For All Incoming BFA and MFA Students

All entering BFA and MFA students are required to take the Music Theory and Musicianship Skills Placement Examinations during Orientation Week. Advance preparation is strongly encouraged!

If you need accommodations for placement testing, please register in advanced with the Disability Services Office.

**There will be no make-up exam times.**

Placement Examination Times

Mandatory Keyboard Skills Assessment (for BFAs only)
  • Time & Date: independently completed
    • students must be submit a video mini-audition between August 20 and September 4 via learn.calarts.edu
Mandatory Music Theory Placement Exam (for all BFAs and MFAs)
  • Time & Date: Tuesday, September 8, 2020, 10:00am–Noon
    • Placement exams will be administered online using Zoom conferencing software
    • Required for ALL incoming undergraduate and graduate students
Mandatory Musicianship Skills Placement Exam (for all BFAs and MFAs)
  • Time & Date: Tuesday, September 8, 2020, 2:00pm–4:00pm
    • Placement exams will be administered online using Zoom conferencing software
    • Required for ALL incoming BFA and MFA students who did NOT place into MTHY-001 (Fundamental Musicianship) on the Theory Placement Exam.

What You Will Need at the Examinations

  • A computer running Zoom with headphones or computer speakers.
  • A phone or other device with which you can take photographs of your completed exam responses and upload them to a website.
  • A pencil and eraser.
  • A computer printer to print the exam paper. If you don't have access to a printer, please draw your own staff paper beforehand in ink using a straight edge (you should prepare at least 18 staves).

Examination Results

Undergraduate Students: CalArts does not accept transfer credit towards its Core Music Theory or Musicianship Skills requirements. Based on the placement examination results, each undergraduate student will be placed at an appropriate level in the Core Curriculum. If an undergraduate student lacks sufficient background to begin the Core Curriculum sequence, s/he may be required to take the MTHY-001 Fundamental Musicianship course as a prerequisite. Incoming first-year BFA students are advised to prepare adequately for the MTHY-001 section of the exam in order to pass it and thus avoid having to take the MTHY-001 Fundamental Musicianship course.

Graduate Students: For graduate students, exam results may indicate either that a student’s prior training and current skill levels are already appropriate for graduate study or that certain theory and/or skills review classes will be required in addition to the normal graduate curriculum. The requirements for total exemption from theory/skills review are the same for graduates and undergraduates. The eligibility of graduate students for Graduate Assistantships in the Core Curriculum is determined primarily on the basis of their performance on these placement examinations.


Keyboard Skills Assessment (BFA students only)

  • Students must record and submit online a brief video of themselves playing stipulated scales (2 octaves ascending and descending, major and minor, hands separately), triads in inversions, I-IV-V-I progressions (major or minor) with 3 notes in the right hand and the root alone in the left hand, and reading one or two passages of provided music. If the student knows a piece from memory, they are invited to play it, but this is not required.
  • The video must comprise a single unedited take. It must first show the student's face, and then clearly show both of the student's hands at the keyboard while they play. An assistant or phone tripod may be useful.
  • The specific tasks to be demonstrated on this video keyboard assessment will be announced later in August.
  • The only students exempt from undertaking this keyboard assessment are piano majors and transfer students with college transfer credit for a keyboard class. All other incoming BFA students must undertake this keyboard assessment.

Music Theory Placement Exam

The Music Theory Placement Examination is two hours in duration and comprises four sections corresponding to four successive courses within CalArts’ undergraduate Core Theory Curriculum: MTHY-001, MTHY-111, MTHY-112 & MTHY-210. To exempt from a given course, your score on the corresponding exam section must be near-perfect.

A single textbook suitable for use in preparing for all four sections of this examination is Stefan Kostka & Dorothy Payne, Tonal Harmony with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music, 6th Ed. (or later), McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 2008. For the timed portions of the exam's MTHY-001 (Fundamental Musicianship) section, some students may benefit from preparation using the interactive online drills at teoría.com.

A PRACTICE version of the Music Theory Placement Examination is available for download here.

Although its specific content is different, this practice examination is intended to roughly indicate the level of difficulty of the various sections of the official placement examination administered during CalArts' Orientation Week. It does not, however, exhaustively represent every topic that may appear on that official exam. For a complete listing of such topics, and for a description of the separate Musicianship Skills Placement Exam, see below.

Exam Content: MTHY-001 Section (Fundamental Musicianship)

  • Writing Key Signatures (timed): The instructor names keys whose key signatures are to be written down by the examinee. Major and minor keys with up to seven sharps or flats are included. This task is timed (8 seconds are allowed per key signature).
  • Writing Intervals (timed): The instructor names an interval to be written above or below a given note using the correct enharmonic spelling. Intervals (perfect, major, minor, augmented and diminished) both ascending and descending between a Perfect Unison and a Perfect Fifteenth are included. This task is timed (8 seconds are allowed per interval). Understanding of interval inversion is also tested.
  • Writing Scales: This task involves the writing of major, melodic minor and harmonic minor scales with up to seven sharps or flats. The use either of appropriate key signatures or of accidentals without key signatures may be required.
  • Chord Identification and Construction: Examinees must be able to identify and construct any diatonic triad or seventh chord in any inversion with any given root or bass note.
  • Transposition of Diatonic Melodies: Examinees must transpose a given major or minor melody by a specified interval using appropriate key signatures and accidentals.
  • Meter: The examinee’s understanding is tested regarding note and rest values, dots, ties, measures, duple and triple meters, simple and compound meters, time signatures, triplets, duplets, and syncopation.
  • Musical Terms and Signs: Common terms and signs found in printed music must be written and/or explained.
  • Fluency with the following fundamental concepts and skills will also be tested: notation in bass and treble clefs, the circle of fifths, relative and parallel major/minor keys, and enharmonic equivalence.

Exam Content: MTHY-111 Section (Tonal Theory A)

  • European common-practice conventions of chord construction and voice leading
  • cadences
  • phrase groups
  • four-part harmonization starting from a bass or melody with or without specified harmonies (i.e., Roman numerals) and using all diatonic triads and seventh chords in all inversions
  • diatonic pivot-chord modulations
  • harmonic analysis using Roman numerals including modulation to closely related keys
  • non-chord tones
  • diatonic sequences

Exam Content: MTHY-112 Section (Tonal Theory B)

This section of the exam is not required for MTIID students, who should skip forward to the next section ('Non-Tonal Theories').

  • analysis of chromatic harmony through the late 19th century
  • 4-part chromatic voice-leading and harmonization
  • secondary functions and tonicization
  • extended and altered tertian chords
  • augmented sixth and Neapolitan chords
  • mode mixture
  • embellishing chords
  • chromatic or enharmonic modulations to distantly related keys
  • chromaticized sequences
  • chromatic mediants (third relations)
  • simple binary, ternary and sonata forms

Exam Content: MTHY-210 Section (Non-Tonal Theories)

  • early modernist idioms (e.g., Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky) and associated techniques (planing, diatonic modes, pentatonic/whole-tone/octatonic/hexatonic scales, polyharmony, quartal and secundal harmony)
  • free atonality
  • pitch-class set theory (pc numbers, interval class, interval-class vectors, normal form, pcset transposition and inversion, set class, prime form)
  • twelve-tone techniques (matrix construction, doing a “twelve-count”)
  • integral serialism
  • basic terms and concepts relevant to electronic and experimental music


Practical Musicianship Skills Placement Exams (ear-training)

The Practical Musicianship Skills Placement Exam will determine placement into Practical Musicianship A, B, C, or D. The course content of Practical Musicianship A, B, C are tonal where D is largely atonal. This exam will include only tonal melodies and chords. It will not include atonal melodies or chords. The exam will be in 2 parts. The first part will be a written dictation exam and the second part will be a 1-on-1 singing exam.

Exam Content: Part 1 - Written dictation portion

- Identify and notate intervals: Intervals up to a major 9th will be played 3 times with a given bass note.

- Identify and notate chords: Triads and seventh chords will be played 3 times with a given bass note. Triads will include major, minor, diminished, and augmented and will be in root position, 1st, or 2nd inversion. Seventh chords will include dominant, major, minor, diminished, and half-diminished, and will only be in root position.

- Transcribe a tonal melody: The melody will be tonal in either major or minor including note values as short as eighth notes and dotted rhythms. Starting note and time signature will be given. Key signature will not be given. You can pause and repeat the track as you like within a given time limit.

- Transcribe a 4-part excerpt complete with Roman numeral analysis and lead-sheet symbols. The starting note will be given. Time signature and key signature will not be given.

Exam Content: Part 2 - Oral singing portion 

(If possible, tell the examiner what your range is. Otherwise the examiner will determine it for you.)

- Sing a scale, ascending and descending. (Major, harmonic/natural minor, all other modes except Locrian)

- Sing intervals, ascending and descending. (All intervals up to a major 9th)

- Sing root position triads, ascending. (major, minor, diminished, augmented)

- Sing root position seventh chords, ascending. (dominant, major, minor, diminished, half-diminished)

- Sing the chord tones of a chord with a particular function. Ex: "If this is the I chord (triad will be played), sing a IV chord."

- Sight-read a rhythm. A rhythm will be shown on your screen. with a given pulse of about 60 quarter notes per minute. You will be asked to either clap through it or say a syllable like "tah". You will be given a few seconds to look over it. Once you start, stopping or pausing will result in a lower score.

- Sing a melody. A notated tonal melody with some chromaticism will be shown on your screen. The melody may contain dotted rhythms and note values as short as 16ths. The examiner can provide one note of your choosing only once. You can sing it using a different tonic than written to suit your range. You will be given 1 minute to work through it aloud, pausing, repeating as you like. You will then be asked to sing through it without stopping.