Music Theory

Graduate Entrance Exams

All new graduate students in the Jacobs School of Music take entrance examations in written theory, aural theory, and sightsinging, as well as in music history. This page describes the contents of the three tests administered by the music theory department.

Exam Schedule

I. Written Theory

See a sample written theory exam here. The format and question types in the sample exam are very similar to those in the actual exam.

Questions in the written theory exam are drawn from the following areas:

  1. Roman numeral analysis of given passages
  2. Key analysis and modulation procedures
  3. Transposition and score reading, including recognition in treble, bass, alto and
    tenor clefs, and familiarity with Bb, A, and F transpositions
  4. Recognition of nonchord tones
  5. Recognition of melodic, contrapuntal, and rhythmic devices
  6. Recognition of standard formal types
  7. Writing of chords, from given Roman numerals or figured bass symbols
  8. Harmonization of melodies

In preparing to take this test, students may wish to review the textbook currently used in T508 Written Music Theory Review for Graduate Students: Graduate Review of Tonal Theory, by Steven G. Laitz and Christopher Bartlette (Oxford University Press).

II. Aural Theory

Questions in the aural theory exam will be selected from the following areas:

  1. Melodic and rhythmic dictation
  2. Interval and chord type recognition
  3. Harmonic dictation (soprano and bass lines, plus Roman numerals)
  4. 2-part contrapuntal dictation
  5. Aural recognition of modulations (in context)
  6. Aural recognition of musical materials and procedures in context (e.g., scale basis, general types of chords)

In labeling chords in the written and aural theory exams, you will be expected to use notations similar to those below:

Chord Quality:
  • Major = M triad (upper case letters): I, V
  • Minor = m triad (lower case letters): i, vi
  • Diminished: viio (lower-case plus the symbol o)
  • Augmented: III+ (upper-case plus the symbol +)
  • Half-diminished seventh chord = diminished minor 7th chord or B-D-F-A (ø7)
  • Fully-diminished seventh chord = diminished diminished 7th chord or B-D-F-Ab (o7)
  • Extended tertian chords: Ninths can be identified by quality of triad, 7th, and 9th (e.g., Mmm9 means major triad, minor 7th, and minor 9th or C-E-G-Bb-Db). The presence of an 11th or 13th is generally indicated with a Roman numeral or root name plus a number (e.g., V11, V13 or C11, C13).
Chord Inversion:
  • Triads: root position I, 1st inversion I6, 2nd inversion I64 (for a cadential six-four chord, either I64 or V64 is acceptable)
  • Seventh chords: root position V7, 1st inversion V65, 2nd inversion V43, 3rd inversion V42
  • Augmented sixth chords: It+6, Gr+6, Fr+6
  • Neapolitan sixth chord: bII6 or N6
III. Sightsinging

Students are generally asked to sing two melodies for the examiners. Examples may be sung on a neutral syllable or on any system of solfège syllables. Examples emphasize treble and bass clef reading of tonal melodies with some chromaticism and modulation, and rhythmic reading.

The following melodies are characteristic of the difficulty of those used in the sightsinging exam:

Sight Singing Melody 1

Sight Singing Melody 2