Explanation of the Fundamentals Exam
(practice version)

Upon arrival at NEC for the fall semester, all entering undergraduate students will take a Fundamentals placement exam, consisting of a (1) fluency portion, (2) written portion, and (3) an ear training portion, (4) keyboard exam, only if you pass the other three components (fluency, written, and ear training).

This page provides explanations for the fluency, written, and ear training components, along with links to practice versions of the exams. Read this explanation of the keyboard exambefore you decide to print out the exam itself.

You will find the four practice exams along with the answer keys (except keyboard), in the following order:

Fluency Exam (practice version)
Answer Key for Fluency Exam (practice version)

Written Exam (practice version)
Answer Key for Written Exam (practice version)

Ear Training Exam (practice version)
Answer Key for Ear Training Exam (practice version)

Keyboard Exam (practice version)

Fluency Portion

This PDF consists of six pages:

p. 1: pitch identification in treble and bass clefs
p. 2: identification of harmonic intervals (number only, not quality)
p. 3: writing of signatures for major and minor keys
p. 4: writing of major and minor scales
p. 5: notation of individual pitches, given a key and scale degree number
p. 6: notation of triads (major, minor, diminished, augmented)

Note that this fluency test focuses on three basic areas: (1) the ability to identify pitches quickly in treble and bass clefs (pp. 1 and 2); (2) major and minor keys (pp. 3-5); and triads (p. 6). We feel it is especially important that you have a complete and thorough knowledge of this material; it should be virtually automatic and “at your fingertips.” For this reason, you will be given a limited amount of time to work on each page. On the test itself, you will find the time limit for each page at the upper right-hand corner of that page, expressed as minutes and seconds. (For instance, on page 1 you’ll see 0:40, which means you would be given 40 seconds to do that page.)

IMPORTANT: for each individual item on the fluency test, your answer must be completely correct; there is no partial credit. This is true of scales, too; if a single pitch in a scale is incorrect, the entire scale will be regarded as incorrect. (Please note that a missing or incorrect accidental will be regarded as an incorrect pitch.)

Here’s how the fluency portion will be administered when you take the test during Orientation week. The directions given at the top of the first page will be read aloud, after which you will be given a verbal signal to start (“ready, begin”). You should work on that page until you hear the verbal signal “stop”. After a few seconds, you will then be asked to turn to the following page; the same procedure will be followed for that page, and for all subsequent pages. Please note: if you finish any page before hearing the signal to stop, you should not continue to the next page, but simply wait until you are asked to turn the page.

PASSING THE FLUENCY COMPONENT: In order to pass the fluency exam as a whole, you need to get 80 points out of 100 possible. Please note that the exam technically contains only 99 possible points; for that reason, we will give you an additional “free” point, whatever your score. (This means you actually only have to earn 79 points to pass, since the additional point would bring you up to 80.)

Written Portion

The written portion of the Fundamentals Written Exam emphasizes accuracy more than fluency. You will be given a single block of time to do the entire section (25 minutes), so it will feel less like a “speed test” than the fluency portion.

We strongly urge you to try the PDF of the written practice exam within the 25-minute time limit to see how you do. While this is not designed to be a fluency exam, some students may find themselves a bit rushed by the 45-minute limit. If you do run out of time, but think that you would have been able to complete the test successfully if you had been allowed more time, we suggest that you identify any section(s) of the test that slowed you down, and practice that material until you are more fluent with it. Also, remember that sometimes it’s a good strategy to skip a question that is giving you a great deal of trouble.

PASSING THE WRITTEN COMPONENT: As is the case with the fluency portion, you must get a score of 80 out of 100. Again, we’ll give you a free additional point, since the test technically contains only 99 points.

Ear Training Portion

Please print out two copies of the PDF: one copy for you to notate your answers, and a second copy that serves as the playing key, since you will need to ask someone to play the examples for you.

This exam evaluates your ability to hear scales, intervals and chords (both triads and seventh chords); it also includes several short dictation exercises. Please be aware that in order to pass the ear training component, you will need to earn 80 points out of 100. (You will not be given a free point on this portion, since the exam is worth exactly 100 points.)

To the person administering the ear training practice exam: some of the exercises in the playing key include specific directions regarding tempo and the amount of time to be taken between playings. Please follow these directions as closely as possible, since the placement test in August will use similar timings.

Keyboard Portion

Remember that not all of you will need to take this keyboard exam. Only if you pass the other three components of the exam (fluency, written, and ear training) will you be required to take the keyboard exam.

For those of you who do take this exam, here are the general requirements:

  1. Scales: be prepared to play any of the following, with either right hand or left hand (one octave, ascending and descending):
    a. all major scales
    b. any minor scale in which the tonic is a white key on the piano (c, d, e, f, g, a, and b minor), in natural, harmonic or melodic forms
  2. Intervals: SPELL and PLAY any perfect, major, or minor interval above or below a given pitch.
  3. Given a major key, play the diminished fifth between scale degrees 7 and 4 in that key, and resolve it to scale degrees 1 and 3. Also be prepared to spell either 7-1 or 4-3 in that key.
  4. SPELL AND PLAY any triad (major, minor, diminished, or augmented) above a given pitch.
  5. Play a seventh chord (major, minor, dominant, diminished, half diminished) above a given pitch.
  6. Be prepared to play a root-position major or minor triad in keyboard style (one voice in the left hand, three in the right hand), with the root, third, or fifth in the top voice, as requested.
  7. Play a I-IV-V-I progression (i-iv-V-i if the key is minor), with good voice leading, in any key containing up to two sharps or flats. Be prepared to play the progression starting with either scale degree 1, 3, or 5 in the soprano. You should not use music score for this; you will need to play the progression by memory. (See the Appendix to this document, which notates the progression for you in C major and a minor with all three soprano options.)

IMPORTANT: in order to pass the keyboard exam, you must earn 80 points (out of 100).