What Is AP Music Theory? 

Do you have a strong interest in music and a desire to learn more? If so, the AP music theory course is what you should take! In this blog, EnthuZiastic will explore the world of AP Music Theory, a fantastic opportunity for students who want to take their music knowledge to the next level by learning about musical concepts such as meter, rhythm, harmony, chords, scales, seventh chords, and expressive elements. Let’s dive in and learn what AP music theory is.

What Is AP Music Theory?

What Is AP Music Theory?

This course is a college-level music theory course offered to high school students through the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program.

This course, also known as AP Theory, is designed to help students cultivate their understanding of music theory. You’ll analyze performed and notated music as you explore pitch, rhythm, form, and musical design concepts. This corresponds to one-to-two semesters of typical introductory college music theory and aural skills coursework. You’ll learn to recognize, understand, describe, and produce the essential elements and processes of performed and notated music.

At the end of the course, you will be evaluated through a written exam that tests your knowledge of music theory concepts and your ability to apply that knowledge to musical examples.

The exam contains melodic dictation, harmonic dictation, and aural questions, including identifying major scales and key signatures. In short, It’s an excellent opportunity to expand your musical knowledge and skills!

Why should you take AP Music Theory?

There are many benefits to taking this course, including:

Completing the AP Music Theory exam, successfully can earn you college credit. That means less time and money spent on college courses!

This AP course teaches you a deep understanding of music theory and composition. This can help you improve your music skills in a variety of areas, including singing, playing an instrument, and writing music.

  • Boost Your College Application: It looks great on your college application and can help you stand out.
  • Career Opportunities: It can open doors to careers in music, teaching, and more.

The course framework

The course framework includes two essential components:


Skill Description
Analyze Performed Music Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to performed music (aural).
Analyze Notated Music Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to notated music (written).
Convert Between Performed and Notated Music Apply conventions of musical notation and performance in converting music between aural and written forms.
Complete Based on Cues Complete music based on cues, following 18th-century stylistic norms.
  • This course focuses on developing the skills that are essential for the study and practice of music theory.
  • These skills range from foundational to advanced levels and will help you create a deep understanding of the subject.


  • This course is organized into units covering the skills and concepts you need to know to receive college credit or advanced placement in music theory.
  • The course is structured around big ideas, which are concepts that will help you connect the different things you learn in the course.

Course Structure

The course covers a wide range of topics, including:

Pitch The different types of pitches and how to read and write music notation.
Rhythm The different types of rhythms and how to read and write rhythm notation.
Melody The different types of melodies and how to analyze and compose melodies.
Harmony The different types of chords and how to analyze and compose harmonies.
Form The different types of musical forms and how to analyze and compose music in different forms.
Ear training To identify and transcribe the music that they hear.
Sight singing To sing the music that they read at sight.
Music history and analysis The history of music and how to analyze music from different historical periods.
Composition To compose music in a variety of styles.

Course Format

  • The course is typically a full academic year course.
  • It covers the equivalent of two semesters of a typical introductory college music theory course.
  • Instruction includes listening, analysis, dictation, sight singing, and written exercises.
  • You will learn to read and write musical notation and analyze what you hear and see.
  • Ear training is a major component of developing your listening skills.
  • Most courses will also include practice with sight singing.
  • Compositional skills are built through written exercises.
  • Historical context and score study are also covered.

How is AP Music Theory taught?

This course is typically taught in a classroom setting. Students meet with their teacher regularly to learn about the course material. Teachers usually use various teaching methods, including lectures, discussions, and hands-on activities.

How is AP Music Theory assessed?

The AP Music Theory exam is a three-hour exam that is divided into two parts: a written section and an aural section. The written section requires students to analyze and compose music, while the aural section requires them to identify and transcribe music they hear.

The AP Exam

  • This exam is given every May.
  • It is 3 hours long and includes:
  • Multiple-Choice Section: Test your knowledge of music theory concepts.
  • Free-Response Section: Show your skills in sight-singing, ear training, and composition.
  • Sight-Singing: You’ll be given a piece of music to sing at sight.
  • Ear Training: Identify chords, intervals, and other musical elements by ear.
  • Composition: Create your musical compositions.
  • Exam scores range from 1-5. Many colleges grant credit for scores of 4-5.
  • The exam tests your understanding of music theory concepts, ear training, and sight singing skills. Thorough preparation is essential.

The pattern of The AP Music theory Exam

This exam is a three-hour exam that assesses students’ knowledge and skills in music theory. The exam is divided into three sections:

Section I: Multiple Choice (45%)

This section comprises 75 multiple-choice questions that cover a wide range of music theory topics, including:

  • Pitch and rhythm
  • Melody and harmony
  • Form and analysis
  • Musical notation and terminology

Section II: Aural Skills (45%)

This section comprises seven questions that assess students’ ability to identify and analyze music by ear. The questions include:

  • Melodic dictation: Students are asked to listen to a melody and write it down in musical notation.
  • Harmonic dictation: Students are asked to listen to a series of chords and write them down in Roman numeral analysis.
  • Sight-singing: Students are asked to sing a melody at first sight.
  • Part writing: Students are asked to write a melody or bass line to accompany a given melody or bass line.

Section III: Composition (10%)

This section comprises two questions that assess students’ ability to compose music. The questions include:

  • Writing a bass line to a given melody
  • Writing a melody to a given bass line
  • Harmonizing a melody

Check out EnthuZiastic AP Courses to learn with the best teachers.

How can you prepare for AP Music Theory?

There are many ways that you can prepare for the course, including:

  •  Take a music theory class

Taking a music theory class in high school or at a local community college is a great way to learn the material covered in the course.

  •  Use an AP Music Theory textbook

There areseveraltextbooks available that can help students learn the material that is covered in the exam.

  •  Take an AP Music Theory prep course

Many prep courses are available that can help students prepare for the exam.

  •  Studying with a tutor

Studying with a tutor can be a great way to get personalized help with the AP Music Theory material.

The Benefits of AP Music Theory Courses

AP Music Theory courses can benefit students in several ways .

  • Improved musical skills, including better reading and a greater understanding of the musical score.
  • Development of musical leadership and greater aesthetic appreciation.
  • If you are qualified, testing out of the first year of college music theory allows you more flexibility in your schedule.
  • Improved learning ability, including faster mastery of pieces, better sight-reading, and better appreciation of music.
  • Improved improvisational skills.


What is the primary benefit of taking AP Music Theory in high school?

The primary benefit of taking this course in high school is that it can earn you college credit, saving you time and money on future college courses.

What skills will you develop in the AP Music Theory course?

In the course, you will develop skills in sight-singing, ear training, composition, and a deep understanding of music theory concepts like pitch, rhythm, form, and musical design.

How is the AP Music Theory course evaluated, and what does the exam assess?

The course is evaluated through a written exam. The exam tests your knowledge of music theory concepts and your ability to apply that knowledge to musical examples. It includes multiple-choice questions and sections on sight-singing, ear training, and composition.

What does the AP Music Theory exam consist of?

The 3- hour exam includes multiple choice questions, melodic and harmonic dictation exercises, sight singing, and written musical analysis and composition.

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For those who love music and wish to pursue their passion further, AP Music Theory is a great chance to gain course credit and improve your musical skills. However, it is important to note that each college determines whether to award course credit for AP exam scores and how much credit to give. While the College Board counts a score of 3 as a passing score, not all colleges will give course credits for a score of 3 or 4. Thus, it is crucial to research and understand the policies of each college before taking the AP exam.

Take advantage of this fantastic chance to explore the wonderful music world in-depth and potentially earn college credit. Begin your musical adventure right now with the possible sequence provided by the AP Music Theory framework, which is organized into eight commonly taught units of study. Learn more about our AP courses!

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