Study Guide for History/Theory Entrance Exam


One of the responsibilities of any institution offering a graduate degree in music is to ascertain that entering students have an undergraduate level of competence in music history and theory. To that end, diagnostic examinations are administered prior to the first semester of graduate study. If, on the basis of those examinations, deficiencies are noted, remedial course work is assigned. Since these courses do not count toward your degree, it is important that you do well on the examinations.

This study guide is intended to help you prepare for the examinations, it lists composers, terms, and styles covered in standard undergraduate music history courses, and concepts and skills common to undergraduate theory training. Consequently, it may be viewed as an extensive memory aid, recalling to your mind what you already know. The following comments are offered as suggestions on how to use the guide.

Music History

The history exam includes questions on composers, terms, and representative repertory. Students are tested on terminology appropriate to each period, basic knowledge of composers and their styles/contributions to the repertory, forms and genres, key concepts and ideas, and representative repertory and characteristics from all periods of western art music.

History Study Guide

Jazz History and Literature

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE JAZZ HISTORY EXAM: Students are advised to study from the 2nd edition of Jazz by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015).

EXAM DESCRIPTION: The exam includes a combination of fill-in-the-blanks questions, matching, multiple-choice, multiple-answer, listening examples, and text (bullet point or short essay) questions. See below for information about exam content:

  • Significant historical, cultural, and technological developments impacted the development of jazz
  • Styles and eras of jazz, including Traditional/New Orleans/Dixieland Jazz, The Swing/Big Band Era, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Free Jazz/Avant-garde, Fusion, Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova
  • Common forms in jazz
  • The Great American Songbook
  • Rhythm section instruments and their roles
  • Common jazz terminology (e.g., head)


Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson, Jo Jones, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Mel Lewis, Wynton Marsalis, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Jelly Roll Morton, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Chano Pozo, Wayne Shorter, Frank Sinatra, Cecil Taylor, Cedar Walton, Mary Lou Williams.

World Music Core Concepts

Students planning to take this exam should email Dr. Sidra Lawrence for study materials.

Music Theory

The theory section is divided into five parts: 1) Part Writing; 2) Analysis; 3) Form; 4) Counterpoint; 5) Twentieth-century techniques. For the first, be able to demonstrate, in written fashion, the suggested voice leading, part writing and figure bass skills. For the other parts, be able to identify items when you see them in musical excerpts, and be able to provide appropriate analyses of given musical examples.

Study Guide

The theory section consists of five parts:

  1. Part-writing

    Two-chord examples and figured bass realization that includes chromatic chords (secondary dominants, secondary leading tones, mode mixtures/borrowed chords, Neapolitan sixths and augmented sixth chords). Writing in four-part choral style (SATB) using traditional 18th-century voice leading.
  2. Analysis

    Chromatic chords (as listed above), modulation, non-chord tones (non-harmonic tones) and cadence types.
  3. Form

    Identify and label phrase structures (periods, phrase groups, double periods); tonal areas; concepts associated with simple binary, rounded binary, simple ternary and sonata-allegro form.
  4. Counterpoint

    Recognize, in a musical score, contrapuntal techniques and elements pertaining to baroque inventions and fugues (real and tonal imitation, stretto, canon, inversion, augmentation, dimunition, countersubject, answer, episode, sequence, motive, countermotive).
  5. Twentieth-century techniques

    Analyze the following in musical excerpts: Tonality (centricity, neotonality, atonality, polytonality, pandiatonicism); Harmonic structures (secundal, extended tertian, quartal, quintal, added-note and polychords); Scale structures (pentatonic, modal, whole-tone, octatonic and other synthetic scales); Rhythmic/metric techniques (polymeter, additive rhythm, complex meter, tempo modulation, syncopation, asymmetrical meter); Set-theory analysis (pitch-class set, interval class, normal form/order, transposition, inversion, prime form); Twelve-tone (row forms, hexachoral combinatoriality)

Sample questions from parts one and two are provided in a PDF below. Parts 3, 4 and 5 involve analysis of musical examples such as:

Part III, Form. Mozart, Piano Sonata K 309 (I), K 333 (I); Beethoven, Op. 2, No. 1 (I)
Part IV, Counterpoint. Bach, Two-Part Inventions; Bach, Fugues from WTC, Book I.
Part V, 20th-century techniques. Music by Debussy, Bartók, Stravinsky, Webern, Berg.

Suggested Review Materials:

Aldwell, Edward, Carl Schachter, and Allen Cadwallader. Harmony and Voice Leading, 5th edition (Boston: Cengage, 2019). ISBN #9781337560573. Also see accompanying workbook.

Clendinning, Jane Piper, and Elizabeth West Marvin. The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis,
4th edition (New York: WW Norton, 2020). ISBN #978-0-393-44240-3. Also see accompanying workbook and anthology.

Kostka, Stefan, Dorothy Payne and Byron Almén. Tonal Harmony, 8th edition (New York: McGraw-
Hill, 2018). ISBN #9781259447099 (textbook). Also see accompanying workbook.

Benward, Bruce and Marilyn Saker. Music in Theory and Practice, 10th edition, Vols. 1 and 2
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2021). ISBN10: 1260055825 | ISBN13: 9781260055825 

Green, Douglass. Form in Tonal Music, 2nd edition (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1979). ISBN #978-0030202865.

Roig-Francolí, Miguel A. Understanding Post-Tonal Music, 2nd edition (New York: Routledge, 2021). ISBN #9780367355357.

Kostka, Stefan and Matthew Santa. Materials and Techniques of Post-Tonal Music, 5th edition (Routledge, 2018). ISBN 9781315229485

Laitz, Steven and Michael Callahan. The Complete Musician, 5th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023) ISBN: 9780190924508

Sample Questions for Part I and II of Theory Exam

Policy for Entrance Tests and Re-tests in Music History/Literature and Music Theory

  1. All entering graduate students must take tests in music history/literature and music theory before beginning their graduate work. There is no exception to this rule.
  2. These tests are normally taken online during the summer before matriculation and are usually due on or around August 1. Students who enter the graduate program in January or in the summer must take the tests before enrolling in classes.
  3. Students who pass these tests may enroll in graduate musicology and theory courses without restriction.
  4. Students who fail part or all of these tests have two options:
    1. Students may take remedial courses to make up deficiencies. MuCT 5060 is required of those who fail the theory test; MuCT 5070 and/or MuCT 5080 are required of those who fail one or both portions of the history test.
    2. Students may elect to take re-tests in the areas of deficiency. Re-tests are given in the last week of September or the first week of October during the first semester of study, depending on the fall semester calendar. THESE RE-TESTS MAY BE TAKEN ONLY ONCE. Students who pass the re-tests are permitted to enroll in graduate musicology and/or theory courses without restriction. Students who fail the re-tests MUST take the appropriate remedial courses.
  5. Students who fail most of the tests may wish to balance independent study with remedial course work. Thus, a student who, on the basis of the history test, needs both MuCT 5070 and 5080, may choose to take one of the courses and study the material of the other for a re-test. This decision should be made based on the schedule of course offerings, so that the completion of the degree may not be hindered.

Approved by College of Musical Arts Graduate Committee 9/12/1988; updated 9/2022

Updated: 05/08/2023 03:00PM