Music Theory Study Guide

The music theory entrance examination for all entering graduate students is divided into three main aspects:


This part of the exam covers all aspects of traditional diatonic and chromatic functional harmony. 

(Multiple choice):

20th century techniques

This part of the exam covers modern modes and scale systems, modern harmonic simultaneities/cluster "chord" types, and modern rhythmic terms and concepts.
(Multiple choice): 


This part of the exam has three parts:

  1. In a musical score of a Bach fugue
    • Identify subject, countersubject, answer, episode, inversion, invertible counterpoint, stretto, fugal exposition, episode, double fugue, augmentation, diminution
    • Identify whether an answer is "tonal" or "real", and be able to determine its harmonic relationship to the main key of the work (relative major, relative minor, tonic, dominant, subdominant, etc.
  2. In a musical score of a Classic sonata form movement
    • Label exposition, development, recapitulation, transition, retransition, coda
    • Identify specific harmonic structures and their function in the score: tonic, subdominant, dominant, submediant, relative major, parallel minor, Neapolitan, chromatic, borrowed, secondary leading-tone
  3. In a musical score of a short Romantic-era piano piece
    • Identify the overall form (binary, rounded binary, waltz, simple ternary, compound ternary)
    • Be able to identify types of internal phrase units (period, phrase group, phrase chain, repeated phrase, enlarged period)Identify specific harmonic structures (Italian 6, German 6, Neapolitan, dominant 7, secondary dominant)
    • Be able to determine the key of a modulation in relation to the main key of the piece (dominant, relative major, subdominant, subdominant of the relative major, etc.)

Suggested materials for study

  • Comprehensive list of terms, concepts and composers for the harmony and 20th century techniques sections
  • For the "Harmony" section of the exam: Tonal Harmony with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music by Steven Kostka and Dorothy Paye. The text covers fundamentals through late 19th century chromatic materials including secondary function, augmented sixth chords, neapolitans, borrowed chords and some preliminary information about form. Each chapter offers a self-test with answers keyed in the back of the text. The terminology is standard and the format of the text is logical and concise. The book accompanying workbook are available in the WMU Bookstore or on reserve in the Music and Dance Library.
  • For the "Twentieth Century Techniques" section of the exam: A good source for introductory materials to twentieth-century theoretical techniques is the last section of the Kostka/Payne text cited under "Harmony" above. Also see New Directions in Music by David H. Cope.
  • For the "Form" section of the exam: Form in Tonal Music by Douglass Green is the recommended study source for this part of the exam. This textbook is clear and concise, and has excellent section and chapter summaries.

For information about graduate studies in music at WMU contact the graduate advisor at