Music Theory

The study of music theory helps students understand the meaning behind the melody.
Michael WeinsteinTheory Department Chair

Michael Weinstein, Music Theory Department Chair

Faculty Directory: Music Theory

NEC Prep’s dynamic Music Theory department combines theory and practice. For younger students at earlier levels, theory studies reinforce critical musicianship skills that they encounter in their private lessons: scales, intervals, key signatures, chords, notated rhythms, and note reading in multiple clefs. They internalize the basic conducting patterns, scale degrees, and solfège syllables and learn to keep their place melodically and rhythmically while performing their exercises. Students advancing through the upper levels of theory studies learn how to write tonal music using common practice harmony and counterpoint rules. Through analytical work, they interpret complete pieces that inform their performances of their own lesson repertoire. Students who successfully complete the upper level music theory courses perform well on the AP Music Theory Exam and often place out of the first year of conservatory/collegiate music theory and musicianship requirements, allowing them to focus on more advanced music theory studies and other musical electives.

NEC Prep music theory students may also be interested in Composition and Jazz Theory courses.

Introductory Music Theory Tracks

A developmental perspective informs the design of the program. The Music Theory Department recognizes the significant changes taking place during a student’s elementary, middle and high school years, and offers developmentally appropriate classes for younger performers as well as students who are in high school. Three levels of music theory are designed for students of specific ages.

  • 9 to 12-year-olds: Music Theory Levels I and II
    This program moves at a pace appropriate for the 9 to 12-year-old student. Class time is spent on presenting, developing and internalizing the skills and concepts necessary for mastery. It normally takes four years to complete Levels I and II.  
  • 13 to 18-year-olds: Music Theory for Teens Levels I and II
    Theory for Teens covers the same material, but moves at a faster pace with the expectation that more independent work will be carried out between classes. Older students ages 13-18, can complete the sequence of Music Theory I and Music Theory II in two years.

Theory Placement

New music theory students, returning music theory students with questions about level placement, and students who are interested in private music theory lessons must sign up for a placement with Michael Weinstein, Music Theory Department Chair. Classes start in the fall. Rolling admission is strictly at the discretion of the music theory faculty.  

Please contact regarding any further questions regarding placements and registration.


Texts and other musical materials may be purchased at Music Espresso, located at 33 Gainsborough St., first floor.

NEC Prep AP Theory

Instructors: Michael Weinstein

The online AP theory music course is designed for students preparing to take the AP theory exam on May 12, 2021. The course will cover major and minor scales/key relationships, intervals, triads and seventh chords and their inversions, four part voice leading, form and analysis, and ear training exercises.  Students will ideally have completed NEC Level 1 and Level 2 theory courses or the equivalent.  If you have questions about the course please email

Music Theory Level I

Focusing on mastering the fundamentals of reading and hearing, analysis, and writing, the first level of music theory directly supports beginning instrumental study. Mastery of the skills and concepts in Level I result in fluency in the following areas: reading of treble and bass clefs; key signatures; interval content of major and minor scales; relative minor and relative major scale relationships; conducting beat patterns of 2, 3, and 4 while singing; division of the beat into 2, 3, and 4 parts; tonic and dominant chords in all major and minor keys. Writing and composition assignments build on students growing mastery of theoretical concepts, music reading, and ear training skills. Analysis work, whenever possible and appropriate, is based on pieces students are studying in their lessons.

Music Theory Level II

Music Theory Level II builds upon the skills, activities, and concepts of Level I. Students continue to develop their reading skills with more challenging melodies in treble and bass clefs and extend the scope of their literacy by learning to read alto clef. Classes in Level II stress the skills and concepts required to quickly identify, recognize, and perform the following: intervals; qualities and functions of triads within a key; fundamentals of figured bass including root position, inversions, and dominant seventh chords; non-harmonic tones, including: passing tones, neighbor tones, suspensions; cadences, including authentic, half, and deceptive; and modulation. Whenever appropriate, analysis work is based on pieces students are studying in their lessons.

Prerequisite: Completion of Music Theory Level I-1 and Level I-2

Level III–1: Solfège

This course is devoted to developing a high level of reading skill through the use of fixed-do solmization. Emphasis is placed on fluent sight-reading in three clefs: treble, bass, and alto. Appropriate harmonic, melodic and rhythmic dictation will be given weekly as well as prepared performances from the course texts.  

Prerequisite: Completion of Music Theory Level II-2

Level III–2: Harmony

This course focuses on part writing and figured-bass realization. Harmonic progressions and voice-leading are practiced through four-part (SATB) realizations of figured basses. Students will realize figured-bass lines at the piano and be introduced to common harmonic progressions. Harmonic vocabulary includes triads in root position, inversions, seventh chords, diatonic modulations, secondary dominants, mode mixture, augmented sixths, and the Neapolitan chord. Fundamentals of species counterpoint are introduced. Singing and harmonic dictation will develop and reinforce aural skills.  

Prerequisite: Completion of Music Theory Level II-2

Level IV–1: Interpretive Analysis

This course provides opportunities for students to practice a variety of analytical approaches to the problems of interpretation. The class focuses on specific compositions by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Lectures are supported by appropriate readings. Different recorded performances of single works are compared and critiqued.  


  • Completion of Performance Level Evaluation III 
  • Proficiency in Roman numeral analysis, principles of two-and three-voice species counterpoint, and figured bass realization.
  • Completion of Music Theory Level III-2

Level IV–2: Advanced Solfège and Score Reading

This course integrates advanced musicianship studies with an investigation of 20th-century musical materials. Students sing atonal melodies and dictation in two and more parts. Fluency in five clefs (treble, bass, alto, tenor, and soprano) is demonstrated through performance of Bach chorales in open score and sight-transposition of orchestral scores. Rhythmic notation and polyrhythms are also featured.  

Prerequisites: Completion of Music Theory Level III-1

Drop-in Tutoring

For students who have missed a class because of a scheduled conflict, who need extra help, or who want more focused work, the Music Theory Department offers 20-30 minute one-on-one tutoring sessions on Saturdays. If you are interested in signing up for a tutoring session please contact the Prep Office.