What Are the Best AP Music Theory Textbooks and Prep Books?

3 min readseptember 29, 2021

Samantha Himegarner

Samantha Himegarner

AP Music Theory 🎶

72 resources
See Units

Hey, what’s up! Welcome to Fiveable! Are you frantically looking for a way to study for AP Music Theory? Well, you’ve come to the right place! We have compiled a list of 5 carefully chosen AP Music Theory textbooks/prep books that will be instrumental in your success on the exam. (See what we did there?)
Some of these books align with the AP Music Theory course and exam material and are designed to help you succeed on that specific test. That being said, there are a lot of music theory textbooks, typically designed for an entry-level college course (in which AP Music Theory is the equivalent), that can help you learn and master the content that will be tested, just maybe not in the same format. Don’t be fooled; these are all awesome options that are going to help you learn and succeed!

1. Barron’s Guide to AP Music Theory


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This book is one of the most popular among all AP prep books, but especially for AP Music Theory. It includes a detailed content review for the entire course, completed with practice problems, and 2 full-length practice exams. The book even comes with a CD with audio content to aid in your practice and development of aural skills! The best part is that this book is pretty affordable, and a great resource to either supplement a class or for self-studying. You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

2. Julie Johnson’s Guide to AP Music Theory


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This is a great option if you’re looking for a text that is specifically aligned to the AP curriculum. This book is more up-to-date than Barron’s and is designed alongside what the exam will ask of you. The main features of this book are progressive sight-singing examples as well as ear-training. This book is a bit more expensive than Barron’s, but it is hefty at over 500 pages! This would be a great resource if you are self-studying for the exam and would like practice and reference material! You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

Actual footage of you practicing sight-singing Image courtesy of giphy

3. Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory


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This textbook is not aligned to the AP course, but it is specifically designed for musicians to self-study music theory. Its goal is to build up aural skills through ear training. There are numerous lessons split into units, with tests completing each one. All the answers to the questions are included so that you can correct yourself in preparation for the exam. This is another great option for anyone planning on self-studying the course, especially if you’re looking for a reference book or just some extra practice. You can purchase it on Amazon here.

4. The Complete Musician


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Designed for undergraduate music theory courses, The Complete Musician focuses more on the content of music theory than on the skills. More specifically, it focuses on all aspects of music theory. Instead of just teaching how to analyze a piece of music, it delves into writing and how developing skills connect to written theory. This is not the most updated version of this textbook, but the content is still relevant and accurate, and it’s a cheaper option than the most recent edition. You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

5. Pearson’s Elements of Music


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While this text is the most expensive of the options listed here, the quality is worth the cost! This textbook is also more content-driven and perfect for anyone brand new to music theory. The content is super in-depth, so if you are in need of a book to be used for learning content and/or content reference, this is a great option. You can buy it on Amazon here.


Hopefully, you are feeling a lot more confident about finding resources to help you succeed in AP Music Theory! Look through these options to see what might be best for you depending on your needs, whether it’s to improve aural skills, content knowledge, or both! Don’t worry, though, no matter which book you decide to go with, you are going to do great! (Even if it’s no textbook at all!)
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🎵Unit 1 – Music Fundamentals I (Pitch, Major Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, and Expressive Elements)
🎶Unit 2 – Music Fundamentals II (Minor Scales and Key Signatures, Melody, Timbre, and Texture)
🎻Unit 3 – Music Fundamentals III (Triads and Seventh Chords)
🎹Unit 4 – Harmony and Voice Leading I (Chord Function, Cadence, and Phrase)
🎸Unit 5: Harmony and Voice Leading II: Chord Progressions and Predominant Function
🎤Unit 7 – Harmony and Voice Leading IV (Secondary Function)
📝Exam Skills
📆Big Reviews: Finals & Exam Prep

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