All undergraduate students in the School of Music must satisfy all or a portion of the four-semester Musicianship and Theory course sequence, usually during the first two years.

Entering students who do not have Advanced Placement (AP) or transfer credit should enroll in MUS:1201, and take Placement Exam A, administered online in the summer before the start of the fall semester, to determine readiness for the sequence. 

Students whose exam results show that they require additional preparation in basic music literacy must also enroll in MUS:1200 Fundamentals of Music for Majors, a 0 s.h. co-requisite online course taken concurrently with MUS:1201 Musicianship and Theory I. Students who are required to take MUS:1200 must pass the course in order to pass MUS:1201.


Preparing for placement exam A

We encourage entering students to master the following basic skills in preparation for the exam. 

  • Identifying and notating pitches and their enharmonic equivalents in treble, bass, and alto clefs

  • Note and rest values up to thirty-second notes/rests
  • Common tempi and time signatures
  • Major and minor scales, including natural, harmonic, and melodic minors, and key signatures
  • Interval sizes and qualities
  • All types of triads

The music theory faculty recommends chapters 1–6 of Scales, Intervals, Keys, Triads, Rhythm, and Meter, 3rd ed., by John Clough, Joyce Conley, and Claire Boge (W. W. Norton, 1999), ISBN 978-0-393-97369-3, for preparation.

In addition, the following websites offer useful drills:

Taking the exam

  • First, register for MUS:1201 Musicianship and Theory I, section 0001 or 0002, either section is fine for this purpose, but afterward, the instructors will assign students to one section or the other.
  • Next, if you have not already done so, activate your HawkID and password. You may then log in to ICON, the University of Iowa's online course management system. Placement Exam A is administered through the ICON site for MUS:1201 Musicianship and Theory I.
  • On your ICON homepage, find the box named "My ICON Courses." Click on the link for "MUS:1201 Musicianship and Theory I." On the homepage of the course, you will find instructions for the exam, additional suggestions for preparation and review, a guide to the format of the exam, and a link to the exam itself.

Students with AP and transfer credit

  • Score of 3
    Students who have scored 3 on the Music Theory AP exam will enter the Musicianship and Theory course sequence at MUS:1201 Musicianship and Theory I; they do not need to take any placement exam and do not need to take MUS:1200 Fundamentals of Music for Majors.
  • Score of 4
    Students who have scored 4 on the Music Theory AP exam are entitled to enter the Musicianship and Theory course sequence at MUS:1202 Musicianship and Theory II, offered every spring semester.
  • Score of 5
    Students who have scored 5 on the Music Theory AP exam are entitled to enter the sequence at MUS:2203 Musicianship and Theory III, offered every fall semester. Transfer students with music theory credits from another college or university are entitled to exercise these credits and enter the sequence at the appropriate course.
  • Transfer students
     All transfer students with theory credit and students with AP scores of 4 or 5 are asked to take Placement Exam B, administered in the week before the start of the fall semester.

On the basis of exam results, the faculty may strongly recommend that a student enter the sequence at a lower-level course than the student’s transfer or AP credits indicate.

Transfer students and students with AP credit should contact Prof. Matthew Arndt to make arrangements for the placement exam B.


Questions about theory curriculum and/or placement exams can be directed to Matthew Arndt.

The Head of the UI's Composition and Theory Area is David Gompper