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RCM Music Theory ​


30, 45 or 60 minutes

Private & group, in-person & online


Credit for VCM & RCM certification program

Program Overview

The study of theory is an essential component of well-rounded musical training and is intended to support practical studies to enhance and enrich the musical experience. The Royal Conservatory theory curriculum provides an effective, well-sequenced path for developing musical understanding and literacy. Theory studies begin with an introduction to the basic elements of music notation at the Elementary levels and culminate with structural and harmonic analysis at the Advanced levels.

Students are strongly encouraged to include the study of theory at every level, with examinations required as corequisites for comprehensive certificates from Level 5 and up.

Elementary Theory Levels

Preparatory Theory, Level 1 Theory, Level 2 Theory, Level 3 Theory, Level 4 Theory.

Preparatory through Level 4 Theory introduces students to the basic elements of music, including notational conventions, melody writing, analysis, and guided listening of selected works from various musical genres and styles.

The Elementary Theory levels are not tested with formal examinations. Their purpose is to provide a foundation for well- rounded training and lifelong music making. The concepts listed in each theory level are strongly recommended for concurrent study at each practical level.

Theory Certificates and Diplomas Offered

1. Intermediate Certificates

Level 5 Theory, Level 6 Theory, Level 7 Theory, Level 8 Theory.

Level 5 through Level 8 Theory builds on the foundations established at the Elementary levels and further develops students’ understanding of notational conventions, analysis, melody and composition, and music history.

Intermediate level examinations require cumulative knowledge of concepts from all previous levels.

A theory certificate may be earned by successful completion of each theory examination. A comprehensive certificate may be earned by successful completion of each practical examination and its corequisite written examination.

2. Advanced Certificates


Examinations Required

Level 9 Theory Certificate

• Level 9 History
• Level 9 Harmony (or Keyboard


Level 10 Theory Certificate

• Level 10 History
• Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint (or Keyboard Harmony)

Associate (ARCT) Theory Certificate

• ARCT History
• ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint (or Keyboard Harmony)

• ARCT Analysis

Harmony, Counterpoint, and Analysis

The study of harmony builds on the knowledge of basic elements acquired in the earlier levels of theory. The focus on melody writing expands to include multiple phrases constituting small binary form pieces. The integration of counterpoint enables students to master the two-part procedures of tonal music, leading to the exploration of contrapuntal forms such as inventions and fugal expositions. The harmonization element focuses on the functional relationships of tonic, pre-dominant, and dominant harmony, which expand to include chromatic vocabulary. Structural analysis continues to build on the phrase and period models, building from simple binary and ternary structures into larger instrumental forms such as compound ternary, rondo, and sonata.

The study of analysis builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in Level 9 Harmony and Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint, and it complements the study of ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint and Levels 9, 10, and ARCT History by incorporating a detailed study of musical forms, elements, and compositional techniques and approaches. Overall, students gain an understanding of musical structure and syntax from the Baroque to Modern eras that allows them to engage more deeply with the music that they hear and play.

Keyboard Harmony

The study of keyboard harmony builds on the knowledge of basic elements acquired in the earlier levels of theory, and allows students to explore melody writing, harmonization, and analysis at the keyboard in a direct and practical manner.

Utilizing the vocabulary of Level 9, Level 10, and ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint, students gain an understanding of musical structure and syntax, while also building aural awareness, gaining ease and confidence in practical musicianship, and developing the creative impulse.


The study of music history allows students to develop a deeper understanding of the repertoire that they encounter in practical studies. Through exploration of composers’ lives and musical styles, encounters with great works from the literature, and exposure to genres and terms that help build a musical vocabulary, students become more musically literate and gain an increased awareness of music as a living art. History at the Advanced and Diploma levels supports a deeper understanding of music in its social context and stylistic features associated with music from various time periods.

Resource: RCM Theory Syllabuss


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VCM Music Theory


30, 45 or 60 minutes

Private, in-person & online


Intensive theory course, credit for VCM certification program

The comprehensive VCM music theory course offers an intensive music theory course for students interested in learning the theoretical aspect of musical performance deeply and quickly. The course encompasses the following subjects:

The Fundamentals of Music

– Notation

– Scales, Tonality, Key, Modes

– Intervals and Transposition

– Chords

The Structural Elements of Music

– Cadences and Non-harmonic Tones

– Melodic Organization

– Texture and Textural Reduction

– Species Counterpoint

– Voice Leading in Four-Part Chorale Writing

– Harmonic Progression and Harmonic Rhythm

– The Dominant Seventh Chord

– The Leading-Tone Seventh Chords

– Non-dominant Seventh Chords

– Secondary Dominant and Leading-Tone Chords

– Modulation

– Two-Part (Binary) Form

– 17 Three-Part (Ternary) Form

The Renaissance And Baroque Periods

– Late Renaissance Polyphony

– Two-Voice Eighteenth Century Counterpoint

– The Fugue

Chromatic Harmony

– Borrowed Chords

– Neapolitan 6th Chords

– Augmented 6th Chords

The Classical Period 

– Variation Technique

– Sonata Form

– Rondo Forms

Extended And Chromatic Harmony

– 9th, 11th, and 13th Chords

– Altered Dominants

– Chromatic Mediants

The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries

– The Romantic Period

– The Post-Romantic Style

– Impressionism and Related Styles

– The Early Twentieth Century

– Pitch-Class Set Theory

– Twelve-Tone Technique

– Postlude: Music Since 1945


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