AP Music Theory Concepts and Skills to be Mastered

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Authored by

  • Michael Levi
    College of Saint Rose
    Albany, New York

The following is a summary of the material to be covered and skills to be mastered in the AP® Music Theory course in preparation for the AP Music Theory Exam. Teachers should address these basic concepts through listening to a wide variety of music, including not only music from standard Western tonal repertoire but also 20th-century art music, jazz, popular music, and the music of non-Western cultures.

Detailed information may be found in “Terms and Symbols Used on the AP Music Theory Exam”, Chapter 7 of the AP Music Theory Teacher’s Guide and in the Music Theory Course Description (.pdf/958KB).

I. Musical Terminology and II. Notational Skills

  1. Notate and identify pitch in four clefs: treble, bass, alto, and tenor.
  2. Notate, hear, and identify simple and compound meters.
  3. Notate and identify all major and minor key signatures.
  4. Notate, hear, and identify the following scales: chromatic, major, and the three forms of the minor.
  5. Name and recognize scale degree terms, e.g., tonic, supertonic, etc.
  6. Notate, hear, and transpose the following modes: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian (authentic forms only).
  7. Notate, hear, and identify whole tone and pentatonic scales.
  8. Notate, hear, and identify all perfect, major, minor, diminished, and augmented intervals inclusive of an octave.
  9. Notate, hear, and identify triads and seventh chords including inversions.
  10. Define and identify common tempo and expression markings.

III. Basic Compositional Skills

  1. Compose a bass line for a given melody to create simple two-part counterpoint in 17th- and/or 18th-century style; analyze the implied harmonies.
  2. Realize a figured bass according to the rules of 18th-century chorale style, major or minor key, using any or all of the following devices: diatonic triads and seventh chords, inversions, nonharmonic tones, and secondary-dominant and dominant seventh chords.
  3. Realize a four-part chorale-style progression from Roman and Arabic numerals.

IV. Score Analysis (with or without aural stimulus):

  1. Identify authentic, plagal, half, Phrygian half, and deceptive cadences in major and minor keys.
  2. Identify in score the following nonharmonic tones: passing tone (accented and unaccented), neighboring tone, anticipation, suspension, retardation, appoggiatura, escape tone, changing tone (cambiata), and pedal tone.
  3. Small-scale and large-scale harmonic procedures, including:
    1. identification of cadence types
    2. Roman-numeral and figured-bass analysis, including nonharmonic tones, seventh chords, and secondary-dominant chords
    3. identification of key centers and key relationships; recognition of modulation to closely related keys
  4. Melodic organization and developmental procedures:
    1. scale types; modes
    2. melodic patterning
    3. motivic development and relationships (e.g., inversion, retrograde, sequence, imitation)
  5. Rhythmic/metric organization:
    1. meter type (e.g., duple, triple, quadruple) and beat type (e.g., simple, compound)
    2. rhythmic devices and procedures (e.g., augmentation, diminution, hemiola)
  6. Texture:
    1. types (e.g., monophony, homophony, polyphony)
    2. devices (e.g., textural inversion, imitation)

NOTE: Scores for analysis may include two-stave piano scores, single-voice melodies, solo voice with piano accompaniment, trio, quartet, or other standard instrumental scores written at concert pitch, which may include an alto or tenor clef line, or other standard score types.

V. Aural Skills

  1. Detect pitch and rhythm errors in written music from given aural excerpts.
  2. Notate a melody from dictation, 6 to 8 bars, major or minor mode, mostly diatonic pitches, simple or compound time, treble or bass clef, 3 to 4 playings.
  3. Notate melodies from dictation, 6 to 8 bars, major or minor mode, chromatic alteration from harmonic/melodic scales, simple or compound time, treble or bass clef, 3 to 4 playings.
  4. Sight-sing melodies, 4 to 8 bars long, major or minor key, duple or triple meter, simple or compound time, treble or bass clef, using solfege, pitch names, numbers, or any comfortable vocal syllable(s).
  5. Hear the following nonharmonic tones: passing tone (accented and unaccented), neighboring tone, anticipation, suspension, retardation, appoggiatura, escape tone, changing tone (cambiata), and pedal tone.
  6. Notate the soprano and bass pitches and Roman and Arabic numeral analysis of harmonic dictations in 18th-century chorale style. Features may include seventh chords, secondary dominants, major or minor key, 3 to 4 playings.
  7. Identify processes and materials in the context of music literature representing a broad spectrum of genres, media, and styles:
    1. melodic organization (e.g., scale-degree function of specified tones, scale types, mode, melodic patterning, sequences, motivic development)
    2. harmonic organization (e.g., chord function, inversion, quality)
    3. tonal organization (e.g., cadence types, key relationships)
    4. meter and rhythmic patterns
    5. instrumentation (i.e., identification of timbre)
    6. texture (e.g., number and position of voices, amount of independence, presence of imitation, density)
    7. formal procedures (e.g., phrase structure; distinctions among literal repetition, varied repetition, and contrast; small forms)