9.0 Is AP Music Theory Hard? Is AP Music Theory Worth Taking?

4 min readnovember 19, 2020

Samantha Himegarner

Samantha Himegarner

AP Music Theory 🎶

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Hey-o! Are you considering whether or not to add AP Music Theory onto your class schedule this year? Well, you are in the right place! I have attempted to answer all your burning questions regarding AP Music Theory and its content, rigor, and rewards. So, first and foremost:

Is AP Music Theory Hard?

Of course, every student wants to know which courses are more difficult than others so that they can properly pace and prepare themselves. And, of course, the difficulty is subjective, so there won’t be one answer that will be true for each person. So, while I can't answer this question for you, myself and the Fiveable team are here to help you decide whether or not to take and/or self-study for AP Music Theory!

What Will I Be Expected to Learn? 🧠

This course covers a variety of topics within the realm of music theory, including the fundamentals of how music functions and building upon that to discuss harmonization, voice leading, and more.
Developing a strong background in music before taking this course will make the content more digestible. Although the first unit does cover building blocks that you may need to know, it becomes a lot more manageable to understand the more complex aspects of theory if the basics already feel like second nature. This includes feeling comfortable with reading both treble and bass clef!

How Does the AP Music Theory Exam Work? 📝

In order to fully test the skills students develop in this course, a large portion of this exam is aural, meaning you will have to assess both melodic and rhythmic components of music. There will be aural stimuli within the Multiple Choice Section, and many Free Response Questions will require some sort of aural stimulus as well, such as dictation. You will also have to submit a recording of sight-singing during the exam as well.

Can I Get a 5 on This Exam? 5️⃣

A 5 is not easy on any AP exam, and Music Theory is no exception. Don't worry, though, because it is nowhere near impossible! Just like any other AP exam, a 5 is perfectly attainable with some hard work and dedication. Let’s look at some score distributions.
In recent years, an overwhelming majority of students passed this exam. We are looking at a a 67.9% and a 63.6% pass rate, respectively. This is good news; if you are pretty well prepared for the exam, the odds are in your favor that you will receive a good score!

Is AP Music Theory a Lot of Work? ⏳

Of course, this entirely depends on how you decide to take the course. Each student will have a different experience depending on their teacher, or, if self-studying, their individualized approach. This will also depend on background knowledge of music theory. For example, if you have a lot of prior knowledge in music theory, you will likely understand concepts a bit faster than students who are coming in without a solid foundation.

What is the Hardest Part About AP Music Theory? 😳

Again, this will change from person-to-person, but the majority of students will agree that the aural skills such as harmonic dictation and sight-singing are the most difficult. Mastering these skills is the most effective when it comes to maximizing your success within the course and exam; it is more than just memorizing and understanding the content.

So, Is It Worth Taking? 🤔

This depends on you. If you are the kind of student that is really interested in pursuing music throughout college and potentially as a career, then you likely will want to take this course. That being said, a lot of colleges don’t give credit for this course in the same way as other AP classes.
Most colleges require a music theory placement test upon registration. Taking AP Music Theory will most definitely prepare you to be successful on this test, which is a definite plus. However, because of this requirement, a specific score on AP Music Theory may not necessarily place you out of an entry-level theory course and may only grant general credits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to consider when deciding whether or not to take the exam.
Even if you are not looking into pursuing music professionally, it is a very fun and interesting class, and most students are very happy with their choice to have taken it. Music theory also helps students develop skills for jazz improvisation and can help build skills for other musical styles and ensembles as well.

Advice for Incoming AP Music Theory Students 🗣️

The best way to prepare for this exam is to practice! There are many different ways for students to build aural skills, which includes sight-singing, interval training, and harmonic dictation.
The more you practice, the easier it will become on test day. Of course you want to study the actual content as well, but in this case the skills are equally as important and objectively more difficult to master than the content is.


At the end of the day, you are the only person who can (and should) decide whether or not to take AP Music Theory. You are the most qualified because you will know why you want to take this course and what you are hoping to get out of it. While this course certainly is not easy, it is totally possible to get a 5 with a lot of hard work and practice!
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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