High School Music Theory: Perceptions of the AP Music Theory Exam's Influence on Teaching and Learning

Open Access
Koehler, Abigail Marian
Area of Honors:
Music Education
Bachelor of Music Education
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Eric McKee, Thesis Supervisor
  • Linda Thornton, Honors Advisor
  • Music
  • Music Theory
  • Pedagogy
  • High School
  • Secondary General Music
  • Education
This research investigates students’ experiences with high school music theory courses. Literature on this topic suggests that a large percentage of high school music theory courses focus primarily on drilling students with contrived exercises (Buonviri & Paney, 2014). Teachers often choose activities like sight singing and melodic/harmonic dictation because they are quantifiable assessment opportunities (e.g. Buonviri & Paney, 2014, 2015). In addition, many students take Advanced Placement (AP) Music Theory, a course can focus largely on drilling exercises in order to prepare for the AP Music Theory exam (Klonoski, 2006). This thesis argues that drilling exercises built from contrived musical examples may limit students’ growth as musicians. To collect data for this research, first and second year undergraduate music majors responded to a survey about their experiences in high school music theory classes. The questionnaire consisted of thirty-two questions that addressed the following topics: general teaching strategies, how students prepared for the AP Music Theory Exam (if applicable), and how students prepared to enter college music theory courses. The questionnaire also asked participants how well they thought high school music theory prepared them for college as music majors. Results indicated that high school music theory is taught and experienced in many ways.