Music Theory for Incoming Freshmen

We are excited about you joining us in your study of music during the coming years, and we look forward to helping you along on your musical journey. We know that starting college can be a bit scary, and so we have designed this page to help you know what to expect when you start your first class in music theory (Basic Musicianship) and to help you to prepare for your first day of classes.

During your audition for admission to the ECU School of Music, you were asked to take a brief quiz on the fundamentals of music. As was explained to you at the time, the materials on that quiz (see sample) represent the very basic skills necessary to begin a study of harmony, counterpoint, and music theory at the college level.

As your study of music at the ECU School of Music, you will take the required courses in our Basic Musicianship and Basic Musicianship Lab sequence, covering harmony, form, music theory, and aural skills. The curriculum for Basic Musicianship begins with the understanding that all music majors have a firm understanding of music’s fundamental principles. Consequently, we expect that all incoming students are able to demonstrate their mastery of a few basic concepts, including:

  • Identification of pitches in treble, bass and C clefs
  • Identification and writing of major and all minor (natural, harmonic and melodic minor) scales
  • Identification and writing of major and minor key signatures
  • Identification and writing of intervals (distance between two pitches)
  • Identification and writing of major, minor, augmented and diminished triads
  • Reading and writing of rhythms in a variety of meters (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8)

So that we may begin work at an appropriate level upon your arrival, you will again be given an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding on the fundamentals with a quiz at your first class meeting of Basic Musicianship.

Fundamentals of Music

This primer is designed to aid incoming students in preparation for their study of Basic Musicianship, and the supporting courses in aural skills, Basic Musicianship Labs.

Why do we study music theory?
What are aural skills?

As an entering Freshman, you are expected to have mastered the concepts listed above. For most, these concepts present no more than a review, as you have learned them as part of your instrumental or vocal study. If you have not yet learned these materials, please be aware that these concepts can be easily learned by any student of music who is willing to apply a little bit of concentrated time.

As your teachers, it is our responsibility to instruct you using sound methodology, and your responsibility to pursue a personal understanding of the materials being taught, and to integrate the concepts into your practice. How theory shapes your musical understanding will be part of your own unique musical journey. Begin this journey on the “right foot” by doing some or all of the following:

How to Prepare

In order for you to ensure that you are ready for the beginning of your study of music with us at the ECU School of Music, we have prepared this guideline for you to use at your own pace. In addition, we will hold review sessions on the weekday before classes begin (Friday, August 19, 2023; time tba). You needn’t sign up for these, JUST SHOW UP with questions, and attend as many sessions as you like. Also, you should get an idea of what you’ll see on the first day of classes here.

Below is a series of links to web resources that cover the fundamentals of music.

  1. Reading pitch and rhythm in different clefs — Exercises: Pitch ID | Rhythm
  2. Scales — Exercises: Scale building | Scale identification
  3. Intervals — Exercises: Interval building | Interval identification
  4. Key Signatures — Exercises: Key Sig building | Key Sig identification
  5. Chords — Exercises: Chord building | Chord identification
  6. Aural Skills: Intervals | Triads | Scales | Rhythm

Here are a few self-contained FREE online courses:

Review Session

On the weekday preceding the first day of classes (Friday, August 19, 2023; time tba), there will be a review session during which you will have an opportunity to both review and ask questions about these fundamental materials. This will be a chance for you to reinforce your understanding of music’s fundamentals.


If you have any questions about how to prepare for music theory and/or ear-training classes at the ECU School of Music, please feel free to contact Prof. Ed Jacobs via email or by phoning (252) 328-4280. If you have questions about admission, please contact