The Course

AP Music Theory

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Course Overview

AP Music Theory is an introductory college-level music theory course. Students cultivate their understanding of music theory through analyzing performed and notated music as they explore concepts like pitch, rhythm, form, and musical design.

Course and Exam Description

Course Resources


AP Music Theory Course and Exam Description Audio Files

Audio files containing the recorded sample questions for the AP Music Theory Course and Exam Description are also available.

Course Content

Based on the Understanding by Design® (Wiggins and McTighe) model of curriculum development, this course framework provides a clear and detailed description of the knowledge and skills necessary for student success in AP Music Theory, evaluated in the context of the AP Music Theory Exam, and aligned with college expectations. The framework specifies what students must know, be able to do, and understand, with a focus on big ideas that encompass core principles and processes of the discipline. The framework also encourages instruction that prepares students for advanced music theory coursework, as well as lifelong musical engagement and practice.

The AP Music Theory framework is organized into eight commonly taught units of study that provide one possible sequence for the course. As always, you have the flexibility to organize the course content as you like.


 Unit 1: Music Fundamentals I: Pitch, Major Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, and Expressive Elements

 Unit 2: Music Fundamentals II: Minor Scales and Key Signatures, Melody, Timbre, and Texture

 Unit 3: Music Fundamentals III: Triads and Seventh Chords

 Unit 4: Harmony and Voice Leading I: Chord Function, Cadence, and Phrase

 Unit 5: Harmony and Voice Leading II: Chord Progressions and Predominant Function

 Unit 6: Harmony and Voice Leading III: Embellishments, Motives, and Melodic Devices

 Unit 7: Harmony and Voice Leading IV: Secondary Function

 Unit 8: Modes and Form

Course Skills

The AP Music Theory framework included in the course and exam description outlines distinct skills that students should practice throughout the year—skills that will help them learn to think and act like musicians.



 1. Analyze Performed Music

 Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to performed music (aural).

 2. Analyze Notated Music

 Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to notated music (written).

 3. Convert Between Performed and Notated Music

 Apply conventions of musical notation and performance in converting music between aural and written forms.

 4. Complete Based on Cues

 Complete music based on cues, following 18th-century stylistic norms.

AP and Higher Education

Higher education professionals play a key role in developing AP courses and exams, setting credit and placement policies, and scoring student work. The AP Higher Education section features information on recruitment and admission, advising and placement, and more.

This chart shows recommended scores for granting credit, and how much credit should be awarded, for each AP course. Your students can look up credit and placement policies for colleges and universities on the AP Credit Policy Search.

Meet the Music Theory Development Committee

The AP Program is unique in its reliance on Development Committees. These committees, made up of an equal number of college faculty and experienced secondary AP teachers from across the country, are essential to the preparation of AP course curricula and exams.