Are you a high school student who loves music and art? If so, you might wonder which AP course you should take to challenge yourself and impress colleges. In this blog, we’ll compare and contrast these three AP courses. We’ll cover what each course teaches, who should take it, how hard the exam is, and resources you can use to prepare.
What is an AP Course?
The advanced placement, or AP, program is run by the College Board. It offers college-level courses and exams to high school students. By taking an AP course, you can earn college credit, skip introductory university courses, and demonstrate your academic rigor and passion for a subject. Over 30 AP courses are available in math, science, history, language, and arts. Today, we’re going to focus on the arts!
What is Covered in Each Course?
While AP Music Theory and AP Art History cover different topics, they are both AP art classes. Let’s start by looking at what topics they cover.
AP Music Theory
AP Music Theory is a course that teaches the fundamentals of music theory, such as notation, scales, chords, intervals, harmony, melody, rhythm, form, and style. The course also develops your aural skills, such as sight-singing, dictation, and listening analysis. To pass the course, you’ll need to understand the following:
- Music Fundamentals: Pitch, Major and Minor Scales, Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, Melody, Timbre, Texture, Diatonic Chords, and Chord Inversions
- Harmony and Voice: Soprano–bass counterpoint, 4-part (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) Voice Leading, Harmonic Progression, Functional Harmony, Cadences, Embellishing Tones, Melodic Sequence, Motives, Writing Secondary Dominant Chords, and Leading-Tone Chords
- Modes and Form: Melodic Relationships and sections of music such as the Introduction, Interlude, Bridge, Verse, Refrain, Chorus, Coda, and Codetta
AP Art History
AP Art History is a course that, unsurprisingly, explores art history from various cultures and periods, from prehistoric times to the present. It is broken up into ten units, each covering a distinct period of time:
- Global Prehistory, approximately 30,000–500 BCE
- Ancient Mediterranean, from 3500 BCE–300 CE
- Early Europe and the Colonial Americas, circa 200–1750 CE
- Later Europe and the Americas, from 1750–1980 CE
- Indigenous Americas, around 1000 BCE–1980 CE
- Africa, which covers 1100–1980 CE
- West and Central Asia, approximately 500 BCE–1980 CE
- South, East, and Southeast Asia, around 300 BCE–1980 CE
- The Pacific, circa 700-1980 C.E.
- Global Contemporary, from 1980 C.E. to Present
You’ll simultaneously build several skills as you look at artwork from each period. These include visually analyzing art and connecting it to its created context. You’ll also be asked to evaluate the relationships between a work of art and a related artistic tradition. This analysis could include comparing it to another piece of art from the same period or another entirely. Alternatively, you might be asked to identify the artist or how the artist’s contemporaries might have received a piece of art.
By the end of the class, you should have developed an understanding of art from multiple periods around the world.
Who Should Take AP Music Theory or AP Art History?
As a general rule of thumb, students should take APs that align with their interests. With that being said, let’s look at the majors and careers where these APs might be of particular benefit to your education.
AP Music Theory
AP Music Theory isn’t for the faint of heart. Even if you like music, it’s best taken by students with formal training in an instrument or singing. Going into the class with an understanding of how to read music will greatly help you. Additionally, it also helps if you have a background in musical composition or at least an understanding of the basics of chord structure and harmony.
If you’d like to know if you’re prepared for the class, you can always read through the syllabus that the College Board posts on its website. If you’re familiar with most of the topics, then it might be a reasonable class for you to take.
However, AP Music Theory isn’t valuable for most career paths. Here are some careers where it might be of benefit:
- Performing Arts: If you plan to join an orchestra, write scores for movies, or join a band, you should consider studying music in college. To do so, you will need a solid foundation in music theory and aural skills. Taking AP Music Theory can help you prepare for college-level music courses and exams and enhance your musical abilities. Taking this course will also help you learn how to compose music. This can be very helpful, as many colleges in the US require students interested in performing arts to submit an art portfolio. While not all programs will ask you to submit your written music, it will be a plus at most places.
- Music Education: To become a music teacher, you’ll need to know how to teach your students music theory and aural skills. Taking AP Music Theory can help you develop your pedagogical skills and knowledge. More importantly, it will also improve your musicianship and confidence.
- Music Therapy: If you want to become a music therapist, it’s beneficial to understand the composition of music. Taking AP Music Theory can help you understand how to create and analyze music, guiding future interventions. You’ll learn more about the psychological and physiological effects of music in university, but learning about the basic structure of music can be a great help.
Taking AP Music Theory can be valuable to the right student. However, in general, it’s not useful for many students.
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AP Art History
AP Art History is another class that benefits from some preparation. Students who have prior exposure to art or world history will find it easier to master the material in this class. You should also be interested in the subject, as that will make it easier to memorize all the details involved with acing this class!
If you’re uncertain if this class is right for you, you can always start by looking at the syllabus. The College Board creates this free resource to help teachers prepare their students for the exam, but you can also use it to take a sneak peek at the material as you’re trying to make up your mind.
AP Art History is the most valuable to students who want to pursue art history or related fields as a major in college or desire to develop critical thinking and visual analysis skills. Some careers that might benefit from taking AP Art History are:
- Art Historian: Obviously, if you want to study art history in college, you’ll need a broad and deep knowledge of the history of art from various cultures and periods. Taking AP Art History can help you prepare for college-level art history courses and exams. It might also help you decide on which period of history you’d like to specialize in, as many art historians are experts in a particular area.
- Art Restorer or Conservationist: If you love art, but don’t have the creativity or desire to create your own artwork, becoming an art restorer or conservationist might be an excellent career. Many people in this field work in museums to conserve art and repair damage. Taking AP Art History can teach you about different forms of art and the cultures that created them.
- Visual Arts: If you want to become an artist or a designer, understanding the past is the key to building on it. You’ll need to know how to create original and meaningful artworks that reflect your personal voice and vision. Taking AP Art History can help you learn from the masters of art history, inspiring your artistic expression and innovation.
Outside of art, several careers can benefit from improved visual analysis, from cutting hair to interior design. Critical thinking is even more broadly applicable, as many jobs are more interested in how you think and solve problems. As such, AP Art History can be a valuable class when taken as a supplement to other APs more related to your chosen career.
How Hard is AP Music Theory vs. AP Art History?
The difficulty of an AP exam depends on various factors such as your preparation level, interest level, and test-taking skills. Let’s look at the score distribution from the 2022 exam cycle.
Most universities require a score of five on AP exams before they award students with credit, though some will give credit for a four. In 2022, 18.7 percent of students who took AP Music Theory received a five on the exam. However, 61.9 percent scored a three or higher, which is considered a passing grade.
AP Art History has a similar pass rate, as 61.4 percent of students score three or higher. However, it has a slightly lower percentage of students who score a five: only 14.1 percent. Here is the full score breakdown for both exams:
|AP Music Theory||18.7%||17.7%||25.5%||23.7%||14.4%|
|AP Art History||14.1%||21.0%||26.3%||26.9%||11.6%|
How to Study for AP Music Theory
The exam for AP Music Theory has two sections. The first is a multiple choice section, and it comprises 45 percent of your grade. The second section, known as the free-response section, is divided into two parts: written and singing. The written section is worth another 45 percent, while the sight singing is with the remaining 10 percent of your grade. While you’re studying for AP Music Theory, you’ll need to keep each of these parts in mind.
In the multiple-choice section, you’ll be tested on your understanding of both written and aural music. As such, you must train yourself to hear different rhythmic patterns and identify different styles of music. Using a program like EarBeater, you can work on improving your aural skills.
Of course, it is essential to do practice questions while you’re studying for AP Music Theory. While Khan Academy has an old music course, it doesn’t contain the complexity necessary to pass AP Music Theory. (Though, it’s a great resource to check out if you’re trying to decide if you’re interested in music theory!) Instead, try out Barron’s AP Music Theory*. As one of the few books with audio practice questions, it can help prepare you for all aspects of the test. However, if you discover that the music theory is causing you problems, you might want to pick up The Circle of Fifths*. It’s a more visual and mathematical approach to understanding music, which some students find more intuitive. The author has also written companion workbooks if you need practical practice.
How to Study for AP Art History
Like AP Music Theory, the AP Art History exam has two sections. The first section is multiple choice, while the second section is free response. Each section is worth 50% of your final grade.
To get through the multiple-choice section, you’ll need to know all the artwork covered in the course. One of the best ways to do this is by using flashcards. While you’ll get more out of a set you’ve created for yourself, you can start studying over the summer using a set another student has created. Remember that the information might be outdated or wrong, so it’s always best to create your own as you progress through the class.
Another great way to study for AP Art History is to practice your visual analysis and essay writing skills using past exams or online resources. Unlike AP Music Theory, Khan Academy has a great AP Art History course, which is a great place to start if you’re trying to self-study or work ahead over the summer. Other free resources include this art history timeline from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
If you want to purchase a book for practice questions, consider either Barron’s AP Art History* or The Insider’s Complete Guide AP Art History*. Barron is a solid choice, with complete coverage of all the units and multiple practice tests. In contrast, The Insider’s Guide focuses on Units 6-10, comprehensively covering the artwork and making connections between different pieces of art that you can write about in the essays. It’s designed to be a supplementary text if your teacher is mostly focused on European art, but it also includes practice questions that are praised for being very similar to the test.
When Are AP Exams?
The AP Music Theory and AP Art History exams are usually administered in May. The exact dates vary depending on your location and testing format. You can check the AP exam schedule for more details.
Hopefully, this blog has helped you understand the similarities and differences between AP
Music Theory and AP Art History. If you want to take these courses, consider asking your counselor whether they would help you pursue a career you’re interested in. You can also talk to the teacher for each class for more guidance.
Taking an AP course can be challenging but rewarding, as it can help you develop your academic skills, explore your passions, and earn college credit. If you want help deciding between other similar AP classes, you can check out our other blogs, including one disambiguating AP English Language and AP English Literature!
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