Undergraduate Transfer Student Placement Exams

The Fall 2023 undergraduate transfer exam content is available on Blackboard through the “Music Graduate Entrance Exam” organization no earlier than July 24, 2023. You can access this via the Blackboard module in myUSC, and under “My Organizations” you will see a link for “Music Graduate Entrance Exam.” The procedures, dates, and deadlines for each exam are detailed in this Blackboard page.

Most transfer students will need to take one or more placement exams. This page explains why this is necessary and which exam areas are relevant to each major as well as listing the exam schedule.

Most undergraduate transfer students have already taken music courses at another institution. While these courses may transfer as elective credit, they generally will not count directly for specific requirements. Thus, new transfer students in the Thornton School who have completed music courses in areas that are required for their USC degree must take placement exams in these areas. How students perform on these exams will determine placement in required courses.

For example, students who have taken music theory elsewhere must also pass the USC music theory exam to gain subject credit for their theory requirements; transfer course credit is not sufficient without the appropriate tests. Each major has a unique set of music course requirements. For any required area for your major, you should take a placement exam only if you have had college-level coursework in that area.

Click on the image of the chart (PDF) below to see the exams required for your major.
Undergraduate Transfer Exam Chart

Undergraduate Transfer Exam Schedule

Fall 2023 Undergraduate Transfer Examination Schedule
Aug 10-11
Classical Aural Skills
Aug 10-11
Classical Music Theory and Analytical Techniques
Aug 10-11
Counterpoint (comp majors only)
Aug 10-11
Piano Literature (piano majors only)
Aug 15
BMH 100
Sign up details on Blackboard
Choral Conducting
Aug 15
MUS 105 and 106
Sign up details on Blackboard
Instrumental Conducting*
Due Aug 15
Music Industry Contact advisor
Recording Arts Contact advisor

* For this exam please be prepared to conduct the following excerpt: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, Movement IV (beginning to letter B; resume at m. 226 to letter F). Excerpt, audio file, and exam submission details are detailed in Blackboard.

The Examinations (Brief Descriptions and Suggestions for Review)

Choral Conducting: based on materials covered in Choral Conducting I (MUCD 340) at the USC Thornton School of Music. The exam tests familiarity with standard conducting patterns (1-12, simple, compound, and mixed meters) and ability to conduct from choral scores in four parts in modern clefs. Left hand independence is expected. You will be asked to conduct a short chorale, which will include execution of fermatas. Review Suggestions: Green, Modern Conductor; McElheran, Conducting Techniques for Beginners and Professionals; and Willetts, Upbeat Downbeat: Basic Conducting Patterns and Techniques.

Classical Theory/Analysis/Aural Skills: based on materials covered in four semesters of undergraduate Music Theory (MUCO 133ab, 233ab) and four semesters of Aural Skills (MUCO 132ab, 232ab) at the USC Thornton School of Music. Includes harmony (including chromatic harmonies and possibly modulations) and voice leading, realizing a figured bass with Roman numerals, form and analysis, and 20th century techniques; melodic and harmonic dictation (diatonic and chromatic possibly with modulation), and dictation of atonal fragments. Review Suggestions: Kostka & Payne, Tonal Harmony; Kostka, Materials and Techniques of 20th Century Music; Green, Form in Tonal Music; Benjamin, Horvit & Nelson, Music for Sight Singing; and Horvit, Music for Ear TrainingSample Theory/Analysis ExamSample Aural Skills Exam

Counterpoint: based on material covered in three semesters of Counterpoint for composition majors (MUCO 135, 235, 435) at the USC Thornton School of Music and included identification and writing of such contrapuntal forms as motet, canon, invention, chorale-variation, and fugue. Review Suggestions: Benjamin, The Craft of Tonal Counterpoint, textbook for both modal and tonal counterpoint.

Orchestration: This exam is based on material covered in one semester of Orchestration (MUCO 338x) at the USC Thornton School of Music and includes questions on ranges, clefs and transpositions of orchestral instruments, score comprehension and literacy, and short arranging problems. Review Suggestions: Kennan, The Technique of Orchestration; Blatter, Instrumentation/Orchestration; and Adler, The Study of OrchestrationSample Orchestration Exam

Instrumental Conducting: The instrumental conducting examination is designed to place students in either Instrumental Conducting I or Instrumental Conducting II. (Most undergraduate programs only require Instrumental Conducting I.) The examination is based on material covered in Instrumental Conducting (MUCD 343), and tests familiarity with standard conducting patterns, including sub-divided meters. Students must be prepared to conduct Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, Movement IV (beginning to letter B; resume at m. 226 to letter F) and have a working knowledge of basic orchestral transpositions and clefs. They will also be asked to ‘sight-conduct’ a short rhythmic excerpt which may include execution of fermatas. Review Suggestions: Green, Modern Conductor; McElheran, Conducting Techniques for Beginners and Professionals; and Willetts, Upbeat Downbeat: Basic Conducting Patterns and Techniques.

Piano Literature: The piano literature examination is based on material ordinarily covered in a two-semester, upper-division undergraduate keyboard literature course (MPKS 472ab in the Thornton School of Music section of the USC catalogue). Although such courses cover the entire history of this literature, special emphasis is placed on the solo literature of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that frequently appears on piano recitals. Review Suggestions: Gillespie, Five Centuries of Keyboard Music; Gordon, A History of Keyboard Literature; and Kirby, Music for Piano: a Short History.

Music Industry: Be prepared to address any of the following topics:

In each case above, when in doubt, follow the money.
Recommended for prep/review: Donald Passman All You Need to Know About the Music Business (most recent edition).

Please don’t ask to take this exam if you haven’t taken such related curriculum already (or you’ve only read industry books/blogs on your own). A hard copy of the course syllabus from your transfer institution will also be required during the exam, and will be reviewed along with your exam answers.

Contact your academic advisor regarding the schedule for the Music Industry exam.

Recording Arts: based on materials covered in Fundamentals of Audio Recording & Critical Listening (MTEC 175/176) at the Thornton School. Tests familiarity of principles, techniques, and aesthetic possibilities of the recording studio chain and its application to various media. Review Suggestions: Bartlett and Bartlett, Practical Recording Techniques, Third Edition and Huber and Runstein, Modern Recording Techniques.

Contact your academic advisor regarding the schedule for the Recording Arts exam.

Music History Transfer Coursework Review

Transfer undergraduates in all programs who have completed college level coursework at a school other than USC in music history can request transfer course equivalency review for placement in the appropriate level(s) and/or substitution/waivers for required courses. Students will work with their respective major academic advisor to compile materials to be reviewed by the Chair of the Musicology Department. Required materials include transfer course syllabus (which would need to include book and listening list) and a copy of the student’s transfer credit report that lists the course to be reviewed (accessible to current students on myUSC OASIS). The deadline to submit materials is before the end of the student’s first semester.

Foreign Language Placement Examinations

All music majors who have previously studied a foreign language are encouraged to take the foreign language placement exams if they intend to continue study in that language at USC. Some majors at USC (specifically Bachelor of Arts majors) have a foreign language requirement.

If you intend to take a placement exam, consult with the USC Language Center to learn when to take the appropriate placement exam.

Classical Keyboard Skills Placement Examination

Transfer undergraduates with previous classical keyboard study may be able to place out of some or the entire keyboard skills requirement for their degrees by taking this exam.

Fall Keyboard Placement Exam Offerings
Friday before the first week of the semester
Friday of the first week of the semester

Spring Keyboard Placement Exam Offerings
Friday of the first week of the semester
Friday of the last week of instruction

Any USC undergraduate pursuing a major in music, who wishes to take a classical keyboard placement exam for a possible course waiver of MPKS 150ab and/or MPKS 250ab, must take that exam by the end of their second semester. If the exam is not passed by the end of the second semester, students will not have another opportunity to attempt the exam and will need to complete the required keyboard course(s) at USC. Questions regarding this policy may be directed to Dr. Stephen Pierce at pierces@usc.edu.

Technical Requirements

The sample exams (Theory and Analysis, Aural Skills, and Orchestration) are designed to work on any modern Windows PC or Macintosh computer. For the audio examples, you will need some sort of mp3 player software (RealPlayerWindows Media PlayerQuicktime, iTunes, etc.) and the free Adobe Reader software for the pdf format printed examples. Clicking the “Reveal Answer” button in each of the exams creates a new window. If these fail to open, turn off the Pop-Up Window Blocker function in your web browser.