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Preparing for College Music Theory and Challenge Credit

Music Literacy Placement Exam (MLPE)
As part of the undergraduate audition process for the music department, all prospective students must take the Music Literacy Placement Exam (MLPE). The exam is offered on your audition day, must be completed in less than 30 minutes, and is taken online in the Computer Lab. The placement exam is assessing readiness for college music theory and helps your advisor place you in  appropriate theory courses.

The MLPE covers the fundamentals of music theory and ear training. There are no questions regarding form, analysis, or chromatic harmony. The exam is multiple choice and covers the following topics:

  • clef (treble and bass) and pitch identification
  • key signature identification (notated)
  • harmonic and melodic interval identification (visual and aural)
  • scale identification (visual and aural)
  • triad and seventh chord identification (visual and aural)
  • rhythmic pattern identification (visual and aural)
  • questions regarding time signatures and meter (simple and compound)

The textbook used at BSU in Materials 1-4 is The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis (complete package, including workbook, anthology, and note flight worksheet access). It is recommended that students purchase the complete package offered at a discounted price at the Boise State University Bookstore rather than purchasing through an online vendor.


Resources/Advice for preparing for college-level music theory
College level music theory may be somewhat intimidating for many incoming freshmen. Your music theory and ear training classes will help you achieve proficiency in writing, identification, analysis, aural dictation, sight-singing, and piano. Below are some things that you can do to help prepare for your first semester of music theory and to help you avoid taking remedial courses.

  • Explore these online resources:
  • Start playing the piano, even if it is not your primary instrument. As a music major, you will be expected to have a certain level of piano proficiency. You do not have to study with a college professor, just someone who can teach you the basics of the instrument.
  • Start singing, even if voice is not your primary instrument. As a college music major, you will be expected to be able to sing melodies on sight. We do not expect everyone to have an operatic voice, just to be able to match pitch, and have a range of about an octave and a half. If you’ve never sung, start singing with the radio, television, iPod, etc. Start singing your solo lesson music, your ensemble music, etc.
  • Do not spend your money on books like “Music Theory for Dummies,” “Music Theory Made Easy,” “Lies My Music Theory Teacher Told Me,” or any other music theory book available at your local bookstore. If you want a theory book, then purchase the textbook that you will be using for the first four semesters of your music theory career at BSU: Jane Clendinning and Elizabeth Marvin’s The Musician’s Guide, 2nd edition (the 1st edition is not acceptable). The textbook, workbook, and anthology are available in a bundle at the BSU Bookstore. These will be the books that you will use for Materials and Ear Training I-IV. Also, be wary of used textbooks and workbooks, because pages and assignments may be missing, and you may not realize it until it’s too late.
  • Contact Dr. Eric Alexander if you have any questions.

(Based on resources by Dr. Matthew Santa, Texas Tech University and Dr. Erik Heine, Oklahoma City University.)


Challenge Credit / AP Music Theory
If you feel that your background, education, and experience have given you sufficient knowledge in music theory you may challenge certain courses. That is, you may be able to receive credit for the course by passing a challenge exam. For example, if you received a 4 or 5 on the AP Music Theory exam, you may be prepared to pass a challenge exam. You may not challenge a course to improve a previous grade earned in that course (from Course Challenge Policy, page 52 of BSU Undergraduate Catalog).

Passing the challenge exam would allow you to test out of all or a portion of the Materials 1 (MUS 119) and Ear Training 1 (MUS 121) courses, and the challenge exam is offered by the respective professor teaching each course. You should contact the professor before classes begin to arrange to take the challenge exam, which is usually the final exam for the course. When you register for classes, you will see who is teaching the course, and you can find their contact information on the course registration system (Peoplesoft) and on the BSU Music Department website. You’ll need to explain your experience and/or inform them of your AP score. Given your grade on the challenge exam, it is up to the professor whether you can test out of the entire class or just a portion of it. If you do not test out of the entire class, it is highly recommend that you attend for the review, even if you are not required to submit the the assignments. We cover some topics in Materials 1 (Theory 1) that are not usually covered in high school/AP music theory classes, namely species counterpoint as an introduction to harmony, so it is recommended that even experienced theory students enroll in Materials 1.

After you have received permission from the music department to register for a challenge exam, you must complete the form Credit for Prior Learning — Challenge and submit it to the Registrar’s Office, Administration Building, Room 110. A $50 per course fee will be charged to take a challenge exam prepared by an academic department. For externally prepared challenge exams, a $20 per course fee is paid to the University. Any fees for tests are paid directly by the student. Any proctoring/testing center fees are paid by the academic department out of the university fee. Fees charged are the same regardless of whether a student is full-time or part-time. For departmentally prepared exams, the department determines the grading system. Grades may be recorded as either Pass or as a letter grade (A+ through C-). Grades of D+ or lower will not be transcribed. Before you take the exam, the department will tell you what type of grading is available.

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