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School of Music

Theory and Musicianship

Upcoming Dates

The next date for the Theory and Piano Placement exams will be January 7, 2019, CPS 223, 1:00 PM.

Theory/Piano Placement Sign Up

All incoming undergraduate music students must take the Theory and Piano Placement exams (minors do not take the Piano Placement exam). These do not affect any grades, but are simply used as a tool to place you in the correct course(s) when you start enrolling at Sac State.

Placement Exams

All entering undergraduate music majors and minors must take a Theory Placement exam prior to initial enrollment (all music majors must also take the Piano Placement Exam). The Theory Placement exam may be taken only once. The results of this exam will determine whether the entering student will begin the theory sequence in any of the lower-division courses or in the upper division. Below, you will find information on each level of the exam, including topics and sample exams.

MUSC 5, Beginning Theory
Students who pass this exam will be placed in MUSC 5, Beginning Theory. The MUSC 5 placement exam includes a written and an aural component. Students must pass both components to enroll in the course. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in MUSC 4, Elements of Music.

Students who pass the written portion of the exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Identify the names of notes written on the treble and bass staves
  • Write notes on the treble and bass staves given a note name (e.g., write an F-sharp on the bass staff)
  • Notate rhythms in various meter signatures
  • Identify and spell major and minor key signatures
  • Write major and minor (harmonic, melodic, and natural) scales on a staff
  • Spell and identify triads on a staff

Students who pass the aural portion of the exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Identify the meter of pieces by ear
  • Notate by ear the rhythms of simple-meter melodies (e.g., write down the rhythm of a melody) with divisions (e.g., a melody in 3/4 meter containing eighth notes)
  • Echo short melodies vocally (e.g., sing back the melody they hear) while clapping the beat

Click here to download a sample MUSC 5 theory placement exam.
Click here to download a sample MUSC 5 sight-singing placement exam. The dictation exam will use melodies and rhythms of a similar level of difficulty.


MUSC 6, Intermediate Theory
Students who pass this exam will be placed in MUSC 6, Intermediate Theory. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in either MUSC 5 (Beginning Theory) or MUSC 4 (Elements of Music).

Students who pass the MUSC 6 placement exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Identify the specific interval between two notes on a staff
  • Write the note a specific interval above or below a given note on a staff
  • Identify triads and seventh chords by their root, quality, and figures (e.g., Ao65)
  • Write triads and seventh chords on a staff, given a root, quality, and figures
  • Write chords given a lead sheet symbol (e.g., Amb9/C)
  • Write chords given a Roman numeral and a key
  • Identify chords by writing a Roman numeral given a chord and a key
  • Write a passing tone, neighbor tone, or suspension above two bass notes

Click here to download a sample MUSC 6 placement exam.


MUSC 1, Musicianship I

Because MUSC 6 is a co-requisite of MUSC 1 (i.e., the courses must be taken in the same semester), students must pass both the MUSC 6 placement exam and the MUSC 1 placement exam in order to enroll in MUSC 1. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in either MUSC 5 (Beginning Theory) or MUSC 4 (Elements of Music).

Students who pass the MUSC 1 placement exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Write down melodies by ear. The melodies may be in major or minor mode, treble or bass clef, simple or compound meter, and with subdivisions of the beat. Students will be given a tonic note and the denominator of a meter signaure. They must provide a key signature and complete the meter signature
  • Write down by ear a simple, two-part passage of music in the style of a tonal counterpoint exercise. The bass line will be in quarter notes and the treble line will be in eighth notes
  • Sing at sight rhythms in simple or compound meter with subdivisions and/or triplets or duplets
  • Sing at sight diatonic melodies emphasizing tonic and dominant harmonies and including dotted figures and subdivisions of the beat

Click here to download a sample MUSC 1 sight-singing placement exam. The dictation exam will use melodies and rhythms of a similar level of difficulty, but it will also include writing outer voices of short, diatonic chorales, with Roman numerals that show plausible harmonies.


MUSC 7, Advanced Theory

Students who pass this exam will be placed in MUSC 7, Advanced Theory. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in MUSC 6, 5, or 4.

Students who pass the MUSC 7 placement exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Analyze a score from the perspective of harmony (diatonic chords and secondary dominants), counterpoint (dissonance and sequence types), motives, cadences, and form (phrase types, phrase pairs, and small forms)
  • Compose chorales with diatonic harmonies, secondary dominants, harmonic prolongations, and appropriate dissonances
  • Use basic Schenkerian techniques to reduce passages or pieces to their underlying structures

Click here to download a sample MUSC 7 placement exam.


MUSC 2, Musicianship II

Because MUSC 7 is a co-requisite of MUSC 2 (i.e., the courses must be taken in the same semester), students must pass both the MUSC 7 placement exam and the MUSC 2 placement exam in order to enroll in MUSC 2. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in either MUSC 1/6, 5 or 4.

Students who pass the MUSC 2 placement exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Write down melodies by ear. The melodies may be in: major, minor, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, or Aeolian mode; treble, alto, or bass clef; and simple, compound, or mixed meter. Students will be given a tonic note and the denominator of a meter signaure. They must provide a key signature and complete the meter signature
  • Write down duets by ear. The music may be in major or minor mode, treble and/or bass clef, simple or compound meter, and with subdivisions of the beat. Students will be given a tonic note and the denominator of a meter signaure. They must provide a key signature and complete the meter signature
  • Write down the outer voices of homophonic chorales with chromatic pitches and harmonies
  • Sing at sight chromatic and modal melodies in a variety of changing and mixed meters
  • Improvise melodies over a given chord progression
  • Improvise the consequent phrase of a parallel period

Click here to download a sample MUSC 2 sight-singing placement exam. The dictation exam will use melodies and rhythms of a similar level of difficulty, but it will also include writing outer voices of short chorales with secondary-dominant chords, with Roman numerals that show plausible harmonies.


Upper Division

Students who pass this exam will be placed into the upper-division sequence. The upper-division placement exam includes a written and an aural component. Students must pass both components to place into the upper division. Students who do not pass the exam will be placed in one or two lower-division courses.

Students who pass the upper-division placement exam will have demonstrated that they can:

  • Analyze a score from the perspective of harmony (chromatic, Neapolitan, and augmented-sixth chords), counterpoint (dissonance and sequence types), motives, cadences, key areas (the piece may modulate), and form (phrase types, phrase pairs, and small forms)
  • Compose modulating chorales with chromatic, Neapolitan, and augmented-sixth harmonies
  • Write down chromatic and modulating melodies by ear. The melodies may be in treble, alto, tenor, or bass clef; and simple, compound, or mixed meter. Students will be given a tonic note and the denominator of a meter signaure. They must provide a key signature and complete the meter signature
  • Write down duets by ear. The music may be in major or minor mode, treble and/or bass clef, simple or compound meter, and with subdivisions of the beat. Students will be given a tonic note and the denominator of a meter signaure. They must provide a key signature and complete the meter signature
  • Write down the outer voices of modulating homophonic chorales with chromatic pitches and harmonies
  • Sing at sight chromatic and modal melodies in a variety of changing and mixed meters
Click here to download a sample upper-division theory placement exam.