[Smt-talk] Theory placement tests for non-theory graduate students

Zachary Cairns cairnsz at umsl.edu
Mon Feb 27 12:42:26 PST 2012

Hello, Collective Wisdom,

I'm currently in my second year teaching at University of Missouri -
St. Louis, and I'm running into a common question from a number of my
students, especially at this time of year: "I'm auditioning for the
master's program at [insert school name here], after I play/sing my
audition, they're going to ask me to take a theory test.  How should I
prepare for that test?"  My stock answer usually involves some or all
of the following:

1) Look on the school's website, and see if they have any specific
information regarding the content and format of the test. Call someone
at the school if you can't find the information online. Make sure you
are certain that the theory exam will, indeed, be at your audition,
because some schools prefer to give these diagnostic tests upon
arrival in the fall.
2) Spend some time going over your notes from Theory 1-4.  Dust off
any cobwebs that may have formed over the various topics from that
core curriculum.
3) Spend some time analyzing some (short) pieces of music:  German
Lieder, classical sonata movements, etc.
4) If there is a sight-singing and/or dictation component of the exam,
you'll need to brush up on those skills, too.

Of course, the students usually come to me when their audition is less
than a week away, and we all know how efficiently one can "brush up"
on sight-singing skills that haven't been used in a year or more.

I'd be interested to hear back from any of you if you have information
regarding your own school's theory placement tests for incoming
graduate students who are NOT theory majors.  What kinds of skills do
you ask them to demonstrate?  Off-list replies welcomed -- whatever
you feel is most appropriate.

Thanks very much for any help!
Zac Cairns

Zachary Cairns
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
University of Missouri - St. Louis
office: 310 Music Building
office phone: (314) 516-5999
cairnsz at umsl.edu

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