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AP Music Theory aims to develop a student’s ability to recognize, understand and describe the basic materials and processes of music that are heard or presented in a score. It takes an integrated approach to the student’s development of aural, sight-singing, written, compositional and analytical skills. According to surveys of comparable curricula at four-year colleges and universities, it is equivalent to a one- or two-semester introductory college course.

Students are required to read, notate, write, sing and listen to music. It is strongly recommended that the student will have acquired at least basic performance skills in voice or on an instrument.

Topics covered on the exam include:

Musical Terminology

  • Terms for intervals, triads, seventh chords, scales and modes
  • Terms pertaining to rhythm and meter, melodic construction and variation, harmonic function, cadences and phrase structure, texture, small forms and musical performance

Notational Skills

  • Rhythms and meters
  • Clefs and pitches
  • Key signatures, scales and modes
  • Intervals and chords
  • Melodic transposition

Basic Compositional Skills

  • Four-voice realization of figured-bass symbols and Roman numerals
  • Composition of a bass line (with chord symbols) for a given melody

Score Analysis (with or without aural stimulus)

  • Small-scale and large-scale harmonic procedures
  • Melodic organization and developmental procedures
  • Rhythmic/metric organization
  • Texture
  • Formal devices and/or procedures

Aural Skills

  • Sight-singing (major and minor modes, treble and bass clefs, diatonic and chromatic melodies, simple and compound meters)
  • Melodic dictation (major and minor modes, treble and bass clefs, diatonic and chromatic melodies, simple and compound meters)
  • Harmonic dictation (notation of soprano and bass lines and harmonic analysis in a four-voice texture)
  • Identification of isolated pitch and rhythmic patterns
  • Detection of errors in pitch and rhythm in one- and two-voice examples
  • Identification of processes and materials in the context of music literature representing a broad spectrum of genres, media and styles

Read the full course description and exam information with sample questions.