+ 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, whether 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 music degree programs but also because the skills you develop there apply directly to your activities as a performer, composer, or future music educator.

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

The core music 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.

In order to achieve this goal, we expect incoming students to have attained a thorough and practiced command of theory fundamentals and a level of aural discrimination adequate for entrance into the required five-term sequence. To that end, we encourage you to assess your preparation for the study of music at the college level and to begin filling in any gaps you might discover in the areas enumerated below.

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, and their
    • harmonic function in major and minor keys
  • Knowledge of inversion of intervals and triads

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

There are several ways to address unfamiliarity with theory fundamentals or to improve aural skills.  A music educator in your area (your choir director, band or orchestra conductor, or private instructor) may be able to help you.  Furthermore, many of these skills can be addressed through piano study, so if you’re not a pianist you might consider taking some piano lessons during the summer.

•We also recommend an online eTheory course from the Eastman School of Music designed for students who are entering college and conservatory programs and wish to prepare for theory placement exams.

Learn more about Eastman's eTheory course.

Register for Eastman's eTheory course.  Follow these directions to receive a $20 discount for Lawrence students:

  1. Click "Add to Cart"
  2. Click "Checkout"
  3. Enter coupon code lawrence14s. This will change the registration fee from $97 to $77.
  4. Complete the Billing Address information to create your account.
  5. Click "Place Order"

After checkout, access eTheory from your "My Account" page.

•We also recommend you obtain the following materials and use them as the basis of your summer study.  The textbooks can be ordered from a variety of online booksellers. Those titles so indicated are required texts in the core theory curriculum:

Written Fundamentals

Steven G. Laitz, The Complete Musician, third edition (Oxford University Press, 2011). ISBN-13: 978-0199742783. Required text for all theory sections.

We strongly encourage all incoming students to purchase this text and use it as the basis of your summer study.  In particular, please master the theory fundamentals covered in Appendices 1A (Pitch), 1B (Rhythm and Meter), and 1C (Intervals).  We will go through this material very quickly in the fall, because we expect you to know it.  If you have time, we suggest you also read Appendices 1D (Triads) and 1E (Seventh Chords), which will prepare you for the more advanced treatment of harmony and part-writing we begin in the fall term.  Even if you think you know a little (or even a lot) about theory fundamentals, we urge you to read these appendices, as this material is essential to all that follows in the theory curriculum.

John Clough, Joyce Conley, and Claire Boge, Scales, Intervals, Keys, Triads, Rhythm, and Meter, third edition. (New York: Norton, 1999).  Recommended text for theory fundamentals.

In addition, links to downloadable worksheets for theory fundamentals (with answer sheets) are available on Professor Biringer’s webpage.

Aural Skills

Nancy Rogers and Robert W. Ottman, Music for Sight Singing, 9th edition (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2014). ISBN-13: 978-0205955244. Required sight singing text.

Anne C. Hall, Studying Rhythm, 3rd edition (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2005). ISBN-13: 978-0130406026. Required sight singing text.

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).

Additional Required Text

The following anthology is also a required text in the theory curriculum; we list it here not because we expect you to use it for your summer study but only in case you’d like to purchase in advance all your required theory textbooks.

Charles Burkhart and William Rothstein, Anthology for Musical Analysis, 7th edition (Cengage/Schirmer, 2012). ISBN-13: 9780495916079.


+ Music Theory Placement Exam

The Music Theory Placement Exam is required of all incoming music majors (including both first-year and transfer students) and will be used to place you into one of five sections of first-year Theory and Analysis or into our Music Fundamentals, Theory, and Analysis course.  The Placement Exam consists of two parts: (1) an online portion that you must complete by August 1, 2014 and (2) a brief dictation test that will be administered on campus during Welcome Week (9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 10, in Harper Hall).  You must complete each part of the exam in order to receive placement and register for theory courses. (You will register for music theory courses during web registration on Friday, September 12.)

The online portion of the Placement Exam will be available via the link at the bottom of this window between July 1 and August 1.  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 online portion, which consists of three parts, 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.d.biringer@lawrence.edu) and he will help you 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 following the dictation test.  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.  It is not used to determine whether you can place out of one of more of those courses.  Incoming students who have had considerable experience in music theory, ear training, and sight singing and who wish to be considered for advanced placement must also complete our Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory.  This exam consists of two parts: (1) a written portion that must be downloaded and returned to us no later than September 1, 2014, and (2) a dictation exam that will be administered during Welcome Week (9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, September 10, immediately following Part 2 of the Music Theory Placement Exam, which all new students must take beginning at 9:00 a.m.). The AP Exam will be downloadable beginning June 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.

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 frequently 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.

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.d.biringer@lawrence.edu) should you have any questions regarding the theory curriculum or the placement exams.  We look forward to meeting you in the fall.


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