Music theory, aural skills, and music history placement exams are required of all incoming Master of Music students. Placement exams are offered on official audition days only. Students who are unable to attend the official audition dates in person may request permission to take the exams remotely. Students who do not demonstrate competency on all components of the exams are required to complete the appropriate review courses ( MUS 5003, Graduate Music Theory Review; MUS 5042 Graduate Aural Skills Review; MUS 5013, Graduate Music History Survey. Students may attempt the placement exams only once. Students must successfully complete the placement exams or review classes in order to enroll in the corresponding graduate history, theory, and vocal pedagogy topics courses.

Graduate Placement Exam in Music History: Details and Study Suggestions

The purpose of the exam is to determine if incoming graduate students can demonstrate an adequate understanding of music history to succeed in graduate coursework. Students must demonstrate proficiency on the early half of music history (before 1750) and the later half (after 1750). A passing grade of 70% must be achieved on both portions of the exam.

Exam Preparation

In preparation for the exam, you are advised to review the course materials from your undergradaute music history courses and consult one of the following texts. Older editions are fine as long as they are within the last 10-15 years. 

  • Burkholder, Peter J., Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music.
  • Wright, Craig and Bryan Simms. Music in Western Civilization.
  • Bonds, Mark Evan. A History of Music in Western Culture.
  • Barbara Russano Hanning. Concise History of Western Music.
  • Taruskin, Richard and Christopher H. Gibbs. The Oxford History of Western Music: College Edition.

The exam will be divided into two parts: 1) unknown listening and 2) factual information. A multiple choice format will be used throughout. The unknown listening contains ten musical examples that embody the most characteristic styles and genres of Western art music. You will be required to answer questions about the defining musical features of each selected work. You may be asked to provide the names of likely composers, approximate dates of composition, and appropriate historical periods. You will not be required to designate exact titles of musical works, but rather to speak to the historical movements and musical characteristics such works represent.

Instead of trying to cover everything, focus on representative works and defining features of each era (i.e. Renaissance, Baroque, etc.). You should be able to apply general knowledge to the questions asked.

Examples of selected styles and genres to review for the unknown listening portion of the exam may include:

  • Medieval (Gregorian chant, organum, motet)
  • Renaissance (Mass, motet, madrigal)
  • Baroque (opera, trio sonata, concerto)
  • Classic (symphony, sonata, string quartet)
  • Romantic (piano character piece, lied, orchestral works, opera)
  • Twentieth-Century (impressionism, expressionism, serialism, electronic music)

Sample Listening Question: A short unidentified excerpt from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

Listening Excerpt 1 (Answer questions 1–4 based on what you heard in Excerpt 1)

1. The rhythm of this excerpt is based on
  1. simple duple meter
  2. compound duple meter
  3. compound triple meter
  4. multimeter

2. This excerpt is scored for

  1. two violins, voila, and cello
  2. a standard classical orchestra consisting of strings, woodwinds, and horns
  3. a Romantic string orchestra
  4. a large twentieth-century orchestra of strings with expanded woodwind, brass, and percussion sections

3. This piece uses:

  1. functional tonality
  2. sprechstimme
  3. ostinato
  4. polytonality

4. The most likely composer of this excerpt is

  1. Claude Debussy
  2. Igor Stravinsky
  3. Arnold Schoenberg
  4. John Cage

In the factual section, students will demonstrate their knowledge of the historical and aesthetic movements that shaped musical life from the time of the Greeks to the present. In this portion of the test, questions will be drawn from each chapter of Hanning (or alternatively, Burkholder/Grout/Palisca). In studying for this portion of the test, students are encouraged to distill the wealth of detailed factual information in these by focusing on the socio-musical developments of the principal historical periods and the primary styles, composers, and genres encompassed by each.

Sample factual question:

Music notation was first developed in order to organize:

  1. secular songs of the troubadours
  2. the music of the Catholic liturgy
  3. the repertoire of opera and oratorio
  4. homophonic chansons

The Graduate History Placement Exam will be given in the computer lab in the music department. Students are required to bring headphones to the exam.

For more details, please contact Dr. Drew Stephen.

Graduate Placement Exam in Music Theory and Aural Skills

The graduate placement exam in music theory and aural skills contains the following sections:

  1. Fundamentals – scales and modes, intervals, chord qualities, terminology, etc.
  2. Part-writing – Given a short bass line, use Roman numerals to show an appropriate harmonization using both diatonic and chromatic chords, then add the three upper voices to create an SATB, chorale-style texture.
  3. Harmonic analysis – Provide a Roman numeral analysis of a short excerpt that contains both diatonic and chromatic chords.
  4. Form – Draw a diagram that depicts the form of a short piece. The diagram should indicate phrases, cadence types, keys, motivic relationships, phrase groupings, and overall form.
  5. Melodic dictation – Notate a short melody that is mostly diatonic, but with some decorative chromaticism.
  6. Harmonic dictation – Notate the bass and soprano lines of a four-part harmonic progression that includes at least one chromatic chord. Label all chords with Roman numerals.
  7. Rhythm sight reading – While conducting the beat, sight read a short rhythmic pattern using some system of counting syllables.
  8. Prepared melody singing – While conducting the beat, sing a prepared melody using solfege. These are the melodies that should be prepared prior to audition day.
  9. Major melody sight reading – Sight sing a short melody using solfege. The melody will be mostly diatonic, but will include some decorative chromaticism.
  10. Minor melody sight reading – Sight sing a short melody using solfege. The melody will be mostly diatonic but will include some decorative chromaticism.

Any standard undergraduate theory and/or aural skills textbook will provide a good review of the material on this exam, but the following books have recently been used in the theory and ear training courses at UTSA.

  • Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis by Clendinning and Marvin
  • Tonal Harmon by Kostka and Payne
  • Music for Sightsinging by Ottman and Rogers

Please contact Dr. Laura Kelly with questions about preparing for this exam.


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