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The Joyce and Henry Schwob School of Music

Music Theory and Aural Skills

Music theory is the study of musical structure: what makes musical compositions work. The goal of music theory studies is to provide a formal description of the musical intuitions of a listener who is experienced in a musical idiom. Or, to put it another way, the goal of music theory is to find a good way to hear music, and to communicate that way of hearing to other people.

Undergraduates at Schwob complete a four-semester core sequence of music theory with further opportunities for advanced study in upper-level offerings. The focus of the four-semester core is musicianship, which is taught as an integrated approach consisting of three inseparable components: technique, knowledge, and expression. Aural Skills courses are an essential component of integrated musicianship, and students enroll in the four-semester Aural Skills sequence concurrent with the Music Theory sequence. In addition, all undergraduate majors must complete a proficiency course in piano, which typically involves four semesters of class piano. The fourth semester comprises the proficiency exam period.

For questions regarding the Music Theory, Aural Skills, or Keyboard areas, please contact Dr. James Ogburn.

Information for New Students

The purpose of the following is to help entering music majors better prepare themselves for freshman level music classes. While much of this material will be discussed and reviewed in classes, it is in the student's best interest to have a working knowledge and familiarity with some theory, terminology and music history.

Entering students should be familiar with following tasks:

  1. Reading both treble and bass clefs;
  2. Understanding basic rhythmic notation for both notes and rests;
  3. Knowing major and minor key signatures;
  4. Understanding whole- and half-steps as they relate to scales (scale patterns);
  5. Understanding simple triads (three-note chords);
  6. Understanding basic musical terminology as related to tempo, style and performance;
  7. Understanding a brief overview of musical periods and a basic knowledge of significant composers from each era.

For additional references, please consult from among the following sources:

Text sources:
Clendinning, Jane and Marvin, Elizabeth The Musician's Guide to Fundamentals (Book & CD-ROM). W.W.Norton & Company; ISBN: 978-0393928747
Henry, Earl, Snodgrass, Jennifer, and Piagentini, Susan Fundamentals of Music: Rudiments, Musicianship, and Composition (6th Edition). Pearson; ISBN: 978-0205118335
Houlahan, Michael and Tacka, Philip From Sound to Symbol: Fundamentals of Music. Oxford University Press, USA; ISBN: 978-0199751914

Electronic sources:
eTheory: Music Theory Fundamentals in Four Weeks
eTheory is the Eastman School of Music's online course, which can be used by non-Eastman students for an introduction to theory fundamentals, including intervals, counterpoint, chords and figured bass, and phrase models. The online course includes over 200 sets of writing, playing, listening, singing, and conducting exercises, and provides immediate feedback on all new concepts.
To sign up for the online course, visit the Institute for Music Leadership's eTheory page: provides free content—lessons and exams—for the content listed in the numbered bullets (#1-6) shown above.

Online Music Theory Flash Cards are helpful with testing yourself on music rudiments.