Music Theory in High School

Issues and Answers



Terry Eder - Carrolton, Newman Smith High School

Kent Ellingson - Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts

Bill Phillips - Plano Senior High School

Nancy Scoggin - Joshua School District

Blaise Ferrandino - (moderator) AP Music Theory Consultant for Southwest Region



This discussion of the Theory Instruction in High School will focus on: curricular issues; content; space and scheduling logistics associated with instructional choices; AP music theory, the vertical teams initiative, and considerations associated with college preparation and placement.


When available, the high school music theory/literacy experience is extremely important.  In this environment the student receives such training from a trusted mentor who, in many cases, becomes the major influence upon career choice.   The teachers in these positions are usually charged with other duties besides the teaching of music theory.  In many cases, they are ensemble directors.  In any case, the student knows this person as a musician and not 'just a theory teacher'. 


In recent years AP Music Theory has increased in importance throughout the nation.  In the last 5 years the number of exams given nationwide has increased twofold (approximately 3,500 to 7,000). Most of the students who take the test go on to major or minor in music. What AP has provided is a standard of excellence agreed to by respected high school and college instructors.   Regardless of an institution's stance on whether and/or how to accept the scores, the student who has been through a curriculum constructed with AP in mind is better prepared for the college classroom.


Today's panel features four very successful high school music theory teachers.   Their respective job responsibilities, apart from music theory include:  choir director, keyboard and jazz instructor, instrumental lesson instructor, and even stagecraft.  Each has taught theory at different levels and is responsible, in some way, for the overall theory curriculum in use at their school.