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School of Music College of Arts & Letters

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Theory and Piano Placement

All entering undergraduate music majors must take the theory, musicianship, and piano placement exams prior to initial enrollment (all music minors must take the theory and musicianship exams only). The theory and musicianship placement exams may be taken only once. The results of these exams will determine whether the entering student will begin the theory, musicianship, and class piano sequence in any of the lower-division courses or in the upper division.

Upcoming Tests

If you are entering our program in Fall 2021, you will take your placement exams online in Summer 2021. As you file your intent to enroll, the SOM Admissions Office will be in contact with you with additional information.

Music Theory/Musicianship Tests

Like many schools across the nation, we consider music theory and musicianship to be “core” subjects—that is, they are central to the development of sophisticated musicians. Because our top priority is student success, and because we recognize that students come to Sacramento State with very different backgrounds, skill levels, and knowledge in these areas, we want to make sure that all students begin at the right place in the course sequences. In other words, we don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed on their first day of theory class, and we don’t want anyone to feel underchallenged. In order to determine where students should begin, we hold online “placement exams” before they sign up for their classes.

The placement exam is in two parts. Upon declaring an intent to enroll in our program, students will receive information about how to access the first part, which is taken through a site called uTheory (www.utheory.com). The uTheory test will assess students’ mastery of music fundamentals such as notation, intervals, scales, key signatures, and root-position triads and seventh chords. If the test shows that a student needs improvement in certain areas, they will be given the opportunity to complete online lessons and practice through uTheory.

Students get five attempts to pass Part 1 of the exam. If after five tries someone doesn’t pass, then they will be placed in an entry-level course called Elements of Music (MUSC 4), which will cover everything they need to know and be able to do in order to advance in the theory and musicianship sequences.

If a student does pass Part 1, Dr. Scott Perkins, Head of Theory and Composition, will provide instructions on how to take Part 2 of the exam, which is also done online. This part is more advanced, and a student’s performance may result in their being able to skip certain courses in our theory and musicianship sequences.

Please click on the links below to see sample theory and sight-singing and improvisation exams, and information about the transcription exam.

Music Theory

Musicianship: Sight-Singing and Improvisation

Musicianship: Transcription

Please direct questions about the theory and musicianship placement exams to Dr. Scott Perkins.

Piano Placement Information

If you pass the first level of the Theory Placement Exam, you must also take a Piano Placement Exam. You will be placed in a class piano level based on a careful assessment of your current ability at the piano. Contact Kirsten Smith to make an appointment for this virtual (zoom) exam.

In your piano placement evaluation, expect to discuss and/or demonstrate your ability to perform:

  • Major and minor scales
  • Chord progressions
  • Harmonization of a melody
  • Melodic transposition
  • Sight reading

If you wish, you may also prepare a piece of your choice. All music majors must continuously enroll in class piano until the 14D exit exam has been passed (the 14C exit exam for B.A. students).

If you find that you have an unavoidable conflict with your assigned class time, it is your responsibility to discuss this conflict with the teacher as soon as you are aware of it. If you feel that you have been placed in an inappropriate level, please bring your concerns to the teacher immediately so adjustments can be made.

Please direct questions about the Piano Placement Exam to Professor Kirsten Smith.