All students in the School of Music must successfully complete a piano proficiency examination as a requirement for graduation.

Proficiency Examinations for Non-Keyboard Majors

Proficiency examinations are administered near the end of each fall term and spring term. The exam will be split into two different groups of components, taken a week apart, and retakes of a small number of un-passed items will be allowed following the second part of the exam if the listening committee deems it feasible that the student could finish up the exam with another week of preparation. Students must prepare all portions for their first exam attempt, and students take the examination on the recommendation of their teacher. All students should take the examination by the end of the fourth semester, but it may be taken sooner if the teacher feels that the student is ready. Any portions not passed after retakes at the end of a term will be reattempted in subsequent semesters. Passing the proficiency exam is a requirement for graduation. Once the exam in complete, students are no longer required to register for piano.

Week 1:

Item 1: Technique

  1. Scales — 2 octaves up and back down, hands together, all majors and harmonic minors prepared; strictly observed minimum tempo of 120 beats per minute (playing quarter notes).
  2. Arpeggios — 2 octaves up and back down, hands together, all majors and minors prepared; strictly observed minimum tempo of 80 beats per minute (playing quarter notes).
  3. Blocked chords — 2 octaves up and back down, hands together, all major and minor triads prepared; playing in succession root position, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, root, 1st, 2nd, root going up and then returning down in reverse order.

Item 2: Repertoire

Performance-track majors are required to memorize; all others are not. Piece must be of a difficulty level represented by the following choices (although repertoire can be chosen from outside this list):

  1. Kabalevsky: Fairy Tale, Clowns, Toccatina
  2. Tchaikovsky: In Church
  3. Schumann: Wild Rider (must be a true Allegro tempo)
  4. Clementi: Sonatina in C Major, Op. 36, No. 1 (1st movement)
  5. Burgmüller: Arabesque

Item 3: Sight-reading

  1. Sight-read a keyboard work of upper elementary difficulty, with a basic chord and melody texture.
  2. Simultaneously read two lines from an open score (non-transposing instruments or voices).

Item 4: Transposition

Transpose a single line at sight.

Item 5: Chord Progressions

  1. Prepare I, IV, I, V (or V7), I in all 24 keys, playing hands together with three-voice chords in both hands (starting I in root position and proceeding with closest-position inversions).
  2. Prepare a second progression with 48-hr advanced notice using LH single bass pitches and RH three-voice chords, student choosing starting RH inversion but then following proper voice-leading rules. Progression will be more involved but will require preparation in a smaller number of keys.

Item 6: (for voice majors only): Vocal Warm-ups

  1. Play 5-note scale in RH with LH root position chords (or both hands doing the pentascale), moving up or down by ½ steps through an octave.
  2. Play RH octave arpeggios (Do, Mi, Sol, Do and back down) with LH root position chords, moving up or down by ½ steps through an octave.

Week 2

Items on this portion of the exam will be distributed immediately upon completion of the first week’s exam in order to have a week’s preparation time.

Item 1: Score-reading

Student plays section of four-voice open score.

Item 2: Accompanying

Students plays functional rendering of accompaniment chosen by faculty, accompanying either a fellow student on the solo line, or — if a student is not available — accompanying one of the piano faculty playing the melody line higher up on the piano. Accompaniment does not have to include all notes but must be supportive of soloist in key, rhythm, and harmonies.

Item 3: Harmonization

  1. All Bachelor of Music Education students: From a sheet with melody and lead sheet notation (letter symbols — not Roman numerals), be able to play in two different styles: 1) RH melody as printed with LH playing with some type of appropriate broken-chord accompaniment style (such as waltz bass, Alberti bass, etc.); 2) LH roots and RH chords, while singing melody or accompanying faculty as they sing/play the melody.
  2. All other majors: From a sheet with melody and lead sheet notation (letter symbols — not Roman numerals), be able to play melody as printed with blocked LH chords, following good voice-leading in the chord progression.

Item 4: (for all Bachelor of Music Education students): Hymn Playing

Play one hymn as printed. Hymn will be chosen by faculty committee.

 

Proficiency Examinations | Piano as Primary Instrument

Performance track piano majors (B.M. degree) are exempt from the separate exam, as necessary skills will be covered in the required Advanced Keyboard Skills class.
Piano majors in the B.M.A. or B.M.E. degree programs should read on.

Proficiency examinations are administered near the end of each fall term and spring term. The exam will be split into two different groups of components, taken a week apart, and retakes of a small number of un-passed items will be allowed following the second part of the exam if the listening committee deems it feasible that the student could finish up the exam with another week of preparation. Students must prepare all portions for their first exam attempt. Any portions not passed after retakes at the end of a term will be reattempted in subsequent semesters. Passing the proficiency exam is a requirement for graduation.

Week 1:

Item 1: Technique

  1. Scales — 4 octaves up and back down, hands together, all majors and harmonic minors prepared; strictly observed minimum tempo of 108 beats per minute (playing sixteenth notes).
  2. Arpeggios — 4 octaves up and back down, hands together, all majors and minors prepared; strictly observed minimum tempo of 108 beats per minute (playing triplets).
  3. Blocked chords — 2 octaves up and back down, hands together, all major and minor triads prepared; playing in succession root position, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, root, 1st, 2nd, root going up and then returning down in reverse order.

Item 2: Sight-reading

  1. Sight-read a keyboard work of lower intermediate difficulty.
  2. Simultaneously read two lines from an open score (non-transposing instruments or voices).

Item 3: Transposition

Transpose a single line at sight.

Item 4: Chord Progressions

  1. Prepare I, IV, I, V (or V7), I in all 24 keys, playing hands together with three-voice chords in both hands (starting I in root position).
  2. Prepare a second progression with 48-hr advanced notice using LH chord roots and RH three-voice chords, student choosing starting inversion but then following proper voice-leading rules. Progression will be more involved but will require preparation in a smaller number of keys.

Item 5: (BME only): Vocal Warm-ups

  1. Play 5-note scale in RH with LH root position chords (or both hands doing the pentascale), moving up or down by ½ steps through an octave.
  2. Play RH octave arpeggios (Do, Mi, Sol, Do and back down) with LH root position chords, moving up or down by ½ steps through an octave.

Week 2:

Items on this portion of the exam will be distributed immediately upon completion of the first week’s exam in order to have a week’s preparation time.

Item 1: Score-reading

Student plays section of four-voice open score.

Item 2: Accompanying

1. With 48 hours preparation time, student plays a functional rendering of an accompaniment excerpt chosen by faculty, either accompanying a fellow student on the solo line, or--if a student is not available--accompanying one of the piano faculty playing the melody line higher up on the piano.  Accompaniment does not have to include all notes but must be supportive of soloist in key, rhythm, and harmonies.

2. At sight, play the melody line and essential harmonies and rhythms of a song accompaniment, in the manner of a vocal coaching session (supporting a singer who is learning a piece).  As with number one, accompaniment does not have to include all notes.  A common approach is to play the melody in the right hand and the bass clef part in the left hand. 

Item 3: Harmonization

  1. BME: From a sheet with melody and lead sheet notation (letter symbols—not Roman numerals), be able to play in two different styles: 1) RH melody as printed with LH playing with some type of appropriate broken-chord accompaniment style (such as waltz bass, Alberti bass, etc.); 2) LH roots and RH chords, while singing melody or accompanying faculty as they sing/play the melody.
  2. BMA: From a sheet with melody and lead sheet notation (letter symbols—not Roman numerals), be able to play melody as printed with blocked LH chords, following good voice-leading in the chord progression.

Item 4: (BME only): Hymn Playing

Play one hymn as printed. Hymn will be chosen by faculty committee.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to have all the components ready for the first attempt at the proficiency?

Yes. All portions must be prepared for the first attempt.

When am I allowed to retake components of the exam during the same semester?

Retakes occur approximately one week after the initial exam attempt.   A small number of retakes are allowed upon the recommendation of the teacher, if he or she thinks it may be possible to pass all of them with one more week's preparation. 

What happens if I don't pass all of the components?

Any portions not passed after retakes will be retaken at the end of the following term (spring or fall; exams are not administered during January term). You do not have to retake any portions you did pass. For example, if a student passes everything except scales and sight-reading, only scales and sight-reading will be tested in the following term.  All other components remain passed.

How long do I have to stay registered for class piano?

You must stay registered for piano until you have completed the entire proficiency, regardless of what the rest of your schedule is like. It is in your best interest to complete the proficiency by the end of your fourth semester, in order to avoid extra fees for continued study of a secondary instrument and to free up your course load for other classes.

What if I pass the entire proficiency exam in my first, second, or third semester? Do I still take class piano?

Your class piano requirement is now complete.  You may elect to take private piano lessons, but there will now be a fee assigned for elective lessons.

What is the committee listening for in the sight-reading component?

Tempo should be steady, and observance of key signature is of utmost importance. (A slow and steady performance is highly preferable to a fast but erratic tempo.) Obviously, correct note-reading is hoped for, but it is possible to pass with a few note errors if the performance is otherwise solid in areas such as key signature, stable meter, basic chord recognition, etc.