+ The Core Curriculum in Music Theory

An important component of the Conservatory’s core curriculum is the five-term course sequence in Music Theory, Aural Skills and Sight Singing.  This sequence is required of all students who intend to major in music as part of the B.Mus. degree program in the Conservatory or the B.A. program in the College.  Students normally begin the 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 theory sequence is important not only because music theory courses are prerequisite to other required courses in the B.Mus. and B.A. degree programs but also because the skills you develop in them apply directly to your activities as a performer, composer or future music educator.

The core theory curriculum is an integrated approach to harmony, counterpoint, form, analysis, ear training and sight singing. While the curriculum is geared toward developing your skillful use of musical materials, our larger goal is to guide you toward a deeper understanding of musical structure and process—of how music is organized and why.

+ 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 Biringer (gene.biringer@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 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 incoming Conservatory students are required to complete the Music Theory Preliminary Assessment within two weeks of depositing. 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 15 and August 24.  

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.

  • L. Poundie Burstein and Joseph N. Straus, Concise Introduction to Tonal Harmony, 2nd edition (W.W. Norton, 2020). ISBN 978-0-393-41718-0.  We expect you to be proficient with the material covered in Chapters 0 (Notation of Pitch and Rhythm), 1 (Scales), 2  (Intervals), and 3 (Triads and Seventh Chords), and we encourage you to read them this summer in conjunction with your work on our E-course in Music Theory Fundamentals.
  • 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 only from www.macgamut.com ($40 plus $3.00 shipping, or free 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 only from www.macgamut.com ($40 plus $3.00 shipping, or free download).
  • Leigh Van Handel, Music Theory Skill Builder.  Recommended online platform for music theory fundamentals; choose the Self-Study option ($34.95).
  • 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

You can order the required textbooks 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.  As mentioned in the preceding section, most of these books can be used to aid your summer study of theory fundamentals and aural skills.  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. 

Written Fundamentals

  • L. Poundie Burstein and Joseph N. Straus, Concise Introduction to Tonal Harmony, 2nd edition (W.W. Norton, 2020).  Hardcover book and "TotalAccess" to online materials provided by the publisher, which include an E-version of the book, streaming audio of musical examples, an E-workbook, and self-paced quizzes. ISBN 978-0-393-41718-0. (Although the book is available in other formats (softcover, loose-leaf, or e-book), please purchase the hardcover with "Total Access.")  
  • Charles Burkhart and William Rothstein, Anthology for Musical Analysis, 7th edition (Cengage/Schirmer, 2012). ISBN 978-0-495-91607-9.

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 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 all incoming music majors (both first-year and transfer students) and non-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, or into our music fundamentals courses. You must complete each part of the exam in order to receive placement and register for theory courses.

The Placement Exam will be available via the link at the bottom of this window between July 15 and August 24. 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 Biringer (gene.biringer@lawrence.edu) in order to make other arrangements. 

Depending on your score on the online portion of the exam, you might also be required to complete a brief sight-singing audition during Welcome Week (date and time TBA).  You will be notified prior to Welcome Week if you need to complete a sight-singing audition.

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

Click to enter the MUSIC THEORY PLACEMENT EXAM site

+ 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 our Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory

Incoming students who have had considerable experience in music theory, ear training and sight singing and who wish to be considered for advanced placement are invited to complete our AP Exam in Music Theory.  This exam is required of all transfer students (as is the regular Placement Exam).  The AP exam consists of two parts: (1) a Theory Skills portion that must be downloaded  from the Placement Exam website and submitted to Professor Biringer <gene.biringer@lawrence.edu> by ground mail or email no later August 24, and (2) an Aural Skills portion that will be administered during Welcome Week (location, date, and time TBA). The Written Skills exam will be downloadable beginning July 15. Students who do not return the exam by the indicated date will not be considered for advanced placement. Complete instructions for taking the exam and for returning it to us can be found on the linked page. The Aural Skills exam covers aural identification of intervals and interval chains, dictation of rhythm, melody, and harmony, and error detection. To determine whether students with absolute pitch recall are also able to hear functional relationships, the entire Aural Skills exam is transposed.

On the basis of their scores on the regular placement exam, selected students will be invited to audition for advanced placement in Sight Singing.  Sight-singing auditions will be scheduled in Waterman House during Welcome Week (date and time TBA). You will be notified during the first week of September of your audition time.  There is nothing you need to prepare for this 5-minute audition.

Click to enter the AP MUSIC THEORY PLACEMENT EXAM site

Students who have taken the College Board AP-Music Theory Exam or IB-Music exams sometimes ask whether they also need to take Lawrence’s AP Music Theory exam if they seek advanced placement.  The answer is yes.  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.  Please be advised, however, that although the theory department takes these scores into consideration, a high score on a standardized AP exam does not alone guarantee advanced placement in Lawrence’s theory curriculum.

+ CHECKLIST: Summer preparation for music theory and aural skills

  • within two weeks of depositing: During this period you must complete the Music Theory Preliminary Assessment (required of all incoming B.Mus. students 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 15-August 31: Take the Music Theory Placement Exam (required of all incoming Conservatory students, including transfer students).
  • July 15-August 31: 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 same link as the Music Theory Placement Exam (above), and scroll down to the bottom of that page. 
  • Before September 14 (first day of classes): Purchase and receive the required music theory and sight-singing textbooks in advance so that you can bring them to class on the first day of fall term.  To insure that you receive the correct edition and format, we recommend you purchase your books from the Lawrence Online Bookstore.