Music Theory

The study of music theory helps students understand the meaning behind the melody.
Michael WeinsteinTheory Department Chair

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 just that, and thus more fully realize their musical potential. Directly supportive of the private instrumental lessons, the NEC Prep 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.

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 music theory, students gain significant skills in sight singing, rhythm reading, and related aural skills. Classes are kept small (around 12 students) to ensure necessary individual attention.

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 year's end. Successful completion of the Certificate Program (which includes all levels of the Theory Program) should prepare students for advanced placement in college theory programs.

NEC Prep Theory students may also be interested in Composition and Jazz Theory courses.

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.

  • Eurhythmics Levels I – IV for 4 to 9-year-olds
  • Theory Levels I and II for 9 to 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.  
  • 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.

Theory Placement

New theory students, returning theory students with questions about level placement, and students who are interested in private theory lessons must sign up for a placement with Michael Weinstein, theory department faculty chair. Classes start in the fall. Rolling admission is strictly at the discretion of the theory faculty.

Click here to sign up for a theory placement!


Michael Weinstein, Theory Department Chair

Faculty Directory: Theory

*Note: Texts and other musical materials may be purchased at Music Espresso, located at 33 Gainsborough St., first floor.

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.  

Text*: Wedge, Ear-Training and Sight-Singing

Level I-1: Saturday, 10:00 - 11:00 AM
Level I-2: Saturday, 9:00 - 10:00 AM or 10:00 - 11:00 AM
Level I Theory for Teens: Saturday, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM or 1:00 - 2:00 PM

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.  

Text*: Wedge, Ear-Training and Sight-Singing

Level II-1: Saturday, 9:00 - 10:00 AM or 10:00 - 11:00 AM
Level II-2: Saturday, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM or 1:00 - 2:00 PM
Level II Theory for Teens: Saturday, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM or 2:00 - 3:00 PM

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.  

Prerequisite: Completion of Music Theory Level II-2

Text*: Wedge, Ear-Training and Sight-Singing

Saturday, 10:00 - 11:00 AM or 1:00 - 2:00 PM

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.  

Prerequisite: Completion of Music Theory Level II-2

Text*: Music in Theory and Practice volume 1, 8th or 9th edition 

Saturday, 10:00 - 11:00 AM or 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

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.  


  • Completion of Performance Level Evaluation III 
  • Proficiency in Roman numeral analysis, principles of two-and three-voice species counterpoint, and figured bass realization.
  • Completion of Music Theory Level III-2

Saturday, 1:00 - 2:00 PM

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.  


  • Completion of Music Theory Level III-1

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

Saturday, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Drop-in Tutoring

For those students who have missed a class because of a scheduled conflict, who need extra help, or who want more focused work, the Theory Department offers 20-30 minute one-on-one tutoring sessions on Saturdays. If you are interested in signing up for a tutoring session please contact Lisa Fujita

2018-2019 Theory Class Schedule

Theory I-1

  • 10:00 - 11:00 AM, McAllister

Theory I-2

  • 9:00 - 10:00 AM, TBD
  • 10:00 - 11:00 AM, Weinstein

Theory II-1

  • 9:00 - 10:00 AM, Savage
  • 10:00 - 11:00 AM, Israel

Theory II-2

  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, McAllister
  • 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Weinstein

Theory for Teens I

  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, TBD
  • 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Savage

Theory for Teens II

  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Weinstein
  • 2:00 - 3:00 PM, McAllister

Theory III-1 (Solfege)

  • 10:00 - 11:00 AM, Bell
  • 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Bell

Theory III-2 (Harmony)

  • 10:00 - 11:00 AM, Savage
  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Savage

Theory IV-1 (Interpretive Analysis)

  • 1:00 - 2:00 PM, McAllister

Theory IV-2 (Adv. Solfege and Score Reading)

  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Bell