Music Theory at Mason

We have an outstanding faculty at Mason, which is dedicated to providing you with challenging, comprehensive, and rewarding educational experiences. Our goal is to assist you in developing your musical and academic skills to their highest potential.

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Undergraduate Core Theory
Director of Theory and Aural Skills - Dr. Megan Lavengood
Director of Theory and Aural Skills - Dr. Megan Lavengood

Modular Music Theory Curriculum

Mason has implemented an innovative approach to the core music theory curriculum. Unlike traditional curricula, after taking Intro to Music Theory (MUSI 115), students can choose from three courses, rather than proceeding in a strict sequence. This program began in the catalog year 2019–2020.

Students admitted 2019–2020 and later

Your degree requirements will be different than those who started in earlier years. You will be able to treat our theory curriculum as modular. This means that, after passing Intro to Music Theory, you may take the 200-level courses (215: Theory for Pop & Jazz Music, 216: Theory for 20th-/21st-c. Music, 217: Theory for 18th-c. Music) in any order you choose. Students who pass 217 can also elect to take 317 as one of their courses. This is illustrated above. Students are encouraged to discuss their options with an advisor.

Students admitted 2018–2019 and earlier

If your degree plan requires you to take MUSI 115, 116, 215, and 216, you still need to take those course numbers, even though the titles have changed. Think of Theory for Pop & Jazz Music as your Theory III course, and Theory for 20th/21st-c. Music as your Theory IV course. If you need Theory II (MUSI 116) after Fall 2019, you should take Theory for 18th-c. Music (MUSI 217) instead, as MUSI 116 will no longer be offered. You will need to talk to the Academic Programs Manager about processing a course substitution to apply 217 to your degree.

About the courses

Look up these courses in the course catalog to find out more.

Entrance Exams

Undergraduate Entrance Exam

Incoming first-year students and transfer students should take entrance exams. Visit the Entrance Exams page to find out more.

Graduate Entrance Exam

All graduate students are required to take an entrance exams. Visit the Graduate Resources page to find out more.


For more details on these classes and the theory curriculum, set up an appointment to see the Academic Programs Manager or visit the Advising page for more information.


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Intro to Music Theory Timed Quizzes

Intro to Music Theory Timed Quizzes

In all MUSI 115 courses, timed quizzes will be given to ensure fluency of music fundamentals and other concepts. Quizzes involve identifying topics, writing topics in music notation, and performing topics on your major instrument. A list of quizzes and preparation information is given below.


Preparing for and taking the quizzes

Most quizzes are given through uTheory. Only playing quizzes are not in uTheory. To find the quizzes, after you log into your account, click Tests in the header menu as shown in the image below.

screenshot of U Theory dashboard


Watch lessons on uTheory and practice using Skills to improve. If you fail the quiz, uTheory will recommend certain lessons/skills to develop that will help you pass next time.

Consult your instructor to determine how to complete the playing quizzes.


Quizzes are graded pass/fail, but you need a 90% or higher to earn a grade of Pass.


You will have an unlimited number of attempts on each quiz, until the exam (midterm or final).


If you are unable to earn a passing grade on a timed quiz, you have an option to complete a video project instead. See below:

Timed Quizzes Video Reassessment

If you have attempted but not passed one of the post-midterm quizzes, you may make videos in which you explain the not-yet-passed concepts. A satisfactory video will earn a passing grade in all quizzes covered by that concept.

Check with your teacher for due dates.


  • Read the prompt (on the following page) for the topic not yet passed.
  • Make a video of yourself (not a slideshow, etc) explaining the topic verbally.
    • You must address all the questions posed in the prompt.
    • You must fit your video into the given time restrictions.
    • It’s okay to edit your video to make it fit in the time restriction; just make sure you still include all the necessary information.
    • Your explanation should be rehearsed and clear, with visual and audio demonstrations where appropriate (play your instrument or sing, if it helps!).
  • Upload your video to Youtube.
  • Submit your video.

Check with your teacher for due dates.

#1: Notation

There is no video reassessment option for #1 quizzes.

#2: Rhythm and Meter
Time: 4 minutes

  • Explain duple/triple/quadruple meters.
  • Explain simple/compound meters.
  • Explain conventions for beams and ties.
  • Re-notate a rhythm (about eight quarter notes long) in three different meters, including one compound meter.
  • Perform each version of your re-notated rhythm on an instrument, demonstrating how the rhythm is performed differently in each of your chosen meters.

#3 and #4: Key Signatures and Scales
Time: 5 minutes

  • What the circle of fifths is.
  • How to use the circle of fifths to determine key signatures.
  • Relative and parallel keys.
  • Why the sharps in key signatures are ordered F–C–G–D–A–E–B, and why are the flats are the reverse of this.
  • Why there are three different kinds of minor scales, but pieces are never called Sonata in D Harmonic Minor (for example).

#5: Intervals
Time: 2 minutes

  • Explain interval names (size and quality).
  • Explain inversions of intervals.
  • Explain enharmonically equivalent intervals.
  • Explain compound intervals.
  • Use an example of each quality type.
  • Use an instrument to play these examples as you explain them.

#6: Playing Quiz 1

There is no video reassessment option for playing quizzes.

#7: Chords
Time: 2 minutes

  • Explain the four triad qualities and five seventh chord qualities in terms of their interval content and/or common scale- degree associations
  • Use an example of each quality type, and make sure that at least one example has a natural root, at least one has a sharp root, and at least one has a flat root. 
  • Use an instrument to play these examples as you explain them. 

#8: Roman numerals
Time: 2 minutes

  • Explain what aspects of a chord does a Roman numeral signifies.
  • Explain what figures signify.
  • Explain how you determine the Roman numeral and figures of a particular chord.
  • Give at least four examples, played at an instrument. Be sure to have a mixture of chord qualities, roots, inversions, and major/minor keys in your examples.

#9: Playing Quiz 2

There is no video reassessment option for playing quizzes.

Quiz content

Pre-midterm quizzes

  1. Pitch notation: Identify and write 5 pitches each in treble, alto, tenor, and bass clefs (20 pitches total). 3 minutes.
  2. Rhythm and meter: Describe meters as simple/compound and duple/triple/quadruple, and identify meters of musical examples. 3 minutes.
  3. Key signatures: Write and identify 10 major/minor key signatures. 3 minutes.
  4. Scales: Write 10 major/minor scales. 8 minutes.
  5. Intervals: Identify and write 10 intervals. 3 minutes.
  6. Playing quiz 1:  On your major instrument, play/sing 1 major and 1 minor scale; play/sing 8 intervals given a starting pitch. 3 minutes.

Post-midterm quizzes

  1. Chords: Identify 8 triad/seventh chord quality in closed spacing; write 8 triads/seventh chords. 5 minutes.
  2. Roman numerals: Write 10 triads and seventh chords from Roman numerals. 5 minutes.
  3. Playing quiz 2: On your major instrument, play/sing 5 arpeggiated chords given a lead sheet symbol; play/sing 5 arpeggiated chords given a Roman numeral and key context. 3 minutes.

Extra Help for MUSI 115

We are working on developing a program of support for students in MUSI 115, Intro to Music Theory.

Extra lessons and practice through uTheory

All students must purchase access to uTheory to complete their timed quizzes, but uTheory is not just a quiz website—it also features instructional videos and skill-building drills to help you build your fluency with music fundamentals.

Students who are struggling with MUSI 115 may find it helpful to access the explanations and automatically-graded practice that is offered through uTheory.

See below for a table of useful links.

Chapters in the Burstein/Straus textbook used for MUSI 115 with corresponding links to uTheory lessons and skill-builders

Burstein/Straus Textbook Chapter uTheory Lessons/uTheory Skills uTheory Skills
0. Notation of pitch and rhythm
1. Scales
2. Intervals
3. Triads and seventh chords
4. Four-part harmony