+ The Core Curriculum in Music Theory

An important component of the Conservatory’s B.Mus. degree program is the five-term course sequence in Music Theory, Aural Skills, and Sight Singing. The core theory curriculum is a foundational exploration of the materials of tonal and non-tonal Western music, integrating the study of harmony, counterpoint, form, analysis, ear training and sight singing. While the curriculum is geared toward developing your skillful use of musical materials, its larger goal is to guide you toward a deeper understanding of Western musical structure and process—of how music is organized and why.

The core music theory sequence is required of all B.Mus. students (including those in the double-degree program) as well as any B.A. students who wish to take the core music theory sequence. It is not required of B.A. - Music students, nor is it required of students enrolled in the B.M.A. program in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation.

Students normally begin the core theory sequence in the fall term of their first year at Lawrence and complete it by the end of winter term of their second year. Timely completion of the sequence is important not only because music theory courses are prerequisite to other required courses in the B.Mus. degree program but also because the skills you develop in them apply directly to your activities as a performer, composer, theorist, or music educator.


+ What you can do now to prepare for the Core Theory Curriculum

The core Music Theory curriculum at Lawrence is thorough, rigorous, and for most students fast-paced. Your conscientious preparation this summer will significantly enhance your success in this important part of the conservatory’s core curriculum. Please feel free to contact Professor Bates (ian.bates@lawrence.edu) should you have any questions regarding the theory curriculum or the placement exams.

In order to achieve our goal of guiding you toward a deeper understanding of how music works, we expect incoming Conservatory students to have attained a thorough and practiced proficiency in music theory fundamentals and a level of aural discrimination adequate for entrance into the required five-term sequence. To that end, all entering B.Mus. students (including transfers) are required to complete the Music Theory Preliminary Assessment no later than June 10. If you score below 85% on the Preliminary Assessment, we strongly recommend that you complete our E-course in Music Theory Fundamentals – to which you will automatically receive the enrollment key upon completion of the Preliminary Assessment. This will prepare you to take the Music Theory Placement Exam, which will be open between July 11 and August 21.  

Written fundamentals

Fluency in reading pitches in both treble and bass clefs

  • Fluency in rhythmic notation, including note values, ties, rests, meter signatures
  • Quick and accurate recall of the spelling and notation of:
    • all major and minor scales (including the three forms of minor)
    • all major and minor key signatures
    • all intervals of an octave or less
    • all major, minor, diminished and augmented triads
  • Knowledge of inversion of intervals and triads; basic harmonic function in major and minor keys

Aural skills

  • Ability to recognize by ear:
    • intervals of an octave or less (by name and in notation) major, minor and diminished triads in root position and inversion (by name and in notation)
  • Ability to sing at sight (without accompaniment):
    • a brief melody written in either treble or bass clef intervals and arpeggiated triads (both by name and from notation)
  • Ability to notate short melodic fragments (both pitches and rhythms)

+ Recommended texts and materials for summer study

We recommend the following resources to supplement your summer study of music theory fundamentals and associated aural skills; they can complement your work with Lawrence's E-course in Music Theory Fundamentals.  We also encourage non-pianists to take some piano lessons during the summer, as keyboard facility will greatly enhance your study of music theory and prepare you well for Lawrence's Basic Keyboard Skills curriculum.

  • Ann K. Blombach, MacGAMUT 6. ISBN-13: 978-1-886997-21-9.  Recommended software for ear training and theory fundamentals; cross-platform for Mac and Windows. MacGAMUT is available from www.macgamut.com ($40 download).
  • Elizabeth Sayrs, MFun. ISBN-13: 978-1-886997-23-3. Recommended software for music theory fundamentals; cross platform for Mac and Windows.  MFun is available from www.macgamut.com ($40 download).
  • John Clough, Joyce Conley, and Claire Boge, Scales, Intervals, Keys, Triads, Rhythm, and Meter, third edition. (New York: Norton, 1999).  ISBN-13: 978-0-393-97369-3.  An excellent programmed learning workbook for theory fundamentals.


+ Required texts for fall term

There are no required textbooks for Music Theory & Analysis or Aural Skills classes. You can order the required textbooks for Sight Singing classes either through the Lawrence Online Bookstore or from a variety of online booksellers. Just be sure you order the correct edition – and verify the ISBN. You must purchase physical copies of each of the following textbooks, rather than electronic or PDF versions.  In any case, be sure to purchase them far enough in advance of fall term so that you have received them by the first day of classes. 

Sight Singing

  • Nancy Rogers and Robert W. Ottman, Music for Sight Singing, 10th edition (Pearson, 2019). Softcover; spiral bound. ISBN 978-0-134-47545-5. Please do not purchase the digital or subscription versions; you will need a physical copy of the book in class.
  • Coursepack of Anne C. Hall, Studying Rhythm, 3rd edition (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2005). ISBN: 978-0-130-40602-6.  Unless you can find a used copy of the 3rd edition, please do not purchase this book from online retailers but only from the LU Online Bookstore.  The book is now in a 4th edition, but with the publisher's consent we have created a coursepack of the now out-of-print 3rd edition.

+ Music Theory Placement Exam

The Music Theory Placement Exam is required of any student who wishes to enroll in the core music theory, aural skills, and sight singing sequence. This includes entering B.Mus. students (including transfers) as well as B.A. - Music students and non-music majors who seek in-depth study of these disciplines. The Placement Exam will be used to place you into one of five sections of first-year music theory, aural skills and sight singing. You must complete each part of the exam in order to receive placement and register for theory courses.

The Placement Exam will be open between July 11 and August 21. It will test your knowledge of theory fundamentals (notation of pitch and rhythm, meter signatures, key signatures, intervals, scales, triads and seventh chords) and assess your ability to match sounds (intervals, melodic patterns, chord qualities, harmonic progressions and rhythmic patterns) with musical notation. The exam consists of three parts, each of which is self-contained in that it includes all necessary instructions and system requirements. Once you begin it, you will have a limited period of time in which to complete each part. In the unlikely event of technical incompatibilities or if you are physically unable to take the online exam, please email Professor Bates (ian.bates@lawrence.edu) in order to make other arrangements.

Please note: to access the Moodle site for the online placement exam, you'll need to have set up your Lawrence network/email account.

+ Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory

As described above, the Music Theory Placement Exam determines which section of Music Theory, Aural Skills and Sight Singing you will be placed into; thus it is required of all students who wish to enroll in the core music theory curriculum. Students who wish to try to place out of one of more of those courses must also complete Lawrence's in-house Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory

Taking Lawrence's own in-house AP Exam is required of all transfer students and is open as well to incoming first-year students who have had considerable prior experience in music theory and aural skills. The exam consists of two parts--written skills and aural skills--each of which is available on the main Music Theory Placement Exam site (scroll down to the bottom of that page).

Please note that students who have taken the College Board AP-Music Theory Exam or IB-Music exams still need to take Lawrence’s own in-house AP Music Theory exam if they seek advanced placement. Although standardized AP exams may earn you college credit, you can only be considered for advanced placement in our theory curriculum by taking Lawrence's own in-house AP exam. We encourage you to read the university’s policies on advanced placement exams especially as they pertain to the awarding of college credit based on a minimum score on these exams.

A brief Sight-Singing audition is required of all transfer students, and a small number of entering first-year students will be invited to audition on the basis of their scores on the regular placement exam. Sight-singing auditions will be conducted at or near the beginning of September. There is nothing to prepare for this 5-minute audition. See the Music Theory Placement Exam site for further information.

+ CHECKLIST: Summer preparation for music theory and aural skills

  • no later than June 10: complete the Music Theory Preliminary Assessmentrequired of all entering B.Mus. students (including transfers) and of B.A. students who wish to enroll in the core music theory curriculum
  • available upon completion of the Preliminary Assessment: Take Lawrence's self-paced E-course in Music Fundamentals (strongly recommended for students scoring below 85% on the Music Theory Preliminary Assessment; you'll receive an enrollment key for the E-course upon completion of the Preliminary Assessment)
  • July 11-August 21: Take the Music Theory Placement Examrequired of all entering B.Mus. students (including transfers) and of non-music majors who wish to enroll in the core music theory sequence
  • July 11-August 21: Take the Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory (optional for incoming first-year students and intended only for those who have had substantial previous training in music theory and aural skills; required of all transfer students who have studied music theory at another college or university). To download our AP exam, use the Music Theory Placement Exam link (above) and scroll down to the bottom of that page
  • before September 12 (first day of classes): Purchase and receive the required Sight-Singing textbooks in advance so that you can bring them to class on the first day of fall term. To ensure that you receive the correct edition and format, we recommend you purchase your books from the Lawrence Online Bookstore