Music Theory Placement Evaluation

Music Theory Placement Evaluation

The purpose of the MTPE is to guide the Music Department in determining what theory training will best support your music study goals.  It is essential that students wishing to take courses or lessons in the Music Department take this evaluation, if they want to test out of Music 100, which teaches the fundamentals of music theory.  However, we do not expect or require all students to be familiar with every topic covered on the evaluation before coming to Wellesley. Students lacking any background in music theory will NOT be disqualified from participating in ensembles or lessons; the evaluation is simply a tool to help us determine the most appropriate theory course for you to take.

The MTPE contains sections in both classical and jazz music theory. As many students come to Wellesley having had many different kinds of musical training, we expect that most students will need to skip over some of the questions. However, we encourage you to complete as much of the evaluation as possible to the best of your ability, as this will help us to place you into the appropriate class. 

Among the areas covered are:  intervals, scales, triads, seventh chords, clef-reading, roman numeral analysis and chord labeling (classical and jazz), notation of musical rhythm, aural skills, basic musical terminology, and (for more advanced students) fundamentals of figured bass realization. In addition, students are asked to fill out a page of information about their musical background.

Reviewing for the Evaluation

Those wishing to review for the evaluation may want to refer to The Complete Elementary Music Rudiments by Mark Sarnecki. This text has excellent general theory information. If you prefer, you may simply review with any other basic theory text.

Please note that we understand many students taking the evaluation are beginners and will be unfamiliar with many of these topics.  All students are encouraged to take the evaluation and do the best they can, regardless of their background.

Below is a basic outline of the exam along with a description of the kinds of questions we will ask:

I.  Scale Forms and Key Signatures

Students are given a note name and its scale degree, and are then asked to notate the correct scale (major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor) or mode (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian) in either treble or bass clef.  [Example: G# is notated on a staff in treble or bass clef. You are told that it is the 3rd scale degree (the mediant) of a major scale.  The correct answer would be the E major scale, which you should notate, in ascending or descending form, with the correct accidentals.]

Students are given a key signature and asked to name two keys that share it (major and minor).  [Example:  three flats are notated on a staff.  The correct answer is "E-flat major and C minor."]

II.  Intervals

Students are given a series of notated melodic intervals and asked to identify the distance and quality of each. [Example:  an F ascending to a B-flat is notated on a staff.  The correct answer is a "perfect fourth."]

IIIa.  Chords (Classical Theory)

Students are asked to match a series of ten notated chords on a grand staff with a series of ten chord descriptions.  [Example:  the first chord contains an E in bass clef and a B and G# in treble clef.  This chord should be matched with the description "major chord."  The second chord contains stacked thirds in treble clef:  F-A-C-E.  This chord should be matched with the description "major seventh chord."]

IIIb.  Chords (Jazz Theory)

Students are asked to match a series of five notated chords in treble clef with a series of five chord descriptions.  [Example:  the first chord contains the notes E-flat, A-flat, B-flat, and D-flat.  This chord should be matched with the description "dominant 7 sus 4."]

IV.  Rhythmic Notation

Students are given three sets of rhythms without barlines or time signatures, and are asked to figure out which time signature works best and to insert barlines where appropriate.  [Example:  the first set of rhythms contains a half note, two quarter notes, two eighth notes, a quarter note, and another half note.  The correct time signature is 2/4, and barlines should be drawn between the half note, the two quarter notes, the two eighth notes and the quarter note, and a final barline after the final half note.]

Va.  Basic Score Reading and Analysis (Classical)

Students are given an excerpt from a standard piece of classical repertoire.  They are then asked a series of questions about the excerpt.  [Example:  the piece will likely be an opera aria, a sonata, or a piece of chamber music.  You will be asked to name the key that the piece is in, and to identify examples of the tonic chord, any seventh chord, any inverted chord, any passing tone, any cadence, and any use of a secondary dominant.]

Vb.  Basic Score Reading (Jazz)

Students are given an excerpt from a jazz standard lead sheet. They are then asked a series of questions about the music.  [Example:  you will be asked to name the key of the standard, to circle the chord symbol of the tonic key, to circle and label two II-V progressions, to circle and label a diminished 7 chord, and to circle and label any use of the major 7th scale degree of the tonic key in the melody.]

VI.  Aural Perception

The proctor of the exam will go to the piano and play several musical excerpts, asking students to notate what they hear to the best of their ability. 

In the first section, students are given the first note of a series of 5-note scalar segments (4 total), ascending or descending.  The proctor will play each 5-note scale several times.

In the second section, the proctor will play four different chords, several times each.  Students will be asked to identify the *quality* of each chord to the best of their ability.  The chords played will be one of the following qualities:  major triad, minor triad, augmented triad, diminished triad, major seventh chord, minor seventh chord, half-diminished seventh chord, fully diminished seventh chord, or dominant seventh chord.  Students are also given the option to name the specific notes being played, if they are able to do so.

In the third section, students are given the first note of a series of intervals (4 total).  The proctor will play both the first note and a second note.  Students are asked to add this second note, and then name the interval (distance and quality).  The intervals will span the range of an octave (unison, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or octave), and the possible qualities will include perfect, major, minor, diminished, and augmented.

In the fourth and final section, students will be given two short melodies (4-8 measures) with time signatures and key signatures, but with many notes missing.  The proctor will play each melody several times, and students will be asked to fill in the missing notes.

VII.  More Advanced Chord Notation and Figured Bass (for students with prior classical music theory background)

This last section of the evaluation should only be taken by students with prior training in classical music theory.

In the first section, students are given one note (in treble or bass clef), and are also given the description of a chord with figured bass numerals.  Students are then asked to add the notes that are necessary to complete the chord described.  [Example:  a B-flat is notated in bass clef, and the chord described is "dominant 4/2." The correct answer is a dominant seventh chord in third inversion.  There are a number of possible ways to create this chord with the given note; all that matters is that the seventh of the chord is in the bass.  The easiest solution is to add a C, E, and G above the B-flat.  Another correct answer would be to add an F-flat and a G-flat below the B-flat, and a D-flat above the B-flat.  A third correct answer would be to add a D-flat, E-flat, and G below the B-flat.] 

In the second section, students are given two measures on a grand staff, and a bass line in the bass clef (the treble clef/right-hand staff is empty).  Below the bass line, figured bass numerals are notated.  Students are asked to realize the figured bass by adding 3-note chords in the right hand (treble clef). [Example:  one measure of the bass line is an ascending scale C-D-E-F, with a C-major key signature.  Beneath the D, a "4/3" is notated; beneath the E, a "6" is notated.  This means that on beats 2 and 3, a seventh chord in second inversion and a triad in first inversion (respectively) are required.  Since the key is C major, the best choices are a V7 chord on beat 2 (F-G-B with D in the bass; and a I6 chord on beat 3 (C-G-C with E in the bass).