Music Theory Validation Exam

A course of study in music theory is required of each student in the College of Music. Students who have previously studied music theory have a one-time opportunity to place out of the first and/or second semester of ear-training/sight-singing via a “Freshman-level theory” exam. The aural skills exam is open to all incoming first-year and transfer students, and the written music theory exam is open to those students who have been invited to take the written-theory exam based on their scores on the AOP diagnostic exam. Students who have not been invited to the written-theory waiver exam should not come to that exam, but are welcome to attempt the aural exam if they wish.

2019 Music Theory Validation Exam
Monday, August 26, 2019, 11:45 a.m.–1:45 p.m., 419 Music Practice Building

  • Regardless of how much previous music theory coursework she/he has had, any freshman or transfer student  may elect to take the aural-skills portion of the waiver exam. Moreover, any freshman or transfer student who has been invited to attempt the written-theory waiver exam is welcome to attempt all or part of a combined waiver exam for MUS 180, 181, 280, and 281.
  • The exam is offered in a single, 2-hour block just prior to the fall semester.
  • The exam is clearly sectioned into groups of questions pertaining to each course.  
  • Students who take the exam will be notified before the start of the fall semester about whether they have waived out of one or more courses.
  • Students must take a written theory course either before or concurrently with its corresponding aural skills course. So, for example, a student who passes out of MUS 182 (first-semester aural skills) and MUS 183 (second-semester aural skills), but not out of any written music theory courses, must wait until s/he has completed MUS 180 (first-semester music theory) and MUS 181 (second-semester music theory) before enrolling in MUS 282 (third-semester aural skills).

Undergraduate Curricular Summary


MUS 180 and MUS 180E : Fundamentals of Music
MUS 180 and MUS 180E are the introductory courses in the undergraduate music theory sequence, designed to equip students with fundamental skills that prepare them to engage more deeply with music in subsequent courses. MUS 180E deals with the same material as MUS 180, but it meets for more time each week to provide additional opportunity to build fundamental skills. While some material will be review for some students, the overall approach to music theory, with its emphasis on descriptive and interpretive analysis, idiomatic progressions, harmonic hierarchy, and species counterpoint, will be new to most students. Students will develop fluency with musical fundamentals including pitch, tonality, notation, scales, modes, rhythm, meter, intervals, and chords. They will be able to spell and identify intervals, triads, and seventh chords; write and identify major and minor key signatures; identify meters; and correctly notate rhythms within a given meter. They also will be able to write species counterpoint and control dissonance using passing tones, and neighboring tones. Finally, they will be able to write and analyze music hierarchically, following the voice-leading norms of common-practice tonal music.

MUS 182 : Ear Training and Sight Singing I
MUS 182 is the first semester in a four-semester sequence of courses that aim to develop audiation, which is the ability to hear, remember, understand, and sing musical patterns and structures. It is expected that students enrolled in MUS 182 are also currently (or previously) enrolled in MUS 180 (written theory); this class will run in parallel with the written theory class, drawing on skills and content developed there. Students will be able to recognize and notate musical structures both small (e.g., pitches, intervals, chords, rhythms) and large (e.g., melodies and harmonic progressions). Students also will be able to sight-sing using tonal and rhythmic syllables.


MUS 181 : Musicianship I
In MUS 181, students will learn to identify and write common musical structures (the “what” of music), as well as explore how and why musical passages and compositions work. Students will deal almost exclusively with diatonic tonal music, going beneath the surface of the music to study its melodic, harmonic, contrapuntal, and rhythmic underpinnings. Students will be able to write and identify cadences, embellishing tones, species counterpoint, 6/3 chords to expand I and V, inversions of V7, vii˚7, predominant harmonies and the phrase model, embellishing tones and suspensions, 6/4 chords, invertible counterpoint, compound melody, motive, non-dominant 7th chords, phrases and sub-phrases, the mediant and submediant triads, back-relating dominants, and applied chords.

MUS 183 : Ear Training and Sight Singing II
In MUS 183, the second semester of ear training and sight singing, students will continue to develop skills in melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic dictation; triad and seventh-chord identification; singing at sight from notation using syllables; and singing melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns without notation. Students will be able to identify by ear and write increasingly long and disjunct diatonic melodies, harmonic progressions involving all diatonic triads (studied in MUS 181), and increasingly long and complex rhythmic passages in various duple and triple meters. Furthermore, they will be able to sing tunes at sight in treble, alto, tenor, and bass clefs, and to improvise tonic, subdominant, and dominant patterns in major and minor keys using pitch syllables, as well as rhythmic patterns using Gordon syllables.


MUS 280 : Musicianship II
MUS 280 continues the process begun in MUS 180 and MUS 181, providing a foundation in the structure of common-practice tonal music of the 18th and 19th centuries. Expanding upon the diatonic harmony addressed in the two previous courses, students will deal extensively this semester with chromaticism, including secondary dominants, tonicization, diatonic and chromatic modulation, modal mixture, and other expressive devices. They also will examine musical form increasingly closely, studying small structures such as periods, sentences, and binary forms. Upon completion of the course, students will be able to identify cadence types, phrase types, binary forms, sequences, and expressive chromaticism aurally and from a score; to model these structures through short written composition and keyboard assignments; to distinguish among harmonic prolongations, progressions, and modulations; to articulate and diagram essential compositional strategies for small musical forms; and to engage in scholarly discourse by applying standard terminology for all of the above.

MUS 282 : Advanced Ear Training and Sight Singing I
MUS 282 is the third of four courses in the ear training and sight singing sequence. Building upon their work in MUS 182 and MUS 183, students will develop greater fluency with tonal and rhythmic syllables, using them for sight singing, dictation, and basic tonal and rhythmic improvisation. By the end of the course, students will be able to sight-sing diatonic and moderately chromatic melodies using melodic syllables (moveable do); chant at sight any usual duple- or triple-meter rhythm using rhythmic syllables; transcribe a primarily diatonic, two-phrase melody in duple or triple meter; transcribe the outer voices of a primarily diatonic, two-phrase harmonic progression and identify the harmonies; arpeggiate primarily diatonic chord progressions using syllables; and sing functional progressions (by Jershild) in major keys
through six sharps.


MUS 281: Musicianship III
MUS 281, the last course in the four-semester study of common-practice tonal music, builds upon students’ previous study of small-scale form to encompass larger forms, both sectional ones (e.g., ternary and rondo) and continuous ones (e.g., sonata, sonata-rondo, concerto-allegro, and slow-movement). Students will learn to identify the components of these large-scale forms both aurally and from a score, including ones that deviate from the prototypical norms; they will express their formal observations both graphically and through precise analytical terminology. Students also will learn to hear, write, and identify tonal ambiguity and symmetry, exploring the advanced chromatic techniques that came into usage during the nineteenth century, such as plagal relations, enharmonic modulations, altered dominant-seventh chords, common-tone chords, chromatic sequences, equal divisions of the octave, and the omnibus progression.

MUS 283: Advanced Ear Training and Sight Singing II
MUS 283 is the fourth and final semester in the ear training and sight singing sequence of courses. Continuing the work that they have done in MUS 282, students will hone their skills in melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic dictation; in singing melodies and rhythms at sight; and in improvising tonal patterns in major and minor and rhythms in asymmetric meters and with nested tuplets. The melodies for singing and dictation will be increasingly chromatic, disjunct, and complex. Students are expected to sing accurately, in tune, and with correct tonal and rhythmic syllables. Harmonic progressions will include all of the chromatic chords covered in MUS 280 and 281.


MUS 381: Twentieth-Century Music
In MUS 381, students will learn compositional processes and materials that gained prominence during the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, as well as the analytical techniques that were devised to explain them. Students will be able to identify these techniques and processes in a variety of representative compositions, to reproduce these techniques and processes in their own compositions, to explain and demonstrate them to others, to situate the techniques and compositions within the the historical period(s) in which they were influential, and to recognize aurally some of the most important compositions of the twentieth century.