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All schools that want to label a course “AP” must get authorization by going through the AP Course Audit. This means submitting two things:

  • A subject-specific AP Course Audit Form
  • A course syllabus

Teachers have the option to create their own syllabus or adopt one of the sample syllabi provided. A teacher-created syllabus is checked by our reviewers to ensure that the course fulfills the AP Program’s course-specific curricular and resource requirements.

We offer plenty of resources, below, to help teachers understand course requirements and create a syllabus that fulfills these.

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Designing Your AP Music Theory Course

The AP Music Theory course should be designed by your school to provide students with a learning experience equivalent to that of an introductory college course in music theory. Your course should develop a student’s ability to recognize, understand, describe, and analyze the basic materials and processes of music that are heard or presented in a score.

There are no specific curricular prerequisites for students taking AP Music Theory, although it is recommended that students have prior training in music either through lessons (voice or instrumental), participation in an ensemble, or an introductory rudiments/theory course.

Getting to Know the Course and Exam

The key document for each AP course is the course and exam description. Start by reviewing it to understand the objectives and expectations of the AP course and exam.

  • AP Music Theory Course Description (.pdf/958.39KB) - Describes in detail the AP Music Theory course and exam. Includes the curriculum framework and a representative sample of exam questions.

Creating Your Syllabus

Use these resources to design your syllabus.

Download this document for more help creating your syllabus.

  • Syllabus Development Guide: AP Music Theory (.pdf/787KB) - Includes the guidelines reviewers use to evaluate syllabi along with three samples of evidence for each requirement. This guide also specifies the level of detail required in the syllabus to receive course authorization.

These four annotated sample AP Music Theory syllabi show how the curricular requirements can be demonstrated in a syllabus and what level of detail you’ll need to include.

Your course must fulfill these requirements, and your syllabus should make it clear how the requirements will be addressed.

AP Music Theory curricular requirements:

  • The teacher has read the most recent AP Music Theory Course Description (.pdf/958KB).
  • The course enables students to master the rudiments and terminology of music: notational skills, intervals, scales, keys, chords, meter, and rhythm.
  • The course progresses to include more sophisticated and creative tasks:
    • Writing a bass line for a given melody or harmonization of a given melody in four parts
    • Realization of a figured bass
    • Realization of a Roman numeral progression
    • Analysis of repertoire, including analysis of motivic treatment and harmonic analysis
  • The course includes the following scales: major, minor, modal, pentatonic, and whole tone.
  • The course covers the following concepts or procedures based in common-practice tonality:
    • Functional triadic harmony in traditional four-voice texture including non-harmonic tones, seventh chords, and secondary dominants
    • Modulation to closely related keys
  • The course also teaches:
    • Phrase structure
    • Small forms (e.g., rounded binary, simple ternary, theme and variation, strophic)
  • Musical skills are developed through the following types of musical exercises:
    • Listening (discrete intervals, scales, etc.; dictations; excerpts from literature)
    • Sight-singing
    • Written exercises
    • Creative exercises
  • The course includes, but is not limited to, study of a wide variety of vocal and instrumental music from the standard Western tonal repertoires.

AP Music Theory resource requirements:

  • The school ensures that each student has access to his or her own copy of a recently published college-level music theory textbook (or equivalent materials approved by the AP Music Theory Development Committee).
  • The school provides access to audio equipment and materials that facilitate listening practice for the students throughout the course. This equipment can include cassette or compact disc players.
  • The school ensures that each AP Music Theory classroom includes a piano or electronic keyboard and sound reproduction equipment (such as a stereo or boom box). (CDs played on a computer do not enable students to hear the bass, so such sound reproduction is not acceptable for this course.)

The list below represents examples of textbooks that meet the curricular requirements of AP Music Theory. The list below is not exhaustive and the texts listed should not be regarded as endorsed, authorized, recommended, or approved by the College Board. Not using a book from this list does not mean that a course will not receive authorization. Syllabi submitted as part of the AP Course Audit process will be evaluated holistically, with textbooks considered along with supplementary, supporting resources to confirm that the course as a whole provides students with the content delineated in the curricular requirements of the AP Course Audit.

The specified editions of the following textbooks meet the AP Music Theory AP Course Audit curricular requirements. Earlier editions of these texts or other textbooks not listed here may meet the AP Course Audit curricular requirements if supplemented with appropriate college-level instructional resources. For discussions regarding the usefulness of these texts and other teaching materials in the AP Music Theory classroom, please consult the AP Music Theory Teacher Community.

Written Theory: Harmony and Comprehensive Texts

  • Aldwell, Edward, Carl Schachter, and Allen Cadwallader. Harmony and Voice Leading. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
  • Benjamin, Thomas, Michael Horvit, Robert Nelson, and Timothy Koozin. Techniques and Materials of Music: From the Common Practice Period Through the Twentieth Century. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
  • Benward, Bruce, and Marilyn Saker. Music in Theory and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Burstein, L. Poundie, and Joseph N. Straus. Concise Introduction to Tonal Harmony. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Clendinning, Jane Piper, Elizabeth West Marvin, and Joel Phillips. The Musician’s Guide to Fundamentals. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Clendinning, Jane Piper, and Elizabeth West Marvin. The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Gauldin, Robert. Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Henry, Earl, and Michael Rogers. Tonality and Design in Music Theory, Vols. 1 & 2. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Kostka, Stefan, Dorothy Payne, and Byron Almen. Tonal Harmony. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Laitz, Steven G. The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Theory, Analysis, and Listening. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Mayfield, Connie E. Theory Essentials: An Integrated Approach to Harmony, Ear Training, and Keyboard Skills. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
  • Roig-Francoli, Miguel. Harmony in Context. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Spencer, Peter, and Barbara Bennett. The Practice of Harmony. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Steinke, Greg A. Harmonic Materials in Tonal Music: A Programmed Course, Parts 1 and 2. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Straus, Joseph N. Elements of Music. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Turek, Ralph. The Elements of Music: Concepts and Applications, Vols. 1 & 2. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Anthologies for Music Analysis and Study

  • Benjamin, Thomas, Michael Horvit, and Robert Nelson. Music for Analysis: Examples From the Common Practice Period and the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Burkhart, Charles, and William Rothstein. Anthology for Musical Analysis. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
  • Clendinning, Jane Piper, and Elizabeth West Marvin. Anthology for The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

Aural Skills: Sight Singing, Ear Training, Keyboard, and Rhythmic Reading Texts

  • Benjamin, Thomas E., Michael Horvit, and Robert S. Nelson. Music for Sight Singing. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
  • Benward, Bruce, and J. Timothy Kolosick. Ear Training: A Technique for Listening. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Benward, Bruce, and Maureen Carr. Sight Singing Complete. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Durham, Thomas L. Beginning Tonal Dictation. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.
  • Hall, Anne Carothers. Studying Rhythm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pearson.
  • Karpinski, Gary S., and Richard Kram. Anthology for Sight Singing. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Karpinski, Gary S. Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Krueger, Carol. Progressive Sight Singing. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Marcozzi, Rudy. Strategies and Patterns for Ear Training. London: Routledge.
  • Ottman, Robert W., and Nancy Rogers. Music for Sight Singing. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Phillips, Joel, Jane Piper Clendinning, Elizabeth West Marvin, and Paul Murphy. The Musician's Guide to Aural Skills, Vols. 1 & 2. New York: W. W. Norton.

Before you submit your syllabus, use this checklist to make sure it has all the elements required.