Basic Keyboard Skills (BKS)

BKS Overview

All music majors and minors who are not pianists or organists must pass a keyboard proficiency exam. In Basic Keyboard Skills (MURP 201, 202, 203), you will develop the skills necessary to complete this exam. We concentrate on functional skills such as harmonization, transposition, and sightreading at the keyboard. These keyboard skills will be related to and will reinforce your theory and aural skills work. It is very important for you to be able to "translate" theoretical concepts -- intervals, chords, scales, etc. -- into sounds at the keyboard. No previous keyboard experience is required, but if you have studied piano or have an opportunity to study this summer, it will be very helpful.

There are a few things you must do this summer to help with your acquisition of keyboard skills:

  • Learn to read notation in both treble and bass clefs
  • Understand basic rhythmic notation
  • Learn the names of the keys on the keyboard.

BKS Resources

In addition, anything you can learn about major and minor triads, key signatures, and scale formation will be extremely valuable. We move very quickly through this information in class. A little reading and study this summer will make your first months as a music major easier.

If you have access to a keyboard, you may find it helpful to order the keyboard skills textbook early. The book is Alfred’s Group Piano for Adults, Book 1, Second Edition (ISBN 978-0739053010) by Lancaster and Renfrow.

Please read the FAQ sheet and refer to the BKS Exam Requirements for more information. If you have any questions, contact Catherine Walby by phone (920-832-6804) or e-mail (

Frequently Asked Questions

What will I be asked to do in my BKS placement?

The main tool we use in the placement exam is sightreading. You will be asked to play a series of examples that get progressively more difficult. This gives us a good idea of where you fall into our curriculum. If you test beyond the basic level, you will also be asked about your knowledge of scales, chord theory, harmonization and transposition as we find the best placement for you in our three-term sequence. Since we have limited time, we will not hear prepared pieces during the placement exam.

If I have not had any previous piano study, do I still need to take a BKS placement exam?

Yes. We still want to meet all students and get some basic information about your theory and reading skills, even if you have not yet applied them to the piano.

Is it possible to test out of one or more terms of BKS?

Yes. Many students test into the higher levels of BKS and are therefore not required to take the earlier levels. You can see the approximate playing level required for each level of BKS by looking at the exam requirements at each level.

Is it possible to test out of the entire BKS sequence?

Yes. There are some students who come to Lawrence prepared to take the proficiency exam and are thus given the chance to test out of the entire sequence of Basic Keyboard Skills without taking any of the classes. These students are able to sightread a hymn, harmonize melodies at sight, transpose melodies, and create accompaniments. They have also studied the chord progressions listed on the handout under MURP 203 and are comfortable playing them in many keys.

How can I best prepare for my BKS placement?

Working on your sight reading skills is the best thing you can do to prepare for your placement. If you are a beginner, learning the names of all of the keys on the keyboard and being able to name notes in both treble clef and bass clef is critical. Click here to access the Piano Key Name Drill, which will help you practice this (login required). If you are at a fairly high reading level and have had more than a few years of piano, you can also work on the theory skills listed in the exam requirements, including harmonization skills and chord progressions.

Why do I need to learn to play the piano when I am a (violin) major?

In your future as a musician you will use the piano to accompany your students, play and hear multiple parts of a score, and apply your theory/composition work. Since the keyboard is such a central tool in the lives of musicians, all music majors and minors are required to gain a basic proficiency at the piano.

What will I learn in BKS?

Students will learn basic technical skills at the piano, how to read and coordinate hands-together playing, and apply theory skills at the piano such as harmonizing melodies, creating and transposing accompaniments, and playing chord progressions in all keys.

What book will I need for BKS?

You will need the following book for all three levels of BKS:  Alfred’s Group Piano for Adults, Book 1, Second Edition, by Lancaster and Renfrow (ISBN 9780739053010).

What if my main instrument is piano or organ?

You will take a course called Functional Keyboard Skills.  Please see FKS information below.

Functional Keyboard Skills (FKS)

FKS Overview

All piano and organ majors take Functional Skills for Keyboard Majors (MURP 301, 302) in the second and third terms of their first year.  In this course, you will further develop the functional aspects of keyboard playing such as score reading, harmonization, transposition, and improvisation.  These keyboard skills will be related to and reinforce your theory and aural skills work.  It is very important for you to be able to "translate" theoretical concepts -- intervals, chord progressions, scales, etc. -- into sounds at the keyboard.  Since the course begins in Term II, no placement exam is needed when you arrive on campus.   Please refer to the FKS Exam Requirements sheet for more information about topics covered in the course and the chord progressions. 

Textbook for the class is Harmonization at the Piano, sixth edition, by Arthur Frackenpohl (ISBN 0-697-04393-2).

FKS Resources

If you have any questions, contact Catherine Walby by phone (920-832-6804) or e-mail (