Placement Exam Information

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Placement Exams and requirements are dependant on the degree program.  Please see the Audition Overivew for those requirements.

Students transferring from a California Community College may be exempted from some Lower Division SFSU courses in Music Theory, Ear-Training and Keyboard. Please contact Dr. Ginwala (cginwala@sfsu.edu) or visit Assist.org to view the articulation agreement between your Community College and SFSU School of Music. 

Placement Exams for Undergraduate Studies

The School of Music placement exams are only required for incoming Bachelor of Music and Graduate Music students.  However, we do recommend all incoming Music students take the exams to ensure they are placed in classes appropriate to their skill level.  Exams are administered on all audition days. To sign up for placement exams, please complete the School of Music Audition form.

Music Theory Placement Exam

The theory exam assesses students’ knowledge of music theory in order to place them in the correct class. Incoming students may opt to enroll in MUS 130 (Music Fundamentals) in lieu of taking placement exams. Students may not retake these tests once beginning studies in the SF State music program.

The exam is divided into two parts:

PART I  In-Person Exam

This is a 45-minute live exam given on audition days. No additional materials may be used during this exam.

Basic Skills: to be exempted from MUS 130 (Music Fundamentals)

All students pursing a B.Mus must complete this section. Part I of the theory exam includes:

  • Treble & Bass Clef notation
  • Basic knowledge of the Alto Clef (where the middle line is middle C)
  • Simple and Compound Meters
  • Equating notes on the Bass clef in the Treble Clef, and vice versa
  • Accidentals (Sharp, Flat, Natural signs)
  • Note Value Equivalencies (and how Dotted Values work)
  • Scales: Major, Minor (Natural, Harmonic & Melodic), Chromatic, Modes
  • Key Signatures for Major & Minor Keys
  • Intervals: Numbers and Qualities for Simple and Compound Intervals (analyzing and notating)
  • Triads: Major, Minor, Augmented, Diminished
  • Transposition

PART II – Take Home Exam

This is an optional ‘take home’ exam. You are not allowed to ask for outisde help on the exam but you may use additional study aids (i.e. notes, textbooks, etc.). The exam must be completed within 24 hours and returned to Dr. Sabey (sabey@sfsu.edu) via email.

Advanced Music Theory: Take this exam to be exempted from MUS 231 (Species Counterpoint), MUS 232 (Diatonic Harmony), MUS 233 (Chromatic Harmony), and/or MUS 405 (Tonal Counterpoint).

Take Home Exam Section One: Counterpoint

This portion of the exam covers material in MUS 231 and/or MUS 405 

All students must take counterpoint (MUS 231) before advancing in our theory sequence. This should not be interpreted as a step backwards, but merely a rounding-out of SF State’s music degree requirements.

(Complete one of the following two questions)

  • Writing 2-part, 5th Species Counterpoint and including labeled examples of Passing Tones, Neighbor Tones, Nota Cambiatas and Ornamented Suspensions
  • Writing Tonal (Baroque) 2-part Counterpoint (in the style of a Bach Invention) and including labeled examples of Passing Tones, Neighbor Tones, Appoggiaturas and Suspensions – if a student can answer this question, they can skip the species counterpoint question (passing this portion will allow exemption from both MUS 231 & MUS 405)

Students majoring in the Jazz or Creative Music B.A. (who may instead take MUS 234, MUS 235 and MUS 231) do not have to complete the remaining sections of the exam, but are strongly encouraged to do so, and are welcomed in the following courses.

Take Home Exam Section Two: Diatonic Harmony

This portion of the exam covers material in MUS 232 (Diatonic Harmony)

Many transfer students have prior studies in harmony and voice leading. It is still essential that they demonstrate a strong command of these skills in order to pass out of this class.

  • Harmonization and Roman Numeral Analysis of a Bass Line in 4-parts (incorporating inversions) and including labeled examples of Passing Tones, Neighbor Tones, Appoggiaturas, Suspensions and Escape Tones
  • Analysis (with Roman Numerals) of a Modulating Passage, including Nonchord Tones and Cadences

Take Home Exam Section Three: Chromatic Harmony

This portion of the exam covers material in MUS 233 (Chromatic Harmony)

Like the diatonic harmony portion of this exam, some transfer students have prior studies in harmony and voice leading. It is still essential that they demonstrate a strong command of these skills in order to pass out of this class.

  • Analysis and Voice Leading of Various 4-Part Chromatic Chord Progressions
  • Analyzing and Harmonizing/Realizing a Chromatic Figured Bass in 2-parts (bass & soprano) 
  • Identifying/Organizing the Components of Medium and Large Formal Structures (i.e. Binary, Ternary, Rondo, Sonata, etc.)

Ear Training Placement Exam

The ear training placement exam is an optional 45-min in-person exam held on Audition days.

The School of Music’s Fundamentals of Ear Training & Musicianship I (MUS 221) covers simple rhythm dictation; interval recognition, and simple melodic dictation. If you have either taken classes at another institution or would like to be exempt from MUS 221 sign up for the Ear Training Placement Exam.

Please note that incoming students who do not test out of MUS 130 (Music Fundamentals) will be required to enroll in MUS 221.

If you have any questions about the Ear Training Exam please contact David Xiques (dxiques@sfsu.edu).

To be exempted from MUS 221 (Fundamentals of Ear Training and Musicianship I)

Musicianship and Ear Training I, students will demonstrate the following skills:

  • Simple rhythm dictation (quarter, eighth, sixteenth note and syncopation)
  • Interval recognition within an octave
  • Simple melodic dictation (no chromaticism)

To be exempted from MUS 222 (Fundamentals of Ear Training and Musicianship II)

Musicianship and Ear Training II, students must demonstrate the following skills:

  • Concepts listed above in MUS 221 and
  • Melodic/rhythmic dictation with patterns that include larger leaps and triadic motion
  • 2-Part melodic dictation
  • Harmonic dictation in the form of a Bach Chorale: triads, write in four voices, write Roman numerals

To be exempted from MUS 223 (Fundamentals of Ear Training and Musicianship III)

Musicianship and Ear Training III, students must demonstrate the following skills:

  • Concepts listed above in MUS 221 and MUS 222
  • Melodic/rhythmic dictation that includes leaps within the V7 chord, chromaticism and modulation
  • Harmonic dictation in the form of a Bach Chorale, recognition of seventh chords and secondary dominants
  • B.M. and M.M. voice and composition majors who are required to remediate in ear training must complete through MUS 224

Piano Placement Exam

All music majors are required to take Class Piano Courses (MUS 201, MUS 202, and MUS 301). The Piano Placement Exam is an optional exam to pass out of these classes. During the piano placement exam you will be asked to sight read music with increasing difficulty.

Classification and Placement Exams for Graduate Studies

Incoming graduate students must take classification exams for the School of Music. To sign up for the exam, please complete the School of Music Audition form.

Classification exams for Graduate Students:

  • The Music History placement exam is a multiple choice test with both a written and an administered listening portion. Time limit: Three Hours
  • The Music Theory exam is a take-home exam. Time limit: 24 Hours.
  • The Ear Training placement exam is offered during every live audition date, and on Graduate Placement Exam Days as well (usually one week before the start of each semester). It is a 45-minute administered test.

Recent SF State music graduates may be exempted from one or more of these requirements. Contact the graduate coordinator for further information.