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Academic Studies

What is music? Is it simply the ability to recreate what is printed on a page in sound? How do we get beyond simply “getting the right notes” to a deeper understanding? What does music mean? Is there one interpretation or are there many? Is music something written, something heard, or something else?

These are some of the questions that motivate enquiry in the academic core curriculum as we engage in structural analysis, historical contextualization, interpretation, and more. Of equal importance, faculty also address these questions in their own research, which consistently results in nationally-recognized presentations and publications. Studying with such scholar-teachers gives our students a window into larger conversations about the nature and purpose of music while still addressing practical application and questions of individual interpretation.

The tabs above contain information about the experiences offered to students by the academic area, not just in structured settings like the classroom, but also in individualized projects and opportunities far from the Logan campus. 


Christopher Scheer, Ph.D. Musicology

Academic Studies Program Coordinator

Associate Professor

Timothy Chenette, Ph.D. Music Theory

Assistant Professor

Sara Bakker, Ph.D. Music Theory

Assistant Professor


The core music classes at USU include music history, music theory, aural skills, and keyboard skills. Aural and keyboard skills improve your sight reading, musicianship, focus, musical understanding, and musical communication. Music history and music theory explore music in depth and in context, helping you gain skills in analysis, composition, critical thinking, and abstract conceptualization. These courses will reveal the inner workings of pieces of music, improve your practical skills, and help you understand social and historical connections. They also develop skills that will transfer to any career or life path, including writing skills and critical and creative thinking.

All incoming students may take a diagnostic exam to test out of MUSC 1105 (Music Fundamentals for Music Majors) but should register for the course to receive instructions. Transfer students and those with AP credit should take a separate placement exam held before the beginning of each academic year. For details, please see the Placement Exams tab on this page.

For information on your specific path through core curriculum requirements, please refer to the online degree maps for your emphasis.

Core Curriculum Faculty:

Christopher Scheer, Ph.D.

Director of Academic Studies

Associate Professor

Musicology, Music History

Timothy Chenette, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Music Theory, Aural Skills


Dr. Sara Bakker, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Music Theory, Aural Skills



Because students come to USU with different levels of experience and knowledge, we offer two kinds of entrance exams to determine the right place for a student to start the curriculum.

  • All students may take the MUSC 1105 diagnostic exam to test out of MUSC 1105 (Music Fundamentals for Music Majors), but should register for the course to receive instructions.
  • Students with transfer credit, AP credit, or significant experience that may justify starting later in the theory curriculum should take the transfer exams in music theory and/or aural skills held the week before the semester begins. Transfer students from accredited colleges and universities may choose to take the music history transfer exam in order to test out of part or all of the music history requirements. Otherwise, the student should enroll in Music History I and expect to take the entire sequence. Additional information on all transfer exams is below. For dates of upcoming music theory, aural skills, and music history placement exams, email Cary Youmans.

Entrance Exams for First-Year Students

MUSC 1105 diagnostic exam. All incoming first-year students should register for MUSC 1105 (Music Fundamentals for Music Majors); instructions for taking the diagnostic exam will be sent to all registered students about a week before the semester begins. The exam begins with an online portion administered during that week. Those who pass this portion will take a brief in-person supplement on the first day of class. Students who pass the test as a whole will be notified via email and may drop the course. Topics covered include time signatures (both simple and compound meter), key signatures, intervals, chords, and chord labels (letter names, Roman numerals, inversion symbols, lead-sheet symbols).

Exams for Transfer Students or First-Year Seeking Advanced Placement

Music theory placement exam. Because in the classroom we go beyond simply learning material to analyzing music and thinking about deeper questions, this test is designed only for transfer students or those who have taken AP music theory. However, if you have other significant knowledge and experience and wish to know if it qualifies you to test out of some part of the music theory curriculum, email Dr. Timothy Chenette.

The theory exams cover roughly the following topics as straightforwardly as possible:
Theory 1: diatonic harmony (labeling and writing chord progressions by Roman numeral) part-writing in four voices
Theory 2: chromatic harmony (labeling by Roman numeral secondary dominants and seventh chords, Neapolitan sixths, and augmented sixths), binary form, identifying keys and cadences in short pieces of music
Theory 3: forms (rounded binary, sonata, rondo, strophic, ternary, variations, popular song), identifiying keys and cadences in longer pieces of music
Theory 4: diatonic modes, octatonic and whole-tone scales, pitch-class set analysis, serial analysis

Aural skills placement exam. The aural skills exams have two parts. First is a group dictation exam, where you will notate melodies, bass lines, and/or harmonic progressions by Roman numeral. You will be told the tonic note (e.g., “C”) and the bottom number of the meter sign; it will be up to you to determine if it is major or minor and an appropriate upper number in the meter sign. If you pass a dictation exam, you will be asked to come to FAC 216A for an individual sight-singing hearing later the same day.

Aural Skills 1: all diatonic: melody dictation, bass-line dictation, melody sight-reading

Aural Skills 2: adding chromaticism and focusing more on harmony: melody dictation, bass-line and Roman numeral dictation, melody sight-reading

Aural Skills 3: bass-line and Roman numeral dictation of modulating chord progressions, singing modulating melodies and a whole-tone and an octatonic scale

If you have additional questions about the Music Theory or Aural Skills placement exams, please contact Dr. Timothy Chenette.

Music history placement exam for transfer students. The music history transfer placement exam is diagnostic in nature, and is administered the week before the commencement of classes in the fall. It will test the student’s familiarity with styles, periods, concepts, and cultures across the history of Western European music, from 800 to 1960, as well as his or her ability to think critically about history and problem-solve. Consequently, the student need not prepare or study for the exam, but rather should show up and make his or her best attempt at completing as much of it as possible. This will give the student and the evaluator the best indication of the student’s aptitude as a critical thinker as well as the range of his or her music history knowledge, allowing the evaluator to place the student appropriately in the music history sequence at USU. The test will consist of listening identification drawn from the history of western music, with each example accompanied by analytical questions. There will also be short answer and essay portions.

Please contact Dr. Christopher Scheer if you have any additional questions about the Music History Transfer Exam.

The academic area offers music majors a wealth of opportunities for students to enrich and advance their musical education beyond the classes offered in the core curriculum. These include scholarship and grant opportunities in research and performance, letting students work one-on-one with faculty to deepen their understanding of a specific topic or idea, giving access to visiting scholars and performers who are at the forefront of music research, even providing the opportunity to travel and experience a vast diversity of musics and musical cultures from around the globe.


URCO grants and the Honors Program

Students can work with a faculty member to apply for Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities Grants through the Office of Research at USU. These grants can allow a student to conduct research on a scholarly or performance question, and can also be used to fund research away from campus at music festivals, with noted teachers, and at important archives around the world.

The Honors Program provides another opportunity for students to delve deeper into their studies.

Guest Speakers

The academic area continues to host a number of guest academics and performers who work with USU music students in both the classroom and one-on-one. A selected list of recent visitors includes:

Ron Squibbs, University of Connecticut

Jenny Doctor, Syracuse University

Sarah Victoria Turner, Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, Yale University

James Mansell, University of Nottingham

Anna Gawboy, Ohio State University

Gauri Viswanathan, Columbia University

Craig Trompeter, Director, Haymarket Opera Chicago

Performance Practice Institute

The Performance Practice Institute (PPI) at the Caine College of the Arts embodies a project-based approach to the study of the history of performance, which enriches the intellectual and artistic life of the students involved while making accessible to Utah audiences exciting concerts of lesser known repertoires, especially those from the pre-1750 period. Concerts in this series are held in the spring, with a yearly alternation of larger projects and more modest events that build upon the previous year’s activities.

List of Coming and Recent Performances:

Craft, Performance, and Drama: Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina

The Music of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd: Politics and Religion in Tudor England

Music of the North German Baroque

J. S. Bach’s Mass in b-minor

The Italian Baroque

Museum + Music

The Museum + Music Series is a vital interdisciplinary effort between the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art and the music department that explores the interconnections between visual and musical arts through concerts that engage the audience with the exhibitions on show in the museum. Students in core curriculum classes participate every year in the December concert, and musicians and scholars who visit campus as performers in the series often interact with music students through academic classes and workshops.

Study Abroad

The academic area offers study abroad opportunities based on student interest, financial viability, and other factors. In 2013, 20 students visited England for a one-month trip, exploring the rich musical and cultural heritage of the country, and earning credit to be applied to core curriculum requirements.