Preparing for the Music History Placement Exam

The Music History Placement Exam assumes a fairly standard undergraduate background in western music history, which is normally achieved through a sequential course of study across multiple semesters. If you want to do some reviewing on your own prior to taking the test, I recommend that you consult one of the “concise” versions of the standard history texts. The best one for this purpose is probably this:

Hanning, Barbara Russano, and Donald Jay Grout. Concise History of Western Music. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2002.

Even as a “concise” text, there’s still A LOT of information in a book like this, and it’s probably not the best idea to sit down and attempt to read the whole thing through from start to finish. Instead, start by looking at some of the chapter summaries at the ends of chapters to get a sense of the areas in which you are more confident and those in which you could benefit from some more intensive review. Then start with those areas of the book in which you feel less confident, and focus as much as possible on “big picture” details … put together timelines of each of the major stylistic periods, with names of major composers, genres, works, etc. and then try to build up as much detail around this framework as you can.

The Oxford History of Western Music (College Edition), which is the text that we use in our undergraduate history classes at Peabody, also has a number of free resources available through their website. The chapter outlines (all of which are available for free) may prove useful to you.

Preparing for the Graduate Review Theory Test (GRTT)

The GRTT focuses on harmonic progressions and part-writing in the common-practice style, which constitute the first three semesters of most theory curricula. You will need to analyze chords in context, to harmonize a melody with a functional progression, and to identify errors in stylistically appropriate voice leading.

My first recommendation is to review your undergraduate theory textbook. You will be familiar with the approach, and you will not have to spend additional money. Read through the table of contents, making note of what you solidly remember, what you somewhat remember, and what you do not remember. Pick topics you do not remember well, re-read the chapters, and work through some of the homework assignments.

If you are coming from a school that emphasized analysis over part-writing, practice figured bass realization. All textbooks will have figured basses among their homework assignments. Realize them in four-voice chorale style. You have to be meticulous when you check them, since there are many acceptable answers to them. Make sure tendency tones and dissonances resolve correctly, and check every pair of voices for bad parallels and other voice-leading errors.

If you do not have a textbook from undergraduate, I recommend any one of the following:

  • Kostka, Stefan, Dorothy Payne, and Byron Almen. Tonal Harmony. 8th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2017.
  • Laitz, Steven amd Christopher Bartlette. Graduate Review of Tonal Theory. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Stone, Stephen. Music Theory and Composition. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

The first one is currently the most popular theory textbook in colleges and universities in the US, however it is also the most expensive. The first and second have separate workbooks, while the last one has homework assignments included in the text itself.

Preparing for the Ear-Training Graduate Placement Test

The Ear Training Placement Exam assumes that students have learned ear training (aural skills) in their undergraduate program, which is normally achieved through a sequential course of study across multiple semesters. This is a test of that knowledge.

The Graduate Ear-Training Placement Test comprises four parts:

  1. A 12-measure, one-voice melodic dictation that contains some chromaticism
  2. A 12-measure, two-voice dictation that contains some chromaticism
  3. A short harmonic dictation (10–14 chords) that contains some diatonic and chromatic chords
  4. Sight singing a melody in treble, alto, or bass clef that contains some chromaticism; you may sing on any syllable

Possible meters for the melodic dictations include 3/4, 4/4, and/or 6/8 meter. For each dictation, you’ll hear the music played 5 times. Music heard on the test will be tonal; atonal materials will not be assessed on this exam.

Students can become familiarized with the contents and difficulty of the exam by taking the practice exam found in Canvas. Please reach out to Peabody’s Ear Training Coordinator if you have any questions.