AP Music Theory FAQ

The AP Program

What is the history, purpose, and mission of the AP Program?

The Advanced Placement program began in the post World War 2 era, and was founded to bridge the gap between secondary and higher education. After a student by elite preparatory schools and ivy league universities, the program piloted in 1952 with eleven courses. By 1955, the program was underway. The mission of the Advanced Placement Program is to help prepare students for college level study, by providing secondary students with rigorous, demanding, college-level instruction. AP provides curriculum and assessments in thirty-nine courses to 2 million students worldwide.

What does AP stand for?

Advanced Placement

What is the College Board?

The College Board, overseer of both the AP program and the SATs, is a nonprofit organization of 6,000 colleges and universities. It is governed by a board of trustees with twelve elected members, all-volunteer.

What are the benefits of taking AP classes?

Some key benefits of the AP Program:

  • Prepares students for college level study
  • Allows students to experience more success in college
  • Can help students save time and money in college by providing college credit
  • Helps students explore their passions more deeply
  • Aids in the college admissions process

What are some challenges to the AP Program?

  • The exams have a high failure rate (students may be overextending themselves)
  • Perpetuates the achievement gap and racial disparity in education and college preparation
  • Students in higher-income communities have access to better resources than students in lower-income communities
  • AP does offer financial assistance and fee waivers for the exam
  • College credit is not guaranteed
  • Some claim that the AP tests require too much curriculum in too little time
  • AP courses are currently being revised to focus more on critical thinking and analysis
  • Creation of the AP Capstone program (Wakefield High School does not currently offer the AP Capstone program)

How does the AP Program compare with IB / Dual Credit programs?

Difference between AP and Honors Level:

  • AP is more rigorous and demanding
  • AP curriculum is standardized worldwide
  • AP gives you the opportunity to take the standardized AP Exam
  • Honors level does not provide college credit

How does taking the AP exam translate to college credit?

Each college makes its own decisions about what type of credit it will grant for a score. It depends on the college, your score, and the degree program you are entering. Potentially, if you earn college credit, you could save a great deal of time and money.

What if my parents or guardians have questions about College Board Programs?

This link at the College Board website has lots of great information for parents & guardians.

AP Music Theory - The Course

What is the mission and vision of the AP Music Theory class at Wakefield High School?

My vision for my students is to expand their passion for music while developing advanced musical skills by extensively and comprehensively studying a broad variety of music. My mission is to prepare students for collegiate study, by guiding them through the rigorous AP Music Theory curriculum.

Who can take AP Music Theory?

Anyone can participate in AP courses, as long as you have completed the prerequisites as dictated in the Wakefield High School Program of Studies. (Music Theory and Composition 1 and 2 or the equivalent). There is financial assistance for the exam available for students who qualify.

Who can take AP courses?

Anyone can participate in AP courses, as long as you have completed the prerequisites as dictated in the Wakefield High School Program of Studies. (Music Theory and Composition 1 and 2 or the equivalent). There is financial assistance for the exam available for students who qualify.

Should I take the AP Music Theory course?

The College Board recommends that anyone should take an AP course who:

  • is willing to accept a challenge
  • is willing to put in the extra time and work
  • takes the AP class that is the best fit for them (do you love music?)
  • is able to devote extra time to course work
If the above applies to you, you should take the course!

Does everyone who takes AP Music Theory go on to major in music?

Of course not! Some students who take AP Music Theory do go on to major in music, but it is a smaller percentage. Many students who take AP Music Theory minor in music or do not study music in college at all. If you are interested in a major other than music, and still passionate about learning music at a deeper and higher level, you should still consider taking AP Music Theory!

What will I learn in AP Music Theory?

The best answer for this question comes directly from the College Board. Here is a link to the AP Music Theory Course Description. You will be responsible for honing these four major musical skills: Analyze Performed Music, Analyze Notated Music, Convert Between Performed and Notated Music, and Complete Based on Cues. The course content is organized into four Big Ideas: Pitch, Rhythm, Form, Music Design.

What kind of activities will we be doing in AP Music Theory?

Here are some examples of the higher level thinking / college level instruction in which you will participate:

  1. Discussion / Inquiry / Analysis: Students will be given a musical example to discuss (it may be a listening example, a score, or combined score with aural stimulus). We’ll start with open ended discussion, in which the students can share observations with their classmates. Students will then be encouraged to ask questions about the piece, either of their classmates or of the instructor. Students will then be asked to analyze specific portions or aspects of the piece (e.g. analyze the chord structure or the phrase structure.)
  2. Defend your analysis: Students will be given a musical example in which to analyze form. Each student will craft their analysis individually, then will be tasked with presenting their analysis to the class, and asked to defend their decisions. Students may end up changing their analysis based on their classmates' response.
  3. Collaborative project: Students will collaborate to compose a piece for the entire class to perform, based on a set of parameters.

How will AP Music Theory prepare me for college?

You will be able to:

  • explore college level curriculum with a college level textbook and instructional devices
  • delve deeper into a subject you love (music!)
  • show colleges you have a passion for music and you are engaged in challenging coursework
  • increase your scholarship opportunities
  • (with a score of 3 or above on the exam), indicate to colleges that you have gained a level of skill and expertise that is consistent worldwide

How can I prepare to take AP Music Theory?

Other than taking the prerequisite courses, you should:

  • learn how to take effective notes and stay organized in class
  • learn how to study and prepare for exams
  • learn how to use your time wisely, in and out of class
  • try to collaborate with other students: share ideas, compare notes, discuss the coursework
  • make sure you have a strong mastery of the basic skills learned in Music Theory 1 and 2
  • start to focus on higher level thinking skills: analysis, investigation, critical thinking, comparing & contrasting
  • start to listen to music with your “music theory brain”
  • start to perform music with your “music theory brain”

AP Music Theory - The Exam

When is the exam?

The exam will take place on May 12, 2021 at 12:00 PM.

How much does the exam cost?

The exam costs $94.

How is the exam graded?

The exam is graded from 1 to 5. The table below is from the AP website:

What are the benefits of taking an AP exam?

Benefits of taking AP Exam

  • Best assessment for the subject matter
  • Can provide access to college credit or access to a higher level college course in that subject
  • Standardized test that exhibits academic rigor to college admissions and professors

What if I am an anxious test taker?

Do not focus on the test until you need to. The course prepares you for the test, and we will do a great deal of test preparation. The more prepared you are for the exam, the less you will need to feel anxious about it. You may find it interesting to explore this Test Anxiety Scale.

How is the AP Music Theory exam formatted?

Like every AP exam, the AP Music Theory exam includes multiple choice and free response questions. Both sections include questions with and without aural stimulus. (Some students have even called the test “fun,” due to all the music you get to listen to during the exam!). There is also a sight singing portion of the exam, but don’t worry about that - we will practice all year long! From the College Board: Section 1: Multiple Choice 75 Questions | ~1 Hour 20 Minutes | 45% of Exam Score

  • Approximately 13 sets of 4–6 questions.
  • Approximately 10–12 individual multiple-choice questions.
  • Questions that assess students’ ability to use symbols and terms to describe features, procedures, and relationships in performed music.
  • Students will also be assessed on their ability to detect discrepancies in pitch and rhythm when comparing notated and performed music.
  • Questions that assess students’ ability to use symbols and terms to describe features, procedures, and relationships in notated music.
  • All stimulus materials represent a variety of historical style periods, including baroque, classical, romantic, late 19th or 20th century, and contemporary (world music, jazz, or pop).
  • Both instrumental and vocal music are represented.
Section 2A: Free Response: Written 7 questions | ~1 hour and 10 minutes | 45% of Exam Score
  • The seven questions include:
  • 2 melodic dictation
  • 2 harmonic dictation
  • 1 part writing from figured bass
  • 1 part writing from Roman numerals
  • 1 composition of a bass line/harmonization of a melody
Section 2B: Free Response: Sight Singing 2 questions | ~10 minutes | 10% of Exam Score The student will be asked to sing and record two brief, primarily diatonic melodies (of about 4–8 bars).

Will I be able to get college credit if I get a 3 (or a 4, or a 5)?

The best answer is, it depends. You will have to check with your particular college or university and your degree program. If you are planning on majoring in music, you may be able to get credit for an entry level music theory course, or you may not. If you cannot get the credit, taking AP Music Theory will still help prepare you for the college level theory course (some of which can be very challenging or even anxiety producing). If you are not planning on majoring in music, you will likely be able to get an arts or humanities credit, which may fulfill a general education requirement and enable you to take a different or higher level course.

How will this year be different, due to the pandemic?

From the College Board: 2021 AP Exams will cover the full content in each course, giving students the opportunity to receive college credit and placement. Given the uncertainties of the 2020-21 school year, some students may feel unsure about taking AP Exams in May. So that students feel comfortable registering by the fall deadline, this year there will be no fees whatsoever if a student decides not to test or to cancel their exams. Every AP student should keep their options open by registering for the exam on time because there will still be a $40 fee for late orders.