briannas_theory_class300 (1)Music Studies at the Academy of Music Northwest

In addition to private instruction, music theory and ear training is an essential part of any musician’s training.  Regular attendance is required.

Music Theory I

The core sequence in music theory begins here. The fundamentals are established in the first semester, with students learning pitch notation in all the modern clefs, rhythmic notation and meter, keys and scales, chords, Roman numeral analysis, and diatonic harmony. In the second semester, these skills are applied to analyzing musical repertoire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In addition, students will learn the technique of diatonic four-part writing and compose short exercises in simple tonal style.

Prerequisites: Satisfactory completion of Junior Theory, or placement via diagnostic exam and/or instructor’s permission. Students in Music Theory I should also enroll in Ear Training I (see below).

Music Theory II

Building upon knowledge introduced in Music Theory I, students discover basic chromatic harmony (secondary dominants and simple modulations), setting the stage for more advanced concepts of chromaticism explored in the second semester. By the end of the year, students will be fluent in all of the important concepts and devices of nineteenth-century chromatic harmony (enharmonic modulation, augmented-sixth chords, mode mixture, chromatic mediants and common-tone modulations, double mode mixture, etc.).

Prerequisites: Satisfactory completion of Music Theory I, or placement via diagnostic music theory exam and/or instructor’s permission. Students in Music Theory II should also enroll in Ear Training II (see below).

Music Theory III: Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Music

This course introduces students to the vast array of concepts and styles of the music of the twentieth century and beyond. Students will learn about the expanded tonal resources of composers like Debussy, Bartók, and Messiaen. They will survey the early atonal and serial works of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. Later discussions include Integral Serialism, Minimalism, and Spectralism, offering solid grounding in the innovations of the last 130 years.

Prerequisites: Theory II

Form and Analysis

Harmony and rhythm is only part of the puzzle; one of the more challenging and useful concepts in music is form. This course looks at the development of form in an historical context: from the fixed forms of the medieval age to the dance forms of the Baroque. Given its importance, sonata form is prominently featured, from its inception in early Classical works in Italy, to its highly complex adaptation in Mozart’s piano concerti, and in the massive edifices of the Late Romantic era. Nineteenth-century rhapsodic forms and various formal devices of the twentieth century are also touched upon.

Prerequisites: Theory II


Counterpoint, the skill of composing simultaneous melodies in a harmonious fashion, is the other side of the coin to harmony. The first half of the course focuses on sixteenth-century species counterpoint based on the style of Palestrina. Based on preexisting cantus firmus melodies, exercises in 2-voice and 3-voice counterpoint gradually progress in complexity (from one note against each note in the cantus to finally mastering “florid” or mixed counterpoint). In the second semester, students jump forward to topics in eighteenth-century counterpoint in the style of Bach: canon, fugue, and chorale-based forms. Along with composition exercises in these styles, the class will also engage with contrapuntal masterworks of the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries.

Prerequisites: Theory II

Ear Training I and II

Wrestling with the intellectual concepts in music theory is incomplete without developing a sharp ear as well as a sharp brain. To facilitate those skills, ear training involves dictation of melodies and rhythms, identification of intervals and chords (in root position and inversion), and progressions. Sight-singing reinforces those skills, helping to hone musical perception, all while showing off your beautiful singing voice!
Prerequisites:  Students in Music Theory must concurrently enroll in the corresponding Ear Training class (i.e. Music Theory I and Ear Training I). Placement is determined via diagnostic music theory exam and/or instructor’s permission.

Ear Training III


This class expands on the topics covered in the first two years of ear training, including dictation in 2-4 parts, drum set transcription, atonal sight singing, rhythmic performance of tuplets and polyrhythms, and harmonic dictation of pivot chords and modulation. This class also moves beyond the classical into jazz, film music, and pop.

Pre-requisites: Ear Training 2 and/or by instructor’s permission.

Music Skills IV (Ear Training IV)

For the brave souls who can’t get enough of ear training, Music Skills IV includes dictation of 4-part progressions, fugues, atonal and 12-tone music, “take downs” of popular and jazz standards, chord voicings, as well as specific instrumental performances. Sight-singing will cover major pieces from the literature, covering inner parts as well as melodic elements. Intrepid sight-singers will delve into difficult intervals and arpeggiated chord voicings, and acquire tools for navigating atonal sight singing. Required Materials: Modus Novus, and others as time permits.

Pre-requisites: Ear Training 3 and/or by permission.