Elements Associated with Success in the First-Year Music Theory and Aural-Skills Curriculum

M. Rusty Jones & Martin Bergee

A total of 156 students enrolled in first-year music theory and aural-skills courses at the University of Missouri during the fall semesters of 2004 and 2005 were asked to participate in a study intended to determine which elements of their prior musical or scholastic training might be associated with success in freshman level music theory and aural-training courses. We employed multiple regression analysis to determine results and provide implications for teachers of these courses. The following elements were studied: high school class rank percentile, composite score on the American College Test (ACT), mathematics score on the ACT, prior music theory experience, prior experience with solfège or scale-degree numbers, major (music or non-music), performing medium (vocal or instrumental), prior experience with a chording instrument (e.g., piano, guitar), and score on a theory diagnostic exam administered at the beginning of the first semester of theory study. Results were analyzed separately for the music theory and the aural-skills courses. For the music theory course, the general scholastic elements of high school class rank percentile and ACT math scores emerged with the strongest associations, followed by prior experience with solfège or numbers, music major status, and prior theory experience. Diagnostic exam scores, performing medium, and chording instrument experience were not associated with final scores in the music theory course. With regard to the aural-skills course, associated with final scores were the diagnostic exam, ACT-composite scores, high school class rank percentile, and chording instrument experience. Prior experience with solfège or numbers, prior theory experience, performing medium, and major were not associated. Among other things, these findings suggest that it would be advantageous to begin the aural-skills sequence a semester later than the first-semester written theory course, thus allowing time for the students to familiarize themselves with the written concepts.