5 Best AP Music Theory Prep Books (2020)

Best AP Music Theory Study Books

You’ll need to know how to define pitch, scale, intervals, and other musical concepts for the AP Music Theory exam. Not only that, but part of the test includes sight-singing a melody and notating music that you hear.

Just reading from a book isn’t enough to prep you for the AP Music Theory exam. You’ll need multimedia materials to help you practice for the aural components of the test. Here are some of the best prep books that will help you ace the exam.

Compare: The Best Books to Prepare for the AP Music Theory Test

Our #1 Choice
Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
Runner Up
Barron's AP Music Theory with MP3 CD
Also Consider
Julie Johnson's Guide to AP Music Theory - Second Edition
Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
Barron's AP Music Theory with MP3 CD
Julie Johnson's Guide to AP Music Theory - Second Edition
Our #1 Choice
Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
Runner Up
Barron's AP Music Theory with MP3 CD
Barron's AP Music Theory with MP3 CD
Also Consider
Julie Johnson's Guide to AP Music Theory - Second Edition
Julie Johnson's Guide to AP Music Theory - Second Edition

AP Music Theory Prep Book Reviews

These five prep books use a mix of theory and multimedia elements to help you practice.

1. Barron’s AP Music Theory: With Downloadable Audio Files

Yet another installment from America’s most popular AP prep books — this time covering AP Music Theory.

Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series

Year: 2018

Number of pages: 696

Our Final Grade: A+

All of Barron’s prep books prepare you for the AP exam. This one covering music theory is no different.

The beginning of the book covers the material you need to know. These educational chapters include practice questions to help you better understand the material. There’s also downloadable content available to allow you to further develop your ear and practice with musical notation.

The book comes with comprehensive practice exams. They include aural, non-aural, and free-response — all of which mimic what you’ll see on the AP Music Theory exam.

This book has everything you need for the AP Music Theory exam, from music fundamentals to harmonic organization to test prep. We recommend it as a go-to resource to fully prepare for the exam.

Pros

  • Covers every aspect of music theory
  • Has downloadable content to help study aural components of music theory
  • Includes two full-length practice exams with detailed answers

Cons

  • Not suitable for cramming — you need to have lots of time (>3 months) to study.

2. Barron’s AP Music Theory with MP3 CD

It’s cheaper than the more recent Barron’s AP Music Theory prep book and contains additional practice material.

Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series

Year: 2014

Number of pages: 688

Our Final Grade: A-

This is the second edition of Barron’s AP Music Theory (the previous one is the third edition). While it won’t be as up-to-date, this book still provides in-depth lessons on music theory. It also includes two full-length practice exams and detailed answers in the back.

The CD component may feel a bit outdated, but that means you can prep without access to the internet or listen to study material in your car. Since this book is a bit older, you can buy it for cheap too. It’s a good option if you’ve completed all the practice exams you had access to and want to take more.

Pros

  • Easy to understand music theory material
  • Two full-length practice exams
  • Includes CD for aural prep

Cons

  • Older — published in 2014

3. Julie Johnson’s Guide to AP Music Theory

Piano teacher Julie Johnson teaches the fundamentals of music theory and how to apply them on the exam.

Publisher: Julie Johnson Music

Year: 2019

Number of pages: 538

Our Final Grade: B+

Julie Johnson’s book takes you through the fundamentals of music theory. Starting at basic rhythms, notes, and other music fundamentals, she guides you through the harder concepts masterfully. She uses her years of teaching music to make the book easy to understand.

The book is a bit more expensive than the other ones on this list, though, and only includes one practice exam when others include two. Her downloadable content will be helpful in perfecting your sight-singing and other requirements for the AP Music Theory exam.

Pros

  • Written by a music theory expert
  • Includes a practice exam
  • Downloadable content available

Cons

  • Expensive

4. Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert

A comprehensive music theory book created by an experienced guitar player.

Publisher: Amazon.com Services LLC

Year: 2016

Number of pages: 226

Our Final Grade: B

Nicolas Carter has written multiple books on playing the guitar, guitar scales, how to read music, and how to understand music theory.

The book is available digitally. It’s cheaper than physical prep books and one less heavy thing to carry around.

It’s comprehensive and easy to understand, but it’s not tailored to the AP Music Theory exam. You won’t get practice questions or full-length mock exams to better prepare you for the real thing.

This book is an ideal option if you want an introduction to music theory or need to review important concepts quickly. Those currently taking an AP Music Theory class may find some of the material redundant.

Pros

  • Goes through all levels of music theory
  • Cheap
  • Available digitally

Cons

  • Not tailored to the AP Music Theory exam

5. Music Theory For Dummies

This book makes the difficult field of music theory easy to understand.

Publisher: For Dummies

Year: 2015

Number of pages: 336

Our Final Grade: B-

You’ve probably heard of the For Dummies series, as they cover various topics in an accessible manner. Their music theory edition is no different. It walks you through music theory fundamentals and slowly adds complexity.

The book doesn’t focus on the AP Music Theory exam, though, so you won’t get practice questions or extra test prep. But this book will be useful for students wanting a refresher on music theory concepts before the exam.

Pros

  • Simply written
  • Comprehensively covers music theory
  • Includes digital content

Cons

  • Not tailored to the AP Music Theory exam

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some important things to know about the AP Music Theory exam.

What Do I Need to Know About the AP Music Theory Exam?

It’s nearly three hours long. The exam will require you to answer 75 multiple-choice questions in an hour and 20 minutes. This portion is worth 45% of your grade.

Next is the written free-response. There are seven questions to answer in an hour and 20 minutes. This part is worth 45% of your total score.

Finally, there’s sight-singing. You have ten minutes to sight-sing two melodies. You’ll have a little over a minute to look over the music, and you’ll get a starting pitch.

What Are the Best Ways to Learn Sight-Singing?

In addition to the materials in your prep book, use the internet. There are lots of free videos to help you train your ear, learn scales, and find the starting pitch.

The pitch portion of sight-singing will be more challenging than the rhythm, unless you have perfect pitch. Be sure to watch videos from music experts to boost your sight-singing abilities for the exam.


Conclusion

There are many ways to prepare for the AP Music Theory exam. You can watch YouTube videos on the subject or sign up with a tutor. But the best way to prepare for this exam is to buy a prep book, and we recommend Barron’s AP Music Theory book.

It’s not only tailored for the AP exam but includes plenty of practice questions to help boost your learning. There’s plenty of material to teach you music theory, so you can use this book with or without enrolling in an AP Music Theory class.

The included digital content further enhances your aural understanding of music and will help you prepare for the sight-singing portion.

We recommend Barron’s 2018 music theory prep book because it’s the most up to date version, but you should think about getting the 2014 version as well if you want additional practice material.

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Brett Gordon
 

Founder of ExamCave.com