Music Theory Diagnostic Exams

For Entering Freshmen | For Transfer Students | For Graduate Students

All incoming music students are required to take a music theory diagnostic exam. Exams at all levels of undergraduate and graduate music study are offered in order to determine which theory courses will best meet the needs of the student.

For Entering Freshmen

Entering students who achieve a satisfactory score on the Music Theory I Diagnostic Exam may register for Theory I and Aural Skills I. The exam tests for knowledge of musical rudiments, including note values and meter, intervals, major and minor scales, key signatures, triads, and basic aural skills. Students found to need more study of musical rudiments will be required to take the MUSI 1301 Rudiments course before they are admitted to the theory sequence. Students are highly encouraged to review musical rudiments before taking the exam, using any standard music fundamentals or music theory textbook. The exam covers:

Download a representative Music Theory I Diagnostic Exam (to place into Theory and Aural Skills I)

For Transfer Students

Students who have studied music theory in high school or in college courses at another university are required to take a placement exam. The diagnostic exam allows us to place the student at that level where the student is most likely to succeed. Our lower division theory courses balance traditional part writing skills and analytic skills. We use a graded anthology of musical examples from the very beginning and spend a great deal of class time looking at and talking about the actual music. Our exams typically include both part writing and analysis. Upper division courses concentrate more on score analysis. There is also a strong writing component, through which students advance their skills in explaining and writing about music. Below is a summary of material covered in each semester of the undergraduate music theory sequence:

Theory I (MUSI 1310) and Aural Skills I (MUSI 1170)

Review of musical rudiments; Diatonic harmony and voice-leading through submediant and mediant chords; figured bass; cadences and phrase structure; basic analysis; elementary composition.

Introduction to solfege, melodic and harmonic dictation. Aural skills exercises in diatonic materials, simple meters.

Theory II (MUSI 1311) and Aural Skills II (MUSI 1171)

Diatonic and chromatic harmony and voice-leading through modal mixture, secondary dominants and modulation; periodic structures; further analysis and composition.

Continuation of MUSI 1170, through modal mixture and diatonic sevenths; compound meter; decorative chromaticism; alto clef.

Theory III (MUSI 2210) and Aural Skills III (2170)

Fluency in chromatic tonal harmony and voice-leading involving linear chords, the Neapolitan and augmented sixths, advanced modulation, ninth chords, and smaller musical forms. Coursework includes part-writing exercises, analysis of music literature, and composition.

Aural studies through singing and dictation. Course objectives and learning outcomes include fluency in musical tasks involving tenor clef, secondary dominants, elementary modulation, and more advanced rhythms with borrowed divisions.

Techniques of Music Since 1900 (MUSI 2214 ) and Aural Skills IV (MUSI 2171)

Fluency in compositional practices of the twentieth century and later. Coursework includes studies in advanced chromatic tonal harmony and post-tonal techniques, analysis of music literature, and composition exercises.

Aural studies through singing and dictation. Course objectives and learning outcomes include fluency in musical tasks involving advanced chromaticism, remote modulation, quintuple meters, scalar modes, and other compositional techniques of the twentieth century and later.

Introduction to Large Forms (MUSI 3215)

Introduction to the study of larger musical forms of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries; introduction to the analysis of contrapuntal textures. Course objectives and learning outcomes include facility in score analysis and understanding of formal process in music.

Analysis (MUSI 4211)

The capstone course in the theory sequence; Analysis of larger pieces and works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

For Entering Graduate Students

The graduate diagnostic exam in music theory comprises four sections:

1) Exercises in common-practice chromatic voice-leading, including 4-part SATB writing with chromatic harmony and/or modulations. Students should be able to realize a figured bass and/or harmonize a melody employing correct common-practice voice leading. Part-writing and score analysis will include modulation and chromatic harmonies such as augmented sixth chords and Neapolitan chords.

2) 18th-century counterpoint analysis. This will involve analysis of a fugue, in which students are expected to know fugal terminology and be able to identify in score the major components of a standard Baroque fugue. Relevant terms may include: subject, countersubject, answer (real or tonal), exposition, bridge, episode, middle entry, etc.

3) Formal analysis of a large common-practice movement. This will involve score analysis in which students are expected to identify sections and characteristics of a standard sonata form. This will include analysis of the exposition and its constituent theme groups, transition, and coda sections, and may include analysis of a development (or portion thereof) and/or recapitulation. Harmonic analysis (i.e., Roman-numeral and figured bass analysis) of any section of the piece may be required.

4) Analysis of post-common-practice 20th and 21st-century materials. This will require analysis of score excerpts in which the student identifies compositional procedures such as 12-tone serialism; polymeter, metric shifts, or other metric procedures; harmonic resources such as extended tertian harmony or non-tertian harmony; and scalar and collectional resources such as diatonic modes, non-diatonic scales, pandiatonicism, etc.

In preparing for the exam, students may wish to review with these widely available texts: Benjamin, Horvit, Koozin, and Nelson, Techniques and Materials of Music, 7th ed.; Robert Gauldin, A Practical Approach to 18th-Century Counterpoint; James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory; Stefan Kostka, Materials and Techniques of Twentieth-Century Music. In addition to study with these or other comparable books from your undergraduate courses, some time spent in analyzing musical scores will also help in your preparation.

Download a representative Graduate Music Theory Diagnostic Exam. The Graduate Music Theory Review I and II courses may be required before enrolling in graduate-credit music theory courses, based on the results of the exam.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Timothy Koozin
Professor and Division Chair of Music Theory
Moores School of Music, University of Houston
web page: