Precollege Curriculum

Theory and Ear Training
Performance Ensembles
Performance Opportunities
Lessons & Juries

Theory and Ear Training Classes (Classical)

Courses in music theory and ear training are a mandatory part of every student’s study and complement private instruction. Regular attendance is required.

Elementary Theory and Ear Training (grades 4 and below)

Elementary Theory and Ear Training provide students with a fundamental background in the development of coordination and rhythmic awareness, listening awareness, responses to pitch, dynamics and tempo, and emphasizes basic reading skills.

Junior Theory and Ear Training (grades 5-8)

This level involves study of scales, intervals, chords, melody harmonization, and form with appropriate analysis and creative work. Ear training stresses the singing, aural recognition, and writing of all elements studied in the theory classes. The materials used are selected from music literature appropriate to the age level and degree of advancement of the students.

High School Theory and Ear Training (grades 9 and above)

This level is a comprehensive study of the elements of music from rudiments through chromatic harmony. Areas covered include melody, harmony, part writing, form and analysis, counterpoint, orchestration, and some elementary compositional techniques. Corresponding ear training courses cover rhythmic solfège, melodic sight singing, rhythm and movement, diatonic-modal improvisation, harmonic perception, contemporary sight singing, dictation, and advanced choral literature survey.

Theory, Ear Training, and History/Styles/Analysis Classes (Jazz)

Jazz Theory I

This course covers jazz theory on a basic level, and it is designed to help students develop the necessary theoretical foundations in order to be able to improvise, arrange, and compose.

Jazz Theory II

The Jazz Theory II curriculum involves a study of topics such as chord function, extension and alteration, common chord progressions, scales, key relationships, superimposition, form, modulation, re-harmonization, rhythmic permutation, voice leading, counterpoint, composition, arranging and ear training. Traditional or classical harmonic principles and their relevance in jazz settings will also be studied.

Jazz Theory III

Jazz Theory III focuses on the practical application of theory to the students' writing and playing. Subjects covered in Jazz Theory I and II will be reviewed and utilized as a basis for compositional techniques.

Jazz Theory IV (Theoretical Applications in Jazz Arranging and Composition)

This course will include guided instruction in jazz arranging and composition using the tools and techniques learned in Jazz Theory I, II, and III. Laboratory groups will include members of the class as well as school ensembles.

Jazz Ear Training A

This class will cover, with an emphasis on fluency, intervallic dictation and singing, rhythmic dictation and tapping, simple harmonic dictation to the 7th degree, simple sight-singing, and simple melodic dictation, as well as an introduction to the art of transcription of jazz solos.

Jazz Ear Training B

This class will cover, with an emphasis on fluency, melodic dictation, sight singing, harmonic dictation to the 9th degree, and harmonic singing (arpeggios of common chord progressions to the 9th degree in jazz standards), as well as a continuation of the art of transcription of jazz solos.

Jazz History/Styles/Analysis I

This course provides a yearlong overview of the history of jazz music, including its major innovators, trends, and musical examples. Students will learn about artists and their work and will acquire critical listening skills.

Jazz History/Styles/Analysis II

This course is a continuation of Jazz History/Styles/Analysis I and serves to broaden the base already provided by using more in-depth listening, research, and comparative analyses of works.

Elective Courses

Electives are offered in a variety of subjects. With the exception of chamber ensembles, all classes must have a minimum of five students.

Elective courses are offered for an additional fee. See Tuition and Fees for details.

Acting for Singers

A class primarily for voice majors of high school age but open to all students who wish to learn more about stage presence, acting, and audition techniques. Audition required for non-vocal majors.

Advanced Counterpoint Workshop

Counterpoint literally means "point against point", or "note against note" and is the study of how melodies blend together, yet maintain their individuality.  Counterpoint is the study of the horizontal aspects of multi-voice composition while harmony is the study of the vertical aspects of composition.  This is a convenient way of dividing the aspects of composition; however, this distinction is merely theoretical.  In practice, the study of counterpoint incorporates much harmony and leads to a better understanding of the harmonic forces, as well as the melodic forces, that move the composition.

In the advanced counterpoint workshop we will summarize the basic 16th century counterpoint that is part of the general curriculum and proceed to the higher forms of the 16th century style such as the canon and the motet, as well as a study of counterpoint that leads to the fugue - arguably the most sophisticated form of composition, combining counterpoint and harmony in perfect balance.  The class will also compare and contrast traditional and non-traditional forms including chromatic, and non-classical counterpoint.

Prerequisites: Successful completion of HS Theory III/JR Theory IV and Ear Training C.

AP Theory Preparation 

The goal of Advanced Placement Theory Preparation is to help students prepare for the AP theory test which is held every May at a non-MSM affiliated testing site. Students will be tested on every aspect of the course material including musical terminology, notational skills, basic compositional skills, score analysis and aural skills. Emphasis will be given to each student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as regular in-class testing. Although the goal of this elective is to prepare students for the May test, taking the outside test is not be a necessary requirement. Prerequisites: Students need to have received a “B” average in HS Theory IV and HS Ear Training D.

Brass Ensemble 

Brass Ensemble offers Precollege brass students an opportunity to be challenged both technically and musically while focusing on improving each player’s ensemble skills. Using repertoire ranging from the Renaissance through Contemporary periods, the class focuses on developing a group sound while refining intonation, blend and balance. Recent performances have included works by Bach, Cheetham, Ewald, Ewazen, Gabrieli, Hindemith, Holst, Ives, Koetsier, Mozart, and Purcell among many others.

Chamber Music PLUS 

Chamber Music PLUS is an introduction to the emerging field of interdisciplinary performance.  Students will work in small groups of varying instrumentation to co-create new performance pieces that combine music with theater, creative movement, storytelling, poetry, and other arts.  The class combines basic skill building work (theater and movement games adapted to include musical instruments), along with a collaborative creation process, culminating in an original performance.  Students will learn to perform from memory, to construct new performing works from both existing sources and from their own improvisations, to incorporate speaking into musical performance, and to work creatively and collaboratively with colleagues.  

Clarinet Ensemble 

Clarinet Ensemble explores the rich variety of repertoire available to clarinets, including arrangements from the standard repertoire and pieces written expressly for clarinet ensemble. The group will perform several times throughout the year. Students are offered the opportunity to switch parts, affording them the experience of playing solos as well as inner voices.

Classical Improvisation for Pianists 

Many of the great composers were great improvisers, and what fun they must have had!  In this class students will learn the basics of improvisation with models from Bach to Mozart to Chopin.  Students will draw upon the pieces they play for ideas, and discover a new way of looking at the piano.

Composition Workshop 

Students interested in composition are placed in small groups according to their levels, which range from beginning to advanced. Students receive individual attention and develop techniques and skills for writing for small ensembles and orchestra. Exploration of style, both traditional and experimental, is encouraged.


A class in which students learn the fundamentals of orchestral conducting techniques and score reading. Two levels, beginning and intermediate, are offered.

Diction for Singers

Diction for Singers will explore phonetics and pronunciation in English, Italian, German and French. One semester will be devoted to each language, with an introductory study of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the standard system used to represent and transcribe sounds in any language. The individual vowel and consonant sounds of each language will be studied, with both spoken and written work, and then applied in singing.

Discovering the Secret of Musical Composition 

This elective is based on the theories of Claude Debussy, who encouraged “souls destined for music” to look within ourselves and our surroundings to discover the most beautiful ideas music has to offer. This course will offer a fascinating look into the minds and methods of composers throughout the world and across all styles and genres, including (but not limited to): Bach, the Beatles, Samuel Barber, Beethoven, Luciano Berio, Borodin, John Coltrane, Debussy, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Hermeto Pascoal, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Thelonious Monk, Radiohead, Schumann, U2, William Grant Still, Vivaldi and Neil Young.

In addition to lectures, each student will be required to give a 15-20 minute performance presentation, where they will identify, prepare, perform and discuss a selection (or excerpt from a larger work) of their choice, highlighting those influences found in the environment and specifically how these influences are expressed in the language of music. The class will collectively discuss how this knowledge has shaped their interpretation of the piece. Promising to offer a unique and memorable experience, this elective is open to all high school aged students.

Double Bass Ensemble

This class offers double bass students the opportunity to rehearse and develop the many skills necessary to create a high-performing, musical ensemble. The class explores the vast repertoire of compositions and arrangements written for double bass ensemble, and presents these pieces in concerts throughout the year. Emphasis is placed on the goal of creating a musical, cohesive ensemble sound which also serves to hone skills that will carry over into orchestral section playing, chamber music, and solo performances.

Exploring Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries 

The objective of this course is to provide students with a basic understanding of 20th & 21st century music, specifically, music that is based on systems other than traditional major-minor tonality. Students will engage the music through various activities aimed at offering different views of the pieces being studied. Activities will include listening, playing, sight-singing, composition exercises and basic post-tonal analysis. Students must have completed or passed out of JR/HS Theory I and JR/HS Ear Training A.

Film Scoring 

Introduction to film scoring provides the student with an overview of the fundamentals he/she needs to acquire in order to function in this medium. Film scoring is a highly specialized, creative, knowledgeable and unique form of composition. The film composer must combine traditional and contemporary training as well as have a wide understanding of the technical, historic and creative aspect of marriage between picture and sound, some understanding of the film-making process and considerable compositional skills. The class will cover a wide variety of topics with strong emphasis on student projects & participation.

Flute Ensemble 

Flute Ensemble is open to all MSM Precollege flutists as well as woodwind doublers wishing to improve their skills as a flutist and ensemble player. This ensemble provides students with a broad performance experience of repertoire written for flute ensemble - from trios to larger flute ensemble pieces, and pieces for multiple flutes with piano, and on occasion with solo vocalists. Each semester the Flute Ensemble performs on a Performance Showcase and also presents a formal concert towards the conclusion of each semester. Repertoire is selected from the Baroque Period to the 20th Century, which provides members of the Flute Ensemble with a valuable ensemble experience and knowledge of available flute ensemble music.

Guitar Ensemble 

Guitar Ensemble is a class in which guitar majors explore the growing repertoire for multiple guitars. Works examined and performed are written by prominent contemporary composers for the growing number of professional ensembles around the world. There is also a sizeable number of transcriptions of works by the great masters, such as J. S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Franz Josef Haydn. Rehearsal skills are stressed, sight-reading is enhanced, and the sense of belonging to a musical community is a goal of the class. All Guitar Ensemble students must be currently enrolled in a primary or secondary guitar lesson with a Precollege Faculty member.

Harp Ensemble 

Harp Ensemble is designed to introduce each student to the range of professional harp literature. The class is a combination of harp ensemble and study of music drawn from the orchestral, choral, opera and ballet repertoire. Each semester, students will become familiar with a large number of pieces through listening and preparation of excerpts.

Harp Workshop (non-harp majors) 

Harp Workshop is step-by-step introduction to the harp offered in a group setting, covering basic to intermediate harp technique and repertoire. While the class is open to all instruments and levels, a background in piano is helpful (but not required).

Jazz Improvisation for Non-Majors 

Jazz Improvisation for Non-Majors is a course designed to provide the classical major with fundamental concepts needed to compose spontaneously. Blues and basic jazz forms are covered through performance and recordings. Exploration of jazz rhythm is central to the class.

Jazz Keyboard Harmony 

This course is an introduction to common jazz keyboard techniques, chord symbols, and chord voicings. The focus is on current jazz performance practice.

Music History 

A survey of the trends and styles of western music from medieval to the 21st century.

Musical Theatre 

Musical Theatre focuses on contemporary Broadway literature through a combination of applied voice, acting, and movement technique. The first semester is devoted to developing the skills necessary to perform this exciting and ever evolving genre, while the second semester is spent working on a performance project selected to utilize the gifts of the ensemble. Audition required.

Opera Workshop 

Opera Workshop is designed for high school students who are interested in opera performance. The class works on performance and auditon techniques and presents a public performance at the end of the spring semester. Audition required.

Percussion Ensemble

This performing ensemble is designed to develop chamber music and rehearsal skills while acquainting the student with the vast and growing body of ensemble music for percussion instruments. Repertoire covered ranges from classics of the genre to newer works, as well as improvisation, giving the student an overview of the requirements of being a contemporary percussionist. The ensemble performs at least one concert per semester in addition to playing concerts outside of MSM and is open to Precollege classical as well as jazz percussion majors.

Piano Lab (non-piano majors) 

A group class in elementary to intermediate piano for non-piano majors. Students having some or no prior training may register.

Piano Literature I (grades 6 and above)

The piano literature is among the richest collections of works in the cannon of classical music.  From its inception the piano has been the beloved instrument of some of music’s greatest minds who have poured their most personal thoughts into works for this instrument.  This class explores the most essential works written for the piano and examines the lives and times of the composers who wrote them.

Piano Literature II (grades 7 and above)

As an instrumental form, the true classical concerto possesses unique dramatic possibilities which, when in the hands of genius, create some of the most captivating moments in music.  This class is an up close and personal look at what makes a concerto such a powerful and yet elusive form.

Piano Literature III (grades 8 and above)

How do some pieces survive the progression of time, while others exist on the fringe, living only briefly when a performer is inspired to bring a forgotten masterpiece back to the public?  There are many such works in the piano repertoire, each waiting for the right pianist to come along and give them another moment in the sun.  We will explore unknown masterpieces in this class, as well as take a new look at some favorite pianistic war-horses.

Reed Making 

The art of making reeds for the oboe is an essential part of the tonal, aural and acoustic development as an oboist. As the student’s concept of how to use their air changes in conjunction with the demands of the music, so does the reed, thus the need for the skill to continually subtly change the reed to meet these new demands. This class will focus on each stage of the reed-making process such as cane selection, tying, scraping, pre-gouging, and gouging.

Saxophone Ensemble 

Saxophone Ensemble is a workshop which includes highly motivated saxophonists (majoring in classical or jazz) who are encouraged to write and perform their own transcriptions, arrangements, and original compositions. Assigned repertoire consists primarily of classical and contemporary selections, chosen to facilitate a thoughtful chamber music experience. The ensemble (usually a quartet) performs one concert per semester, and is responsible for determining the concert order and providing program notes. Students, performing without a conductor, learn to take responsibility for elements of tone quality, intonation, dynamics, phrasing, style, and stage presentation. Discussions include saxophone history, performance practice, and how to prepare for a career in music as a saxophonist.

Vocal Accompanying 

A class for high school pianists who are interested in learning skills that are necessary in order to be a successful accompanist. Students will cover repertoire including art songs, Broadway selections, concert and operatic arias, choral music, and popular music. Skills covered in the class include sight-reading techniques, preparation of the score, improvisation, transposition, matters of style, and ensemble issues specific to singers. Students will have the opportunity to accompany professional singers as well as students.

Woodwind Ensemble 

Woodwind Ensemble is open to all Precollege instrumentalists studying flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. This ensemble was created to give students an opportunity to experience playing in a woodwind section in addition to their orchestral experience. Repertoire has included Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds, Cello and Bass, wind serenades by Mozart and Beethoven, music for double woodwind quintet and various mixed woodwind ensemble repertoire. Past semesters have also included themed concerts such as a focus on operatic transcriptions for woodwind ensemble and 20th-century repertoire. Woodwind Ensemble presents several performances each semester.

Performance Ensembles

Large Ensembles

Students must audition for positions in large ensembles and will be placed according to their ability. Assignment to all large ensembles is made by the Precollege Administration, in consultation with the conductors and directors, and is based solely on audition.

Small Ensembles

Chamber Music

Chamber music is an elective and placement is made by the Precollege Administration. Pianists may be required to audition for chamber music. Because of the difficulties in matching students by level and requests, there is no guarantee that all students will be placed in a chamber music group each semester. Students wishing to be considered for chamber music must complete the Chamber Music Request Form by May 1st of every year.

Performance Opportunities

The Precollege Division encourages performance and thus offers several opportunities in the form of recitals, showcases, and concerts. Students are not required to attend each week, but they are always invited to listen.

Performers Showcase

Performers Showcase gives students the opportunity for individual and group performances. Performers Showcase takes place approximately ten times during the academic year and is open to the public. 

Studio & Student Recitals

Studio recitals are an opportunity for students to perform with other members of their teacher's studio. Non-graduating student recitals and studio recital requests are submitted by the teacher.

Senior Recitals

A graduating senior is permitted, but not required, to schedule and perform an entire 40-minute graduation recital.

Lessons & Juries

Each student is entitled to one 60-minute lesson for 29 weeks. The 30th lesson is reserved for juries.

Juries will occur once a year at the end of each spring semester. Juries ensure that a student's progress merits continuation in his or her program of study. Jury scores are also a determining factor in evaluating eligibility for scholarship for the following year.