“The study of music theory helps students understand the meaning behind the melody.”  

This is how one private teacher sums up the importance of music theory for students studying an instrument. The Preparatory Theory Program is designed to help students do that, and thus more fully realize their musical potential. Directly supportive of the private instrumental lessons, the theory program links and integrates skills and concepts. Theory courses emphasize knowing the skills and concepts of theory both as—and through—making music, perceiving music, and reflecting on music. Classes are kept small (around 12 students) to ensure necessary individual attention.  

Theory classes are experiential in nature, with in-class activities designed to develop and support perceptual and reflective awareness of what is involved in making and playing music. In the context of mastering the concepts of theory, students gain significant skills in sight singing, rhythm reading, and related aural skills. Benchmark tests, appropriate for each level, are given at the end of each semester. These tests must be passed in order to gain admittance to the next level. Written evaluations of students include a progress report in mid-January and a final evaluation at the years end.  

Successful completion of the Certificate program (all levels of the Theory Program) should prepare students for advanced placement in college theory programs.  

Developmental Tracks for Theory Levels

A developmental perspective informs the design of the program. The theory department recognizes the significant changes taking place during a child’s elementary, middle and high school years, and offers developmentally appropriate classes for younger performers as well as those who are in high school. Three levels of Theory are designed for students of specific ages, a) Eurhythmics Levels I – IV, b) 9 to 12 year olds, and c) 13 to 18 year olds.   

a) Eurhythmics Levels I – IV for 4 to 9 year olds (see listing under Early Musicianship) 

b) Theory Levels I and II for 9-12 year olds  

This program moves at a pace more appropriate to the 9 to 12 year old student. It covers the same material as the levels for teens, but more time is spent on presenting, developing and internalizing the skills and concepts necessary for mastery. It normally takes four years to complete.  

c) Theory Levels I and II for Teens 

Theory for Teens moves at a faster pace with the expectation that more independent work will be carried out between classes. Older students ages 13-18, can complete the sequence of Theory I and Theory II in two years.


Music Theory Level I

Focusing on mastering the fundamentals of reading and hearing, analysis and writing, the first level of music theory directly supports beginning instrumental study. Mastery of the skills and concepts in Level I result in fluency in the following areas: reading of treble and bass clefs; key signatures; interval content of major and minor scales; relative minor and relative major scale relationships; conducting beat patterns of 2, 3, and 4 while singing; division of the beat into 2, 3, and 4 parts; tonic and dominant chords in all major and minor keys. Writing and composition assignments build on students growing mastery of theoretical concepts, music reading, and ear training skills. Analysis work, whenever possible and appropriate, is based on pieces students are studying in their lessons.  

Texts*: Starer: Basic Rhythmic Training, and Oxford folksong Sight Singing series Vols, 1 and 8.

Levels I-1, I-2: Saturday, 9-10am or 10-11am
Level I Theory for Teens: Saturday, 11am-12pm or 1-2pm

Music Theory Level II

Theory Level II builds upon the skills, activities, and concepts of Level I. Students continue to develop their reading skills with more challenging melodies in treble and bass clefs and extend the scope of their literacy by learning to read alto clef. Students develop the ability to quickly identify, recognize, and sing intervals.  

Classes in Level II stress the skills and concepts required to quickly identify, recognize, and perform the following: intervals; qualities and functions of triads within a key; fundamentals of figured bass including root position, inversions and dominant seventh chords; and non-harmonic tones: passing tones, neighbor tones, suspensions; cadences, including authentic, half, and deceptive; and modulation. Whenever appropriate, analysis work is based on pieces students are studying in their lessons.  

Texts: Starer: Rhythmic Training; and Oxford Folksong Sight Singing Series Vols. 5 and 9. 

Level II-1: Saturday, 9-10am or 10-11am
Level II-2: Saturday, 11am-12pm or 1-2pm
Level II Theory for Teens: Saturday, 11am-12pm or 2-3pm

Level III–1: Solfège

This course is devoted to developing a high level of reading skill through the use of fixed-do solmization. Emphasis is placed on fluent sight-reading in three clefs: Treble, Bass, and Alto. Appropriate harmonic, melodic and rhythmic dictation will be given weekly as well as prepared performances from the course texts.  

Texts*: Danhauser, Solfège de Solfèges, Book I; Dandelot, Manuel Practique; and Bona, Rhythmic Articulation

Saturday, 10-11am or 1-2pm

Level III–2: Harmony

This course focuses on part writing and figured-bass realization. Harmonic progressions and voice-leading are practiced through four-part (SATB) realizations of figured basses. Students will realize figured-bass lines at the piano and be introduced to common harmonic progressions. Harmonic vocabulary includes triads in root position, inversions, seventh chords, diatonic modulations, secondary dominants, mode mixture, augmented sixths, and the Neapolitan chord. Fundamentals of Species Counterpoint are introduced. Singing and harmonic dictation will develop and reinforce aural skills.  

Text*:  Benward:  Music in Theory and Practice, Vol 1.  

Saturday, 10-11am or 11am-12pm

Level IV–1: Interpretive Analysis

This course provides opportunities for students to practice a variety of analytical approaches to the problems of interpretation. The class focuses on specific compositions by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Lectures are supported by appropriate readings. Different recorded performances of single works are compared and critiqued.  

Prerequisites: Completion of Performance Level III 

Proficiency in Roman numeral analysis, principles of two-and three-voice species counterpoint, and figured bass realization.

Saturday, 1-2pm

Level IV–2: Advanced Solfège and Score Reading

This course integrates advanced musicianship studies with an investigation of 20th century musical materials. Students sing atonal melodies and dictation in two and more parts. Fluency in five clefs (treble, bass, alto, tenor, and soprano) is demonstrated through performance of Bach chorales in open score and sight-transposition of orchestral scores. Rhythmic notation and polyrhythms are also featured.  

Texts*: Edlund: Modus Novus; Bach (Reimenschneider, ed.): Ninety-one Chorales in Open Score; Danhauser: Solfege de Solfeges, Book III; Dandelot: Manuel Practique 

Saturday, 11am-12pm

Hearing at the Keyboard

Artur Schnabel offers this advice: “First hear, then play.” Piano students may play very well from the printed page, but not hear what they are playing.

Designed to address that fundamental issue, this two-semester course for piano students focuses on developing facility in aural skills and harmony through the keyboard. The course will focus on realizing figured basses and harmonizing melodies and applying the skills gained to music being studied. Improvising melodies over given basses and even short preludes may be included as appropriate. Classes are small (5-10 students) to ensure sufficient attention to the needs of each student. Students are evaluated on the basis of effort and improvement seen on a pre-post test. All work is done at the keyboard. Although designed for high school students, younger students may participate depending on the recommendation of their teacher, maturity, and skills.  

Texts*: Vidal: Keyboard Harmony; Dubois: Selected basses and melodies. 

Drop-in Tutoring

For those students who have had to miss a class because of a scheduled conflict, who need extra help, or who want more focused work, the Theory Department offers two one-hour help sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  

*Note: Texts and other musical materials may be purchased at Music Espresso, located at 295 Huntington Ave.