Entrance Exams

The Dewberry School of Music gives entrance exams for all incoming undergraduate and graduate students. Completion of these exams is required in order to register for any music courses.

Undergraduate Placement and Exemption Exams

All new music students are asked to complete the Intro to Music Theory Placement Exam, whether they have studied music theory before or not. The purpose of the placement exam is to determine whether you are ready for Intro to Music Theory and Aural Skills I, or if you should take supplementary coursework first.

Students who get a high score on the placement exam are then eligible to take Exemption Exams, which award credit-by-exam for certain theory and aural skills courses at George Mason University.

Detailed information on administration of the exams is provided below.

Intro to Music Theory Placement Exam

Taking the Exam

The Intro to Music Theory Placement Exam can be taken at any time but should be completed before the beginning of the semester. 

Take the Intro to Music Theory Placement Exam. (You will need to sign up for an account with uTheory in order to take the test.)

Test Contents

This exam will assess your mastery of music fundamentals such as notation, scales, key signatures, intervals, and triads. If the exam shows areas that need improvement, you’ll be given the opportunity to complete online lessons and practice in these areas. 

Each section of the exam is timed. The exam takes about one hour to complete. 

Studying and Retaking the Exam

If the exam shows areas that need improvement, you’ll be given the opportunity to complete online lessons and practice in these areas. It’s a good idea to take the exam first so that you know precisely where your weaknesses are—the exam will point you toward the appropriate lessons for you. You can do this with a free account, or you may choose to purchase a monthly unlimited pass to uTheory for $6 USD per month. 

This exam may be taken up to 10 times. Your highest scoring attempt will replace any other attempts. 

We very highly recommend that students self-study and retake the exam until they reach a passing score, rather than taking extra coursework. This system is meant to encourage you to work on your skills over the summer. 


Your highest exam score is the only score considered in placing you. 

Placement outcomes for various grades are as follows. For course details and section numbers, set up an appointment to see the Academic Programs Manager. 

D–F (<70%): Failed exam. Students are strongly encouraged to take MUSI 100 (3 credits) or to self-study and retake the entrance exam until they can earn a better grade on the exam.* 

C (70–79%): Recommended to take a MWF section of MUSI 115 for more frequent reinforcement of topics.

B (80–89%): Placement into any section of Intro to Music Theory (MUSI 115). 

A (90–100%): Opportunity to take the MUSI 115 Exemption Exam. 

* In many cases, it’s better for the student to self-study and retake the exam until they reach a passing score, rather than taking extra coursework. Intro to Music Theory (MUSI 115) does cover all the topics on the placement test, so you will have an opportunity to learn/review them within MUSI 115. However, these lessons move at a quick pace, and the focus of the course is on building speed and fluency with these topics, so it helps to know a bit about the topics in advance.

Exemption Exams for Music Theory, Aural Skills, and Keyboard Skills

Exemption exams are given to all entering transfer students seeking transfer credit, as well as any interested new students who wish to receive credit by examination.

Transfer students who have taken these courses at other colleges and universities but do not pass the equivalent placement tests will be required to retake these courses on a credit basis, and the equivalent courses taken at a prior institution cannot be counted towards a Mason music degree.

New students seeking credit by examination in any of these areas should also take these tests.

Music Theory Exemption Exam

Transfer students and new students who get an A on the written theory components of the placement test are eligible to take further exams to receive credit for theory courses. These exams are administered on Blackboard and mimic final exams in each of the relevant courses. You will be contacted to take these exams if you are eligible. Unlike the placement test, you only get one attempt at an exemption exam.

At Mason we have five theory courses: MUSI 115, three 200-level courses (215, 216217), and one 300-level course (317).

The music theory exemption exam has sections that correspond to each theory course.

The MUSI 115 exemption exam is a uTheory test with strict time limits, which exempts students from MUSI 115. The link is provided on Blackboard.

The remaining parts, which are administered entirely within Blackboard, exempt you from 200-level courses. These are intended mostly for transfer students but a new music student with extensive experience with music theory may take them. Analysis I is for MUSI 217; Analysis II is for MUSI 215/317; set theory and triadic post-tonality together are for MUSI 216. You will be given credit for each section on which you receive a passing score (or in the case of 216, for receiving a passing score in both). Exempting out of one of these classes does not necessitate your exemption from another. (For example, a student who exempts out of 216 may still be asked to take 215.)

Aural Skills Exemption Exams

The Aural Skills Exemption Exams are timed, and ask students to:

  • Complete a transcription of a short duet
  • Sing a given melody with a short preparation period

There are two separate exams, one for Aural Skills I (MUSI 113) and one for Aural Skills II (MUSI 114). You may take one or both of the exams.

Keyboard Skills Exemption Exams

Note: Students getting a B.M. in performance with a keyboard emphasis are exempt from Keyboard Skills I and II (MUSI 171, 172). Keyboard Skills III (MUSI 273) must be taken or credit by exam must be earned (see below).

Keyboard Skills I (MUSI 171)

  • Performed at sight:

    • Transpose a melody
    • Harmonize a melody using I, IV, and V chords
    • Read two parts simultaneously (treble and bass clef) from a piano score
  • Performed with ten minutes of preparation:
    • Transpose and harmonize a melody using I, IV, V chords and a moving left hand accompaniment pattern (e.g., Alberti bass, waltz/oom-pah-pah bass, broken/arpeggiated chords, etc.)
    • Sight-reading example: melody in the right hand; simple bass line and triads in the left hand, in a key signature with up to two sharps or flats.
  • Prepared in advance of the exam (must be well-prepared to be acceptable):
    • All white-key major and harmonic minor scales (1 octave, hands together, with acceptable fingerings)
    • All white-key major and minor triadic inversion sequences, in block and broken chords (e.g., C–E–G, E–G–C, G–C–E, C–E–G), ascending and descending
    • One prepared piece from Dmitri Kabalevsky’s 24 Pieces for Children, J.S. Bach’s Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach, or a piece of equivalent difficulty

Keyboard Skills II (MUSI 172)

  • Performed at sight:

    • Transpose and harmonize a melody using diatonic chords and secondary dominants
    • Read treble and bass clef simultaneously in a two-part contrapuntal texture
  • Performed with ten minutes of preparation:
    • Transpose and harmonize a melody using diatonic harmonies and secondary dominants, using a moving left-hand accompaniment
    • Read treble and bass clef simultaneously in a two-part texture
  • Prepared in advance of the exam (must be well-prepared to be acceptable):
    • All major and minor scales (2 octaves)
    • All major and minor arpeggios (2 octaves)
    • Functional harmonic progressions using diatonic chords and secondary dominants, in any major or minor key
    • One prepared piece of J.S. Bach’s Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach or a piece of equivalent or higher difficulty.

Keyboard Skills III (MUSI 273)

This exam is a take-home exam. Students have 24 hours to prepare to play the following:

  • Functional harmonic progressions with secondary dominants and modulations
  • Transpose and harmonize melodies using secondary dominants, using various accompaniment patterns:
    • Block chords
    • Broken chords (Alberti bass, extended, and/or arpeggiated)
    • Waltz accompaniment (oom-pah-pah)
    • Keyboard style (three notes in the right hand with the top voice maintaining the melody, one note in the left hand)
  • Score reading
  • Read two staves of an open four-part choral score
  • Read two staves of an open four-part instrumental score, one of which will be alto or tenor clef
  • Play from a standard lead sheet, both melody and chords
  • Realize a figured bass
  • Play a simple accompaniment from a vocal or instrumental piece

Graduate Entrance Exams

The School of Music offers placement tests in Theory, Music History, Sight Singing, Ear Training and Keyboard Skills. These tests are required for all incoming Graduate students. Completion of these exams is required in order to register for any music courses. 

Graduate students are asked to take exams in five areas:

  • Part I: Listening/Score Analysis
    You will be given three pairs of score excerpts, and you will hear each excerpt once. Within each pair, place the pieces in chronological order and give an approximate date for each work. Discuss the aspects of the pieces that lead you to date  them as you do.
  • Part II: Music History
    You will be given several groups of composers and asked to discuss in detail the musical style, compositions, and importance of one composer from each group chosen.
  • Part III. Written Theory
    The written theory test is graded pass/fail. In it, you are asked to:

    • Analyze harmonies in a string quartet score excerpt, with Roman numerals and figures
    • Identify embellishing tones
    • Identify aspects of musical texture (melody, countermelody, accompaniment, bass line)
    • Identify cadences (authentic and half)
  • Part IV. Aural Skills
    The Aural Skills test also has two parts: a transcription and a singing test. The exam is graded pass/fail.

    • You will be asked to transcribe (in music notation) a recording of a duet.
    • You will be asked to sing a melody after a short preparation period.
  • Part V: Keyboard Skills
    The following skills/repertoire should be practiced in advance of the testing and must be well-prepared to be acceptable:

    • Scales (2 Octaves), Arpeggios (2 Octaves), and standard chord progression (e.g. I, IV, V7, I), in any major or minor key.
    • One prepared piece on the difficulty level of J. S. Bach’s Anna Magdalena’s Notebook or more difficult level.
    • Playing functional chord progressions.
    • Harmonize & transpose melodies.
    • Play from standard lead sheet.
    • Play a simple accompaniment from a vocal or instrumental piece.

For more information, visit the Graduate Resources page.

Review Resources

Students who wish to study further or see examples of suitable materials may consult the resources below. These are for reference and self-study only—students are not required to buy these (or any) texts in order to pass the competency placement tests.

Music Theory

Aural Skills

Keyboard Skills

  • Keyboard Skills I and II: Hilley/Olson, Piano for the Developing Musician, Vol. I
  • Keyboard Skills III: Morris and Ferguson, Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading

For more information please email Dr. Gregory Robinson.