Undergraduate 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 late August. During Orientation Week, we will be giving several placement exams to all incoming undergraduate students. These exams will help us to place you in the appropriate courses in the fall.

First, it may be helpful for you to know something about our overall pedagogical approach. We believe that the purpose of music theory is to help students grow as practicing musicians. Music theory therefore involves much more than the teaching of conceptual knowledge; our objective is to help you develop important skills that will stay with you the rest of your musical life. (And we hope you will continue to develop these skills after you leave NEC.)

We regard four skills as especially important:

  1. singing (including music reading)
  2. ear training
  3. keyboard
  4. writing (for instance, notational exercises such as four-part writing, and musical analysis)

These four skills are interconnected: developing your singing skills, for instance, will help you with your writing skills and vice versa.

Description of our Core Curriculum

Our Core Curriculum consists of eight courses, usually taken in the first two years of study.

Fundamentals of Music Theory: The study of musical fundamentals focuses on scales, keys, intervals, and chords. This course includes written work, ear training, and keyboard skills, with emphasis on both accuracy and fluency. (Fluency is the ability to provide correct answers at reasonable speed.)

Tonal Practice I-III: Our three Tonal Practice courses focus on the study of tonal harmony and form. These courses include training in several skill areas: written work (counterpoint, part writing, analysis), basic composition, ear training, and keyboard skills.

Solfège I-IV: Our Solfège courses provide training in score reading, basic conducting, sight singing, and melodic ear training.

A typical distribution of these courses can be seen in the table below. However, students can place out of one or more Core Curriculum courses based on their performance on the Undergraduate Placement Exams, administered during Orientation Week.







[Fundamentals of Music Theory]

Solfège I


Tonal Practice I

Solfège II



Tonal Practice II

Solfège III


Tonal Practice III

Solfège IV

Undergraduate Placement Exams

The Undergraduate Placement Exam is administered during Orientation Week.

ALL entering students (both new students and transfers) will take a Fundamentals exam and a Solfège exam.

Fundamentals exam

The Fundamentals exam consists the following sections:

  • Ear training
    This Ear training section of the Fundamentals exam evaluates your ability to hear scales, intervals, chords (triads and seventh chords), and short dictation exercises.
  • Written
    The Written section evaluates your knowledge of key signatures, scales, scale degrees, intervals, triads (root position and inversion), seventh chords (root position only), and rudiments of Roman numeral analysis.
  • Fluency
    The Fluency section evaluates your ability to answer quickly questions pertaining to basic concepts of music fundamentals. The topics covered resemble those of the Written section above, except that each question must be answered in a strictly specified short time.

For a detailed guideline on preparing for the Fundamentals exam, as well as practice tests, click here. Note that at the end of the Keyboard exam, the two progressions will be the same as the ones on the actual exam!

Students who pass all three sections of the Fundamentals exam, will proceed to take a Fundamentals Keyboard Exam. Piano majors, both classical and jazz, are exempt from this exam.

Placing out of Fundamentals

Students who pass all three sections of the Fundamentals exam and the Fundamentals Keyboard Exam will automatically place out of Fundamentals and into Tonal Practice I. Piano majors, both classical and jazz, only need to pass the three sections of the Fundamentals exam, as they are exempt from the Keyboard exam.

Solfège Placement Exam

The Solfège exam evaluates your sight-singing skills. It consists of a one-on-one audition with a faculty member or teaching assistant in which you will be asked to sight-sing short melodies and parts of score excerpts. This exam will help us to determine the ideal placement for you in the Solfège program.

Tonal Practice Placement Exam
(optional for those who place out of Fundamentals)

If you place out of Fundamentals (see above) and you have had a strong college-level background in tonal harmony, you have the option of taking the Tonal Practice Placement Exam. This exam will determine whether you should place out of any or all Tonal Practice courses.

Please note that this is test is optional for students who place out of Fundamentals. Should you choose not to take it after having passed the Fundamentals and Fundamentals Keyboard exams, you will be automatically placed in Tonal Practice I.

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


The Music Theory Faculty

Undergraduate Placement Exam Schedule

Monday, August 31

Required for all


Fundamentals Exam
(All three sections)




Tuesday, September 1

Required for all

(see orientation packet for assigned times)

Solfège Exam

Required for those that pass
Fundamentals Exam except piano majors.

(Fundamentals Exam Results and Keyboard Harmony Exam assigned times
will be available at the Undergraduate Class Meeting)

Keyboard Harmony Exam



Wednesday, September 2

Optional for those who have placed out of Fundamentals.

(Will be notified at Keyboard Exam on Tuesday if qualified to attend.)

Tonal Practice Placement Exam