The National Association for Music Education holds four competitions each year. For kindergartners through college students, there are the Student Composers Competition for ensemble or orchestra (April deadline), and Electronic Music Composition Competition (April deadline). For K–12 entrants, there are the Student Songwriters Competition (April deadline) and the All-National Honor Ensembles for performers (September deadline in 2021; for most years, the deadline is in May). Submission requirements vary, and prizes include cash, written critiques and professional recordings of submitted compositions.
The National Young Composers Challenge encourages teens 13–18 to compose a classical work for ensemble (from two to six instruments) or full orchestra. There is no fee to enter. The submission deadline is Oct. 1, and winners are announced in April. Each year, winners earn a recording of their score performed by professional musicians of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, ensemble winners receive $500; orchestra winners receive $1,000.
American Protégé holds seven different international musical performance competitions each year: Piano and Strings, Concerto, Romantic Music, Music Talent, Vocal, Woodwinds and Brass, and We Sing Pop! All of these competitions are open to all ages (judged in age categories). Deadlines fall in the winter months of October–February. At $200, the entrance fee is high. Awards include a $300 scholarship, trophies and an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall.
This is another organization that holds multiple contests. Most of these are for adults and college students, but the Art Song Composition contest has no age requirement. For $15, students can enter their art song (think opera without the theater) to win $1,000–$2,000 and a trip to the NATS national conference. The deadline is in December.
If your kid is looking to take their garage band to a bigger venue, Unsigned Only taps famous pop stars to judge original and cover songs in more than a dozen popular genres and categories. There doesn’t appear to be a minimum age as long as parents give consent for their child to participate. Early-bird submission in September is $25, escalating to $35 by the April deadline. Prizes range from merch and video production all the way up to $20,000 and a chance to make a pitch to record label executives.
The Washington State Music Teachers Association holds four annual contests, each with at least three tiers: Composition, Performance, Outstanding Artist and Young Composers Project. Registration generally begins in August, with deadlines ranging from September through November. Costs and prizes vary.
The ISC has a dedicated teen category for competitors 18 and younger, but there are no age requirements to enter any of the other myriad genre categories. Entry fees start at $25 in June and escalate to $35 in November.
More music contests
If you still haven’t found a perfect fit, check out Musical America Worldwide’s list of nearly 100 contests around the world.