Graduate Entrance Exam in Music Theory

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The Frost School of Music requires certain incoming graduate students to take an entrance exam in Music Theory.  Graduate students are expected to be well-prepared for this exam.  Any student who does not pass the exam must fulfill a remediation requirement (explained below).  Students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement are subject to the following consequences:

  • For Masters degree students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement, the final project (i.e., defense of research, final recital, cumulative exam, etc.) will be canceled and graduation will be delayed, possibly by an entire semester.  Students will be financially responsible for this extension of the degree program (i.e., students may need to enroll in and pay for additional credits). 
  • Doctoral degree students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement will not be able to apply for Doctoral Committee Approval, as needed for Doctoral Candidacy.  Consequently, such students will not be able to move forward with proposing and completing the doctoral essay, and thus graduation is likely to be delayed.  Students will be financially responsible for any resulting extension of the degree program (i.e., students may need to enroll in and pay for additional credits). 

Please note that in past years, the Frost School also required incoming graduate students to take an entrance exam in musicology.  However, starting in the fall 2018 semester, that exam will be discontinued.  If you already took the exam and passed it, you do not need to take further action.  If you already took the exam and did not pass it, you do not need to take further action.  If you never took the musicology entrance exam, you do not need to take further action.

Who Should Take the Music Theory Entrance Exam?

If you are pursuing one of the following degrees, you are required to take this exam:

Masters Degree Programs:

  • Master of Music in Musicology
  • Master of Music in Music Education (including Certification students)
  • Master of Music in Music Therapy (including Equivalency students)
  • Master of Music in Instrumental Conducting
  • Master of Music in Instrumental Performance
  • Master of Music in Keyboard Performance
  • Master of Music in Keyboard Performance and Pedagogy
  • Master of Music in Collaborative Piano
  • Master of Music in Composition
  • Master of Music in Digital Arts and Sound Design
  • Master of Music in Media Writing and Production
  • Master of Music in Choral Conducting
  • Master of Music in Vocal Performance

Doctoral Degree Programs:

  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Instrumental Conducting
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Instrumental Performance
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Keyboard Performance
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Keyboard Performance and Pedagogy
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Studio Music and Jazz Instrumental Performance
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Studio Music and Jazz Vocal Performance
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Jazz Composition
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Pedagogy and Performance

If you are pursuing one of the degree programs listed below, you are NOT required to take this exam, however, you may be required to take and pass entrance exams in your major area.  Be sure to check with your advisor or program director regarding any major-specific entrance exam requirements.

Artist Diploma Students:

  • Master of Music in Studio Music and Jazz Instrumental Performance
  • Master of Music in Studio Music and Jazz Vocal Performance
  • Master of Music in Jazz Pedagogy
  • Master of Music in Studio Jazz Writing
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Music Education (with or without Music Therapy emphasis). 

However, should Ph.D. students wish to take courses in music theory, they will take Parts I and II of the exam to help determine which courses are most appropriate for their ability level and career aspirations.  Students can take this exam at any point during their doctoral career.

If you are pursuing one of the degree programs listed below, you are not required to take or pass entrance exams of any kind: 

  • Master of Arts in Arts Presenting and Live Entertainment Management (with or without Juris Doctor)
  • Master of Music in Music Business and Entertainment Industries (with or without Juris Doctor) 
  • Master of Science in Music Engineering Technology

What if I Already Took the Exam for a Previous Graduate Degree here at the Frost School?

If you already took the Music Theory entrance exam and passed, or you fulfilled a remediation requirement, then you do not need to re-take the exam.

When is the Exam Given?

The Music Theory Entrance Exam will be given on Saturday, December 1, 2018 from 1:00pm - 3:30pm in room 210 of the Weeks Music Library.  Please arrive on time and bring your own pen or pencil, as well as a picture ID (i.e., driver’s license, passport, Canecard, etc.).

You do not need to register in advance for the exam.  If you are pursuing a degree program that requires this exam, you are expected to take it on the date given here.

What is the Exam Content, and How Should I Prepare?

The Music Theory Entrance Exam covers undergraduate knowledge of music theory and analysis and serves as a diagnostic tool to determine whether or not students have sufficient background in these areas to succeed in their graduate coursework.  The format of the exam consists of three parts:  Common Practice, Post Tonal Music, and Aural Skills  

Part One: Common Practice

This portion of the Graduate Entrance Exam draws on the Common Practice repertoire to assess the student’s analytical skills. The scope of this portion includes:

  • Labeling using Roman Numeral Analysis of passages that may include chromatic (i.e., non-diatonic) sonorities
  • Identification of musical features, constructs and processes, including cadences, modulation, melodic and harmonic sequences, and non-chord tones.
  • Formal analysis of pieces which may include Sonata, Rondo, and Ternary forms.

References:

The Complete Musician by Steven G. Laitz

Tonal Harmony by Stefan Kostka, Dorothy Payne, and Byron Almen

http://musictheoryexamples.com

Please access our website to see some sample questions for Part One of the Music Theory Entrance Exam:

Music Theory Common Practice Sample Questions

Part Two:  Post Tonal Music

Specifically, the student will need to know:

  1. Twelve-tone Analysis: Specifically students will need to know how to create a 12-tone array (which some call “12-tone matrix”) such that they can provide answers to questions such as:  “What is the third tone of I7 of the following row?”  They will also need to know terms such as trichord, tetrachord, hexachord, transposition, retrograde, inversion, and retrograde inversion.  Note: we treat the first tone of a 12-tone row as zero (this is in contrast to other systems that choose treat the pitch C as being zero). 
  2. Set theory. Students will be given a collection of pitches and asked to put the set in “normal form” and provide information regarding its interval vector.  Students will not be required to label the set type (Forte Analysis). 
  3. Pitch Collections and Scales: Students will be expected to know modes, symmetrical scales, and other pitch collections commonly used in music of the 20th and 21st  A sample question might be, which of the following tones does not exist in F# Phrygian mode? 
  4. Harmonic materials: Students will be expected to know 20th century harmonic constructions including quartal harmony, secundal harmony, extended tertian harmony, and clusters. They will also need to know the definitions of (and possibly identify on an excerpt) the use of bitonality, polytonality, pantonality, and planing.
  5. Students are expected to know the harmonic series and be able to give the first 7 overtones to a fundamental. This is of particular importance to understanding basic issues of partwriting orchestration techniques, and spectral analysis.
  6. Rhythm: Students will be expected to answer questions regarding rhythm practices of the 20th century including metric modulation, mixed meters, irregular meters, and added note rhythms. A sample question might be: if quarter-note equals 60, and then the performer is instructed to make the half-note equal the quarter note, what is the new tempo for the quarter note?

References:

Materials and Techniques of Twentieth-Century Music by Kostka

Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory by Joseph Straus

Understanding Post-Tonal Music by Miguel Roig-Francolí

Part Three:  Aural Skills

This portion of the exam assesses the aural recognition of:

  • Harmonic structures (including non-diatonic sonorities such as Secondary Dominants, Neapolitan, Augmented Sixths, Mode Mixture, and Common Tone Diminished),
  • Harmonic progressions (including sequences and/or embedding the non-diatonic sonorities mentioned before)
  • Pitch collections (including church modes, pentatonic, and symmetrical scales)

The format of the exam is multiple-choice, which minimizes the potential for differing labeling systems. Aural samples will be played twice. Aural samples are of two kinds:

  • Abstract structures (e.g., wholetone scale performed ascending and descending at the piano),
  • Short excerpts from the Common Practice repertoire featuring a variety of textures and ensembles (e.g., few measures drawn from a Beethoven’s Symphony, or few measures drawn from one of Bartok’s String Quartets). No popular music or jazz is included, yet this should not preclude you from including these (and other) repertoires in your preparation for the exam.

The exam does not include:

  • Transcription exercises (melodic, rhythm, or SATB).
  • Error detection and correction exercises
  • Recognition of formal structures (Sentences, Periods, Sonata, Rondo, Binary, Ternary, etc.)
  • Recognition of timbre or instrumentation
  • Recognition of textures (Homophonic, Polyphonic, etc.)

Please note that, although not included in the exam, the types of exercises and skills mentioned above are extremely valuable to develop aural skills.

Please access our website to see some sample questions for the Aural Skills portion of the Music Theory Entrance Exam:

Aural Skills Sample Questions

Preparing for the Aural Skills Test:

Establish a consistent plan of practice using the resources listed below. Since most software and online resources use abstract examples (i.e., not real music), expand your practice resorting to aural examples presented in mainstream theory textbooks (including those that touch upon 20th-century techniques); several suggestions are included below. 

Software and (Free) Online Resources:

Auralia
The most comprehensive Aural Skills software. (Available at the Mill, Coral Gables Campus.)

EarBeater
Customizable ear training exercises

Teoria
Interactive chord-building and ear-training exercises

The Musical Mind
Ear training exercises, including solfège, dictation, and chord identification

Toned Ear

Customizable ear training exercises that include intervals, chords, scales, chord progressions, intervals in context, and melodic dictation.

Theory / Aural Skills Textbooks:

The Complete Musician (Steven G. Laitz)

Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music (Robert Gauldin)

The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis (Jane Piper Clendinning, Elizabeth West Marvin)

The Musician's Guide to Aural Skills: Ear Training and Composition (Joel Phillips, Jane Piper Clendinning, Elizabeth West Marvin 

Aural Skills in Context (Evan Jones, Matthew Shaftel, Juan Chattah)

Harmony in Context (Miguel Roig-Francoli)

Understanding Post-Tonal Music (Miguel Roig-Francoli)

Materials and Techniques of Post Tonal Music (Stefan Kostka)

What Happens if I Don’t Pass the Exam?

Any student who does not pass the Music Theory entrance exam must fulfill a remediation requirement (explained below).  Students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement are subject to the following consequences:

  • For Masters degree students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement, the final project (i.e., defense of research, final recital, cumulative exam, etc.) will be cancelled and graduation will be delayed, possibly by an entire semester.  Students will be financially responsible for this extension of the degree program (i.e., students may need to enroll in and pay for additional credits). 
  • Doctoral degree students who do not fulfill the remediation requirement will not be able to apply for Doctoral Committee Approval, as needed for Doctoral Candidacy.  Consequently, such students will not be able to move forward with proposing and completing the doctoral essay, and thus graduation is likely to be delayed.  Students will be financially responsible for any resulting extension of the degree program (i.e., students may need to enroll in and pay for additional credits). 

For these reasons, students are advised to fulfill the entrance exam remediation requirement as early as possible in their academic career.

Remediation Option 1:  Students can prepare independently and retake/pass the exam at a later date.  Please note the following details in regard to exam re-takes:

  • The Music Theory entrance exam will be given one time in August and one time in December of each academic year.
  • Students are allowed unlimited re-takes of the exam.
  • Students who fail the exam (or part of an exam) can re-take just the portion that they failed.
  • Re-take exams may include the same questions as the original exam, or they may include different questions; however, the topics and difficulty level will remain the same.
  • Some suggested means of independent preparation include studying, working with a tutor, or taking an online course.
  • Taking an online course does not replace successful exam completion and does not fulfill the remediation requirement; it is simply one way that a student may prepare independently for an exam re-take.
  • This option does not lengthen time toward degree but some costs may be incurred.

Remediation Option 2:  Students can enroll in and must pass designated undergraduate courses.  Please note the following details in regard to this option:

  • Music Theory faculty will identify the designated course(s) per each student’s particular deficiency.
  • A passing grade is C or higher.
  • Posting of a passing grade on a student’s official transcript for designated undergraduate courses in music theory will fulfill the entrance exam remediation requirement.
  • These designated undergraduate courses do NOT meet graduate degree requirements (i.e., these courses and credit hours cannot be counted toward the credit hours required for a graduate degree).
  • These designated undergraduate courses do NOT count as electives for a graduate degree.
  • These designated undergraduate courses DO count toward credit load during the semester in which they are taken.
  • These designated undergraduate courses are likely to lengthen time to degree and may be an added expense for the student.