👋🏼 Hi, I'm Mickey Hansen! I'm an AP Music Theory teacher and streamer at Fiveable. This year's exam is different than we expected, but I'm here to help. I've put together this study guide to help keep you on track while you are studying from home. You can follow this guide on your own with a free Fiveable account! I'll also be joining a group of students live on May 18th for a 5-hour review! Pick up your cram pass to join us.

Learn about the 2020 exam schedule, get some tips for success, and find answers to your frequently asked questions about this year's AP tests in our Guide to the 2020 Exam Updates.

Format of the New Exam

This year, the Music Theory Exam will look different than you were expecting. As we’re all on quarantine due to COVID-19, the College Board has decided to update the format and content of the test to fit an online testing format. Totaling 50 minutes, the 2020 test will have two questions. Only two! But wait… an entire test with only two questions? Well, yes. But these questions pack a one-two punch. Nearly everything you’ve learned in Music Theory class will be applied in these questions. Your work has not been in vain, I promise!

On the exam:

1a) 🎶  Part writing from figured bass 1b) 🎸 Part writing from Roman numerals 2)  👩🏽‍🎤 Sight-singing (two questions)

Question Format:

  • Question one: 25 minutes (+5 minutes to upload response)

  • Question two: 15 minutes (+5 minutes to upload response) 

  • The test will include free-response questions and NO multiple-choice questions. 

  • There will be a written portion on a pre-made sheet template that you must print out before the test (see below).

  • The recorded section requires you to use a device to record yourself, to submit manually.

What do I need for the exam?


Smartphone, tablet, or computer with camera, microphone, and a voice recording app. Best to use phone or tablet!

2−3 printed or handwritten copies of the answer sheet template 


Instruments, tuners, metronomes, digital resources are permitted to assist in preparing answers. However, submitted responses must be created without these aids: Part-writing responses must be entirely handwritten on the answer sheet, and sight-singing responses must be performed entirely unaccompanied and unaltered. Please refer to the sample questions and instructions for more information.

When is the exam and how do I take it?

May 19 @ 12p Eastern! Wherever you are in the world, this is the time you’ll take the test. Unless you have been approved for the make-up date in June, but only your school can request that. You’ll take the test online. There will be a practice simulation posted by College Board within the next few weeks.

How do I prepare for the exam?

With so many school closures and the stress of a global pandemic, this review season will be different than usual. If this is your first AP exam, welcome! Don’t worry, it’s not usually this chaotic. 

We’ve put together this plan for you to follow between now and May. This will cover all of the units and leave you time to practice questions before test day. Some classes may have done units out of chronological order throughout the year, which is ok. The units don’t have to be taught in order. If you are learning new material on your own and need some help, use the chat bubble on We’ll answer any questions you may have. 

What resources does this study plan use?

All of the required resources are free. You’ll need to create a free Fiveable account to jump in.  We’ve also linked a few other websites, articles, and YouTube videos that you can access for free. Some of the suggested resources include paid products. There are some documentaries that you can find on streaming sites with a paid membership and we’ll also list streams and practice questions that require a paid cram pass on Fiveable.


Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 

🖥 Create a study space.

Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 

📚 Organize your study materials.

Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get your self set up!

📅 Plan designated times for studying.

The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.

How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!

QUESTION 1: Writing from Figured Bass & Writing from Roman Numerals

🌶Join the live cram stream on May 18. Get your cram pass now.

Big takeaways:

In part A, the bass line and the figured bass will already be given to you. Your job is to realize the Roman numeral analysis, AND write a four part harmony that follows the rules in practice during the Common Practice Period. During part B, you will be still writing a 4-part harmony, but this time the Roman numeral analysis is already given to you. Making sure you know the rules in part writing is vital!

Content to focus on: 

  • Roman numeral analysis with a given bass line 

    • Review all types of chords based on each scale degree of any given key
      • Major key: I, ii, iii, IV, V(7), vi, viiº, I
      • Minor key: i, iiº, III, iv, V(7), VI, VII, i 
    • You will also be given all inversions symbols in the bass line
  • Rules of part writing
    • Watch out for parallel 5ths and octaves
    • Leading tone must resolve upwards 
      • If in the outer voices (soprano, bass) the leading tone MUST resolve upward
      • If leading tone is in the middle voices (alto, tenor) College Board will not deduct points for resolving downward, but try to avoid it
        • Also, do not double the leading tone
    • Proper voicings
      • In triads, the 5th may be dropped, but never drop the 3rd 
      • In seventh chords, the 5th may be dropped, but never the 3rd or 7th
      • Look for stepwise motion in each voice. Keep it as smooth as possible!
      • Know the range you can write for each voice
      • No voice crossings
      • Use contrary motion to avoid parallel intervals
  • Correct Notation
    • Make sure note head stems are all facing the right direction for the part you are writing 
    • Copy the prompt correctly!  
      • You WILL have points taken off, if you accidently write down the incorrect information into your answer sheet, even if you answer your own information correctly 

Resources to Use

QUESTION 2: Sight-Singing

Join the live cram stream on May 18. Get your cram pass now.

Big takeaways:

You will be given a melody, and you will need to sing back the exact pitches and rhythms into a recording device. Knowing how to recognize and immediately produce intervals and rhythm is imperative.

Content to focus on: 

  • Rhythm

    • Duple vs. triple meter
    • Practice clapping/tapping rhythms (see resource below)
  • Interval training 

    • Identifying intervals
      • Check the key, is it a major, minor, or perfect interval?
      • Practice singing intervals
    • Check your work with a tonal instrument 
  • Major and minor melodic identification

    • Relative majors and minor keys
    • What do the first and last notes of the melody infer about which key you are in?
    • Accidentals
      • When are accidentals deliberately written in minor keys?
      • 3 types of minor scales, can you sing them?

Resources to Use

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