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Graduate Placement in Music Theory

Welcome to NEC! The faculty of the Music Theory Department look forward to meeting you and working with you throughout your journey at the Conservatory. We are writing to let you know what to expect when you arrive in August. Since graduate students at New England Conservatory come from diverse backgrounds, a computerized diagnostic Master of Music Theory Competency Exam (MMTCE) is given to ensure that each student who joins us has acquired certain essential skills and information.

MMTCE is administered to all incoming Master’s students during Orientation Week in the Fall semester, and the week before the start of classes in the Spring semester. Exact dates and times are communicated via email.

All Master of Music (MM) students must pass the exam before enrolling in graduate courses offered by the Music Theory Department. It is also strongly recommended that Graduate Diploma students take the exam; while they are not required to take theory classes at NEC, they need to pass the exam or get the instructor's consent to enroll in graduate theory classes.

The exam covers the shown below; please click each area for detailed instructions and paper-based practice tests. 

  1. Formal/Harmonic Analysis
  2. Melodic Ear Training
  3. Harmonic Ear Training

Please note that the sight-singing portion of the exam is required of only some students, and will be administered later in the week. 

Have a wonderful summer, and we look forward to seeing you during Orientation Week!


The Music Theory Faculty

Master of Music Theory Competency Exam (MMTCE)

Subject Areas:

Formal/Harmonic Analysis

This section of the exam contains several subsections:
Find practice exam here.

writing (15%)

You will be provided with a key, meter, and a series of Roman numeral labels; you are to notate the progression in four-part harmony (chorale style). This will be a short progression of no more than eight chords.

analysis of a tonal piece (45%)

You will be asked several questions on a movement, or section of a movement, from the 18th or 19th century. Questions will focus on any of the following: phrasing and cadences, form, overall tonal plan, harmonic analysis, non-chord tones, and motivic analysis.

analysis of a post-tonal piece (40%)

You will be asked questions on a movement, or section of a movement, from the 20th century. Be prepared for questions on pitch collections and their melodic, rhythmic, and textural transformations in the piece.

Melodic Ear Training

Find practice exam here.
Find answer key here.

identification and notation of melodic intervals


dictation of unaccompanied melodic fragments (3 pitches per fragment)

For this exercise, a major key will be established for you. You will then hear a series of three-note melodic fragments in that key; you should notate these fragments in whole notes. (Rhythm is not a factor in this exercise.) You will be given two hearings for each fragment.

rhythmic dictation

A meter will be established for you, after which you will hear a short melodic fragment. You are asked to notate only the rhythm of the melody.

dictation of an accompanied melody (56%)

You will hear an accompanied melody; you are asked to notate the melody only (not the accompaniment). Please be aware that the meter and the barlines will not be provided for you. (Since you will need to determine the meter on your own, you might want to practice identifying meters from recordings in preparation for this portion of the exam.) Since we are not telling you what the beat is, there might be several meters that would be acceptable; we will allow for several possibilities.

Also, while we will tell you the key of the passage, we will not play the tonic pitch ahead of time; you are expected to infer the tonic from the melody itself. Assume that the melody could conclude with any of the following cadences: perfect authentic, imperfect authentic, or half cadence. (To put it another way: the final scale degree of the melody might or might not be the tonic.)

You will hear the accompanied melody in its entirely six times.

Harmonic Ear Training

Find practice exam here.
Find answer key here.

identification of chord quality: triads

Your choices are major, minor, diminished, or augmented

identification of chord quality: seventh chords

Be prepared for the three following seventh-chord qualities: major-minor (same as dominant seventh); minor, and fully diminished.

tonal harmonic progressions: provide soprano, bass, and Roman numeral labels


Sight Singing

This portion of the test will be recommended only for students who fail the Melodic Ear Training portion of the exam. For more details about this test, see below.

Opportunities for Remedial Work

If you do not pass one or any of the components of the MMTCE, we strongly recommend that you enroll in Principles of Harmony and Form (THYG082). If you would like to focus on improving your ear-training skills with respect to the exam, we strongly recommend enrolling in Principles of Harmony and Form-Lab (also THYG082). In addition, students can take selected courses to pass portions of the exam. The following table shows remediation courses in relation to each MMTCE component:

Exam Component

Course that would fulfill the deficiency

Formal/Harmonic Analysis »

Principles of Harmony and Form

Melodic Ear Training »

Introductory Ear Training and Sight-Singing

Harmonic Ear Training »

Principles of Harmony and Form

Additional Resources

20th century »

Graduate 20th–21st century course

Melodic Ear Training »

Solfège Through Vocal Music

Please be aware of the following

  1. Remember that enrollment in the courses shown in the right column of the table above is voluntary. In other words, if you fail any of the exam components, you are not required to enroll in the course that remediates that deficiency. You may instead choose to retake the exam (or rather, the portion of the exam that you failed the first time) the next time it is offered. The exam is given twice during the year: during fall Orientation, and in January at the beginning of the spring semester.
  2. Since we can offer only one to two sections of the remedial course, Principles of Harmony and Form, per semester, it is possible that we will not be able to accommodate all students who would like to enroll in those courses. In such cases, the Theory Department will need to make some difficult decisions regarding the final class list. Please know that we will be as fair and objective as possible in making these decisions.

    If you would like to enroll in a remedial course and are not able to (whether because of limited available spaces, or any other reason), you should try to take the relevant portion of the exam the next time it is offered.

Resources for Review

The following materials, among many others, present music theory materials, skills, and concepts helpful for establishing a background for graduate-level study. They also are helpful for students who wish to review the American-English terminology for such work. However, students might wish simply to review their undergraduate music theory work in preparation for the exam.

Fundamentals, Harmony, and Form

Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne: Tonal Harmony (McGraw-Hill)
Bruce Benward/Jackson: Practical Beginning Theory (McGraw-Hill)
George Thaddeus Jones: Music Theory (College Outline Series; HarperCollins)
Douglass Green: Form in Tonal Music, 2nd Ed. (Harcourt College Publishers)

Post-Tonal Theory

Joseph Strauss: Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory (Prentice Hall, 2005)

Ear Training

Anne Blombach: MacGAMUT (music software): can be purchased at
Bruce Benward/ Timothy Kolosick: Ear Training: A Technique for Listening (McGraw-Hill)

Sight-Singing Skills

Robert Ottman and Nancy Rogers: Music for Sight Singing (Prentice-Hall)
Lars Edlund: Modus Vetus (Edition Wilhelm Hansen)

MM Analysis Practice Exam

MM Analysis Practice Exam

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MM Melodic Ear Training Practice Exam

MM Melodic Ear Training Practice Exam

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MM Melodic Ear Training Practice Exam Answer Key

MM Melodic Ear Training Practice Exam Answer Key

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MM Harmonic Ear Training Practice Exam

MM Harmonic Ear Training Practice Exam

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MM Harmonic Ear Training Practice Exam Answer Key

MM Harmonic Ear Training Practice Exam Answer Key

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