A major component of any college curriculum in music is a course introducing the first-year student to music theory, a subject that comprises the musical materials and procedures of the Common Practice period. Such a course may bear a variety of titles (Basic Musicianship, Elementary Theory, Harmony and Dictation, Structure of Music, etc). It may emphasize one aspect of music, such as harmony; more often, however, it integrates aspects of melody, harmony, texture, rhythm, form, musical analysis, elementary composition, and to some extent, history and style. Musicianship skills such as dictation and other listening skills, sight-singing, and keyboard harmony are considered an important part of the theory course, although they may be taught as separate classes.

The student's ability to read and write musical notation is fundamental to such a course. It is also assumed that the student has acquired (or is acquiring) at least basic performance skills in voice or on an instrument.

The ultimate goal of an AP Music Theory course is to develop a student's ability to recognize, understand, and describe the basic materials and processes of music that are heard or presented in a score. The achievement of these goals may best be approached by initially addressing fundamental aural, analytical, and compositional skills using both listening and written exercises. Building on this foundation, the course should progress to include more creative tasks, such as the harmonization of a melody by selecting appropriate chords, composing a musical bass line to provide two-voice counterpoint, or the realization of figured-bass notation.

This course covers the following topics:

  1. Musical Terminology
    1. Terms for intervals, triads, seventh chords, scales, and modes
    2. Terms pertaining to rhythm and meter, melodic construction and variation, harmonic function, cadences and phrase structure, texture, contrapuntal devices, small forms, and musical performance
  2. Notational Skills
    1. Rhythms and meters
    2. Clefs and pitches
    3. Key signatures, scales, and modes
    4. Intervals and chords
    5. Melodic transposition
  3. Basic Compositional Skills
    1. Four-voice realization of figured-bass symbols and Roman numerals
    2. Composition of a bass line (with chord symbols) for a given melody
  4. Musical Analysis (from a printed score or with aural stimulus)
    1. Small-scale and large-scale harmonic procedures
    2. Melodic organization and developmental procedures
    3. Rhythmic/metric organization
    4. Texture
    5. Formal devices and/or procedures
  5. Aural Skills
    1. Sight-singing (major and minor modes, treble and bass clefs, diatonic and chromatic melodies)
    2. Melodic dictation (major and minor modes, treble and bass clefs, diatonic and chromatic melodies)
    3. Harmonic dictation (notation of soprano and bass lines and harmonic analysis in a four-voice texture)
    4. Identification of isolated pitch and rhythmic patterns
    5. Detection of errors in pitch and rhythm in one-and two-voice examples
    6. Identification of processes and materials in the context of music literature representing a broad spectrum of genres, media, and styles

For more detail on the course topics covered in Music Theory, see the Course Description.

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