. Participants will receive written feedback on their playing and their written test, and an overall score, plus a certificate. The possibility of competing at the State Level in May for scholarship prizes and special recognition is reserved for those who are MMTA members and score above a certain number of points. Anyone can become a member of MMTA. Information is available on the MMTA website.

When is it happening?  It will take place on Saturday, February 25, 2017, from 10am until it's done, probably early in the afternoon, depending on how many register. 

Where?  Eastern Michigan University in the Alexander Building

What’s included on the Strings SAT?  There are two basic portions: Performance and Written.

Perform three pieces appropriate to your level of playing, showing contrasting styles or from different periods. You will play a scale or scales, and arpeggio or arpeggios. Sight-reading is not required at Level 1.

The Written portion will cover aural awareness, music theory, awareness of your instrument, and general musicianship.

What kind of pieces?  Any three pieces at your playing level, that are from contrasting eras and demonstrate your playing qualities. Levels 1 – 3 could be any three pieces the teacher selects.

From Level 4 and up, each piece should be selected from three of four categories: Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Contemporary.  One of your pieces may be an etude that highlights your playing abilities. 

What about accompanists?  We will provide a wonderful accompanist who is highly familiar with the string repertoire. However, if you wish you may bring your own accompanist.

May I play without piano? A piece that is intended to be performed with piano accompaniment must be played with the accompaniment. However, unaccompanied solo pieces are welcome, and will be played alone, as are etudes. 

Do my three pieces need to be memorized?  Memorization is encouraged for all three. If you can only play two of the pieces for memory, that is also fine. The more you play for memory the greater your chances for full points. A student who has not memorized any of the pieces may still play for SAT but will not be eligible to play at District Level, even if the playing was otherwise very strong. To continue to District Level at least two of the pieces must have been played for memory.

How long should my pieces be? Refer to the guidelines on the MMTA website for additional information on timings of pieces for each age and level.

Total playing time for Levels 1A – 2B:            5 minutes  

                                    Levels 3 – 4:               10 minutes

                                    Levels 5 – 7:               15 minutes

                                    Levels 8 – 10:              20 minutes

What about a judge’s copy?  Yes, you will need to provide an unmarked, published, clean score (not a photocopy), with measures numbered, for the judge, of each piece to be played.

What about Scales and Arpeggios?  You’ll be asked to play one Scale and arpeggio, appropriate to your level, from a selection of keys, for memory. The scales and keys are indicated by level, in the student SAT handbook. In addition, upper level participants will be asked to also play scales in thirds, sixths, and octaves.

What are the elements on which I’ll be graded in the Performance Section of the SAT? 

In performance of your pieces, the judge will be looking for clean intonation, clarity and consistency of rhythm, and good tone. With higher testing levels, the focus will also include expression, interpretation, effective bow use, range of vibrato, good posture and playing form, degree of communication in musical presentation, and playing in styles that are fitting and appropriate to the piece or era; i.e., being musically flexible and informed.

 – In scales and arpeggios, you'll be graded on accuracy in intonation, beauty of tone, use of bow, and steadiness in tempo. At levels 6 and above you may be asked to play your scales and arpeggios using different kinds of bowings than basic detaché, or slurred legato. 

-  For sight-reading, ease and accuracy. 

What’s the SAT for; does it lead to something?  At the local level it is an enriching experience; a relaxed and informal opportunity to play three pieces before a judge, who issues written feedback and a score based on your performance. This score is combined with the outcome of your written test. Those scoring a total of 80 or above will be eligible to play and compete at District Semi-Finals. At higher levels, the same three pieces are to be performed. No other skills are tested; there’s no written part.

Top District scorers will compete at the State level, for which winners receive honors, and monetary prizes. The District winners play at State Semi-Finals in May, and the State winner will play for the MMTA Fall Conference, the following October.  

Some more thoughts about why doing the SAT is a valuable experience: 

  1. The SAT itself is not a competition. It is a program in learning and self-motivation, an excellent way to keep up your students' momentum, for them to feel their progress, learn to practice effectively, and become increasingly more motivated to grow, year after year. Students who prepare for and participate in the SAT, experience the excitement of steady and tangible growth in their musical abilities and skills, musical understanding and sophistication, and their joy in playing over the years. The challenge will keep your students focused on long term goals. SAT outcomes help track individual progress as students reach higher levels each year. 
  2. Preparing for and taking the SAT develops character and persistence. Students learn to pace their practice and set long term goals. By experiencing such tangible achievement they'll discover that with consistent effort and application they can do anything they set out to do so long as there is a plan with structure, good guidance, stick-to-it-ness, inspiration, and a willingness to do the work. 
  3. One needs to witness the sense of accomplishment by students as they receive their SAT Certificate for completing the testing. Those who are high scorers two years in a row receive a trophy for their accomplishments. Students who go on and play at the district and state levels of MMTA’s awards program receive recognition and monetary prizes.
  4. Recognition for hard work creates measures of achievement that can enhance a student’s future. They add luster to high school academic records. SAT participation and awards become quantifiable credentials on a transcript, an academic record, and a resume of accomplishments, so crucial upon entering college, and later, the work force. Nowadays, parents know that it's never too early to begin forming character, the ability to focus and stay with a task, to have fun while recognizing one’s abilities, and opportunities for valuable achievements by their children.
  5. As students mature and approach their senior year of high school, even if their parents didn't do so much the foot work early on, students themselves are starting to think about post-secondary selective scholastic and perhaps music programs. Middle school and high school students should be aware that SAT results are an impressive feature on their resume, demonstrating a tangible, qualitative and quantitative achievement on college applications that will set them apart, demonstrating a serious level of commitment and hard work in a challenging and worthwhile subject that has universal academic, artistic and spiritual merit. It’s not only crucial and useful for those taking up music, obviously, but also impressive to recruiters and admissions personnel at colleges, for those embarking on fields of study outside of music, or in addition to music.   
  6. Besides these important incentives that help boost musical progress and performance acumen, significant life lessons and deepening of character and responsibility can be gained from the experience of preparing and playing well under pressure, and mastering challenging musicianship skills.
  7. It's about setting habits for a lifelong endeavor of growth and developing tools for staying mentally young.
  8. Building a desire to reach higher levels of musicianship and accomplishment starts early, from the foundational years of playing, and it continues right through the high school years, into college, and throughout life.
  9. A life of playing music enhances life itself. Albert Einstein, who learned to play violin as a child from his mother, found inspiration in his music, and thanked it for his creative thinking and mental alertness. Later in life he went everywhere with his violin, and continued to practice, and play violin even into his later years at Princeton. He found playing energizing, relaxing, entertaining, and stimulating. Moreover, through music he was able to reach out to others, usually other scientists, writers, academics and thinkers, with whom he played chamber music.   
  10. The skills and character developed by participation in the SAT eventually apply to all aspects of life, enriching one’s endeavors. Striving to play music well, and being all that we can be, is a quest that never needs to end! 
  11. The SAT is only offered during the childhood years through high school. So don’t wait; do it now, while your children are young! What a privilege!  

How can I find out more about the performance portion, and what I might find on the written exam?  

Please refer to the MMTA website, for the posting of the Strings SAT Handbook with Revisions, Level 1-A – Level 6.  



How do I register? Print out the registration form found on the MMTA website, fill it out and make a copy, place it in an envelope together with a check for the appropriate amount (see below).  Make the check payable to AAPTG (Ann Arbor Piano Teachers Guild), and place in the memo line, “Strings SAT” and the last name of the student.  Mail it to the following address:

Strings SAT, c/o W.Zohar, 2760 Gladstone Avenue, Ann Arbor MI 48104

Is there a deadline? Yes. To register at the regular price you must mail your registration materials by February 10, so that registration materials will be received by the deadline of February 13, 2017.  Registration after that date will be confirmed only at the discretion of the test administrator. If your application is accepted you will be assessed a $10 late fee, to be paid at the testing center on the day of the SAT.

What is the cost?  It is $40 for Levels 1-4, and $45 for 5-10. For students working with teachers who are members of MMTA, the cost is reduced by $10:  $30/35. 

What if I miss the deadline to sign up?  Your registration application must be received no later than February 13, 2017. For any registrations received after that it is up to the SAT administrator’s discretion whether your application may be accepted, depending on adequate time allotment and space.  If we are not able to accept your application, your check will be returned. However, if there is room for you, you will be notified, and you will pay a late fee of $10.00 on the day of the SAT as you sign in.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please address any questions to me: 

Wendy C. Zohar, String Division Chair for SAT (MMTA)

B.Mus.-Violin Perf, M.Mus.-Violin Perf, Advanced Diploma in Kodály Approach to Music Education, J.D.




Wendy Caron Zohar's picture
SAT Strings Chair