Who is eligible for Project STEP

The mission of Project STEP is to address the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in professional classical music by preparing them to compete and succeed in that world. The program is open to Black, Latinx and other racial and ethnic minority children underrepresented in classical music. Project STEP accepts students from Boston and the surrounding areas and provides instruction on classical string instruments only: violin, viola, cello and double bass.

How do students get into Project STEP

There are 2 ways to enter Project STEP:

  1. FOCUS program, for children in Kindergarten
  2. By audition, for grades 1-11
    • If your child currently enrolled in Kindergarten/K2, they can apply for our FOCUS program in December of their Kindergarten year.
    • If your child is in 1st-11th grade and already plays a string instrument, they can audition into the program. Project STEP holds auditions each May.
    • If your child is 6 years old or older and does not already play a string instrument, then you can click here for a list of other area music schools and programs where you can register your child to begin music lessons. They can then sign up to audition at a later date when they can meet the entry requirements.

To learn more about joining Project STEP, click here

What is the benefit of being a Project STEP student

Each Project STEP student receives:


  • Private Lessons on violin, viola, cello or bass
  • Group Suzuki Classes for grades 1 & 2
  • Music theory Classes for grades 3 -8
  • Chamber Music/Group Ensemble for grades 3-12
  • Large Ensemble or Orchestra for grades 6-12
  • Recital/Workshop rotation
  • Instruction and mentorship by some of the Boston area’s top professional musicians
  •  Instruments provided to all students
  • Masterclasses with renowned guest artists
  • Stipend for summer music camp
  • Distinguished performance opportunities
  • Free or reduced tickets prices to professional-level classical music concerts
  • Extensive support from STEP’s staff relating to all aspects of the training program, instrument use/care, choice of summer music camps and colleges/conservatories, etc.
  • Extensive support from STEP’s community of students and families who bond during their years  of time together

How many students are in Project STEP

There are usually between one and five students in each grade in Project STEP. While many students come into Project STEP after FOCUS and remain through their senior year in high school, each year STEP students must pass an exam in order to remain in the program. In general we have about 60 students in grades 1 through 12, and over 100 students in FOCUS.

Where do the students take their lessons and classes

Most weekly training occurs on Saturdays during the academic year in practice rooms at Symphony Hall or at NEC, and in teachers’ private studios throughout the greater Boston area.

Do parents attend classes

Parents are required to attend classes during the first two years in Project STEP, for students in first and second grade. After that, attendance is optional; note that some teachers may request that parents wait outside during lessons. Additionally, it is highly recommended that parents of younger students sit in with their child while they complete their daily practice. All parents are encouraged to attend monthly Parents’ Council meetings and regularly scheduled student workshops and recitals.

What if parents have no musical experience

That is often the case. The Project STEP programming staff works with parents on how they can support their students’ music program effectively and make themselves available when parents need assistance.  Additionally, families have the support system of other parents in the program; Project STEP offers a Buddy Mentoring program for new families and the Parents’ Council holds meetings monthly to discuss topics such as how to practice, summer camp auditions, and time management.

How is STEP funded

88% of the cost of the program is raised from generous individual donations ​and foundation and government grants. In addition, STEP benefits from its affiliations with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New England Conservatory, and Boston University through their in-kind donations of office and classroom space.

Families of Project STEP do pay an annual fee, which makes up about 3% of our annual operating budget.

Has Project STEP helped others to start similar programs

Yes. Project STEP has actively consulted with programs throughout the country that have replicated our successful model. Atlanta, Dallas, Buffalo, and Baltimore have developed or are developing programs that offer comprehensive music education to talented minority students. Two Project STEP alumni have started their own programs modeled on Project STEP: Music Haven, in New Haven, was started by Colin Benn, and SOUNDS, in Mesa, Arizona, was launched by Kirk Johnson.

Why does Project STEP only offer lessons on stringed instruments

There is a practical reason: Stringed instruments make up the largest sections of orchestras by a significant percentage, and therefore provide the greatest opportunity for aspiring musicians. We want to focus our efforts on what will ultimately give our students the greatest prospects for playing in orchestras, should they decide to make that their goal.