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Special Music School

Grades: K-12
Staff Pick
122 Amsterdam Avenue
Manhattan NY
Phone: 212-501-3318

Our Insights

What’s Special

Rigorous musical training and strong academics

The Downside

Many hours practicing doesn’t leave much time for playdates; high school in windowless basement rooms

The Special Music School offers intense musical training along with rigorous academics. It's tough to get in—400 children audition for just 15 kindergarten seats—but for those who are admitted, the opportunities are extraordinary.

The school, which has refused our repeated requests to visit, has evolved from its original mission—to replicate the strict focus of the music schools of the former Soviet Union—into a school that balances musical training with academics, music theory and music history, says Principal Katherine Banucci-Smith. The school's academic test scores are among the highest in the city.

Banucci-Smith, principal since 2010, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory, where she studied voice. As a child she played violin. She was formerly assistant principal at River East Elementary School.

The New York City Department of Education is responsible for the academic classes, while the Kaufman Music Center provides students with full music scholarships. The curriculum includes two private instrumental lessons each week and group classes in music theory, solfège (ear training), music history and chorus. At the end of 5th grade, all students must audition to be readmitted to the middle school, and very few leave.

For admission in grades K-2, no previous musical training is necessary. However, parents must ensure that their children will practice every day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for playdates. Children in grades 3 and up must audition on an instrument.

Originally serving grades K-8, the school has expanded to include grades 9-12. The high school is housed in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Complex, a couple of blocks away. The classrooms are on a lower floor that doesn’t have windows, according to parent comments. 

The high school admits only 50 students each year and has a total of 200. In addition to majoring in instrumental music, voice or composition, students may choose from a number of Advanced Placement courses. Spanish is offered as a foreign language. Clubs include chess, robotics, sailing and comic books. Teens participate in almost a dozen PSAL sports, such as bowling, cross country, wrestling, volleyball and basketball.

All prospective high school students are invited to audition in instrumental music, vocal and/or composition, according to the school website. Teens take a music theory test and participate in a mini improvisation workshop. Vocalists and instrumentalists may be asked to sight-read. Composers will be asked to discuss their music, ideas and compositional processes.

Members of the first graduating class of 2017 won acceptances to The Juilliard School, Columbia University, Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, Barnard College, Wellesley College, Oberlin College and McGill University, among many other schools, according to the school's website.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: There is a special education teacher who works with individuals and small groups of children to help them stay in the general education classrooms.

ADMISSIONS: Open houses are offered four times a year in the lower school. Testing for kindergarten begins in September. The younger children are asked to clap, sing and move to music; they are assessed based on their pitch, sense of rhythm and musical memory. The high school has two open houses in October. For 9th grade, preference is given to continuing 8th-graders (though in 2016 only about seven seats went to them), and then to the rest of New York City by audition, grades, test scores and an interview. The school occasionally has seats for students in upper grades—in a recent year, there were five spots open in 10th grade. Applications are available on the school's website or by calling the school. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and school data, March 2018)    





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School Stats

Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Is this school safe and well-run?

From 2018-19 NYC School Survey

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
77% Citywide Average
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
86% Citywide Average
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
44% Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
83% Citywide Average
How many teachers say they would recommend this school to other families?
83% Citywide Average

From 2017-18 NY State Report Card

How many students were suspended?
1% Citywide Average

From this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Are teachers effective?

From 2018-19 School Quality Guide

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
82% Citywide Average
Years of principal experience at this school

How do students perform academically?

From 2019 State ELA+Math Results Summary

How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
67% Citywide Average
How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
62% Citywide Average
How many middle school students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
66% Citywide Average
How many middle school students scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
62% Citywide Average

From 2021 Middle School Directory

What high schools do most graduates attend?
Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and Special Music School
Accelerated courses offered for high school credit
Algebra I,Living Environment

From 2018-19 School Quality Guide

How many students graduate in 4 years?
95% Citywide Average
How many students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help?
80% Citywide Average
How many students take a college-level course or earn a professional certificate?
70% Citywide Average
How many graduates stay enrolled in college for at least 3 semesters?
86% Citywide Average

Who does this school serve?

From 2019-20 Demographic Snapshot

Free or reduced priced lunch
Students with disabilities
English language learners

From 2018-19 School Quality Guide

How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
12% Citywide Average

From 2020 School Directories

Uniforms required?

For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Programs & Admissions

From the 2021 High School Directory

Voice, Instrument, and Composition
Admissions Method: Audition
Program Description:

We offer students the opportunity to major in Instrumental Music, Voice, or Composition. Students receive approximately 10 hours of music instruction throughout the week. Professional musicians lead large ensembles, chamber groups, and private study. Students work with visiting artists through master classes. Upperclassmen choose from a variety of interest-based electives including Orchestral Conducting, Entrepreneurship, Recording and Production, Jazz History and Theory.


Language Courses


Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP Calculus AB, AP English Language and Composition, AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP United States History, AP Music Theory, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Computer Science A, AP Spanish Language and Culture


Boys PSAL teams

Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Handball, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Volleyball, Wrestling

Girls PSAL teams

Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Flag Football, Handball, Indoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Volleyball, Wrestling

Coed PSAL teams

Double Dutch

Read about admissions, academics, and more at this school on NYCDOE’s MySchools
NYC Department of Education: MySchools

Contact & Location


Upper West Side (District 3)
Trains: 1 Line to 66th St-Lincoln Center; 2 Line, 3 Line to 72nd St; A Line, C Line, B Line, D Line to 59th St-Columbus Circle
Buses: BxM2, M10, M104, M11, M20, M5, M57, M66, M7, M72


Katherine Banucci-Smith
Parent Coordinator
Lisa Stump

Other Details

Shared campus?
This school shares a building with another school.
Uniforms required?
Metal detectors?

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