New Theory & History Syllabus


This summer the Royal Conservatory of Music announced  new requirements for music theory & history.  At first glance the new requirements seem to be a major change to the program, but really, it is more of a reorganisation of the material, with an emphasis on incorporating theory and history earlier in a student’s music studies. Early in September, I attended a workshop led by RCM’s Janet  Lopinski, Senior Director Academic Programs, whose name you may recognise as a co-author of the history texts.

The most obvious change to the theory and history syllabus, one I suspect will be welcome by both parents of music students and students alike, is how the different levels are named. Theory and history levels will now correspond to instrument levels, making the understanding of theory co-requisites more intuitive. For example, Level 5 theory is a co-requisite for Level 5 piano or guitar. So like the different RCM levels for an instrument, theory levels are now Preparatory, Levels 1 through 10, and ARCT.

The different levels of the RCM program can be grouped into four progressive sections: Elementary Certificates, Intermediate Certificates, Advanced Certificates, and ARCT.

Elementary Certificates cover the Preparatory Level through Level 4. No theory exam is required or available for these levels. Instrument instructors are strongly encouraged to incorporate theory studies at these levels in the studio or in group lessons. This practice will help prepare the student for theory studies at the intermediate level and beyond. The material covers an introduction to music notation, including key signatures, intervals, and so on. These levels also introduce melody writing and guided listening.

Intermediate Certificates include Level 5 through Level 8. For theory, these levels correspond to the old Rudiments program: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Rudiments. Older students may wish to begin their theory studies with Level 5. As with the old program, students may elect to write exams at each level, or write the Level 8 exam to complete their theory requirements up to Level 8 in their instrument. New material includes melody writing, and an introductory history section. Level 8 introduces some beginning harmony. Although students may choose to skip Level 5-7 exams, they cannot skip the material, it is still accumulative.

Advanced Certificates correspond to Levels 9-10. Theory co-requisites include Level 9 Theory, Level 9 History, Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint, and  Level 10 History, replacing Basic/Intermediate Harmony, and History 1/2. The study of counterpoint is now integrated into the harmony program. There are only minor changes to History 9 and 10 from History 1 and 2.

ARCT Certificate in Performance now requires three co-requisites: ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint, ARCT Analysis, and ARCT History. Students already in the RCM stream should double-check their requirements with the RCM. I have been assured by RCM representatives that any work completed prior to December 2016 will be credited towards the ARCT performance diploma.


As with any new syllabus published by the RCM, there is a crossover period, a period of time where both syllabi are in effect and students may elect to follow either the old syllabus or the new one. The intention of this crossover period is clear: to acknowledge the previous work and accomplishments of students working under the old syllabus, while encouraging new theory students to adopt the new syllabus. We will work with all our students with this intention in mind.

Students enrolled in Fall 2016 theory/history courses

Students enrolled in any Fall 2016 program will continue their studies according to the old (2009) syllabus. This includes students planning to write December 2016 exams and May 2017 exams. When registering for your exam, make double sure you register for the correct exam according to the crossover syllabus below. For example, students of Basic Rudiments will register for Level 5 Theory. I will talk to each parent/student later on to make sure this information is clear.

Starting in January 2017, I will begin incorporating material from the new syllabus.

Crossover Syllabus

The crossover syllabus below lists equivalencies for the old and new programs of study. For example, Level 6 theory corresponds to Intermediate RudimentsStudents will register for their exams under the new names. Exams will follow both syllabi for the December 2016, May 2017 and August 2017 sittings.

The RCM will structure these exams to accommodate material from both the old and new syllabi through a series of optional questions. Students will need to pay particular attention when writing their exams to make sure they choose the correct options!

2016 Syllabus (New Exam Names)
2009 Syllabus
Level 5 Theory
Basic Rudiments
Level 6 Theory
Intermediate Rudiments
Level 7 Theory
Level 8 Theory
Advanced Rudiments
Level 9 Harmony
Basic Harmony
Level 9 History
History 1
Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint
Intermediate Harmony
Level 10 History
History 2
ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint
Advanced Harmony
ARCT History
History 3
ARCT Analysis

New Texts/Materials

Texts and study materials are now available in music stores for levels: Preparatory through Level 8. The planned release date for Levels 9 -10 and ARCT texts is December 2016, fingers crossed. The title of the series is Celebrate Theory.

I am happy to discuss the new program with parents, students and teachers,