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Last Updated On January 3, 2021

What’s the Best AP Music Theory Textbook & Prep Book in 2021?

Editor's Choice
Barron's AP Music Theory Book - 3rd Edition
Barron's AP Music TheoryCheck Current Price
#2nd Best Choice
Julie Johnson's Guide – Best AP Music Theory Book
Julie Johnson's GuideCheck Current Price
#3rd Best Choice
The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening
The Complete MusicianCheck Current Price

The AP Music Theory exam is considered one of the more challenging tests to take, but this does not negate the fact that it could be a good option for musically-inclined students to put their abilities to work.

In this course, you'll learn about music fundamentals, including harmonic dictation and rhythm mastery. With this, it pays to have a solid background if you want to ace both your class and exam.

You can start by getting the best AP Music Theory prep book. In this review, you'll know which study guides could help you plan better and study smarter.

5 Best AP Music Theory Books in 2021

1 - Barron's AP Music Theory Book - 3rd Edition (Editor's Choice)

Barron's AP Music Theory Book - 3rd Edition

Based on our research, Barron's AP Music Theory book is one of the best AP Music prep books around. Nancy Scoggin, a music expert, wrote the book.

It covers an in-depth review of the AP course key chapters, including music fundamentals, organization, progression, music dictation, aural skills, and more.

This AP review book includes two full-length practice tests for both aural and monaural concepts of AP Music. You'll also find answer explanations for each concept to make it easier for you to understand and follow.

As with other AP review books and study guides from Barron's, the AP Music Theory book also includes test-taking tips, practice exams, and better preparation strategies.

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Pros
  • Comprehensive AP Music Theory book
  • Key concepts well-explained
  • Value for money
  • Includes numerous practice tests
Cons
  • Visual presentation is not impressive

2 - Julie Johnson's Guide – Best AP Music Theory Book

Julie Johnson's Guide – Best AP Music Theory Book

Julie Johnson's Guide to AP Music Theory follows the College Board's advanced placement format requirements, which makes it one of the best AP music theory prep books.

The book includes a CD for easy preparation for the AP music theory exam. You'll find several drills, multiple-choice questions, practice exams, and comprehensive music analysis to help you master the key concepts of AP Music.

After reading a few chapters, we were impressed with how each element was explained clearly, making it ideal for beginners.

Each lesson is also suitable for both ear training and sight singing.

Pros
  • Good teaching resource
  • Ideal for ear training
  • Suitable for both students and teachers
  • Easy to understand
Cons
  • Might need supplemental review materials

3 - The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening

The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening

The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening is a review book primarily designed for undergraduate music courses.

It focuses on the music theory content overview rather than the music skills.

Most students find it a comprehensive material if you want to learn all aspects of musical theory, making it one of the best AP Music Theory prep books today.

It discusses different music fundamentals, including the importance of writing and developing musical writing skills aside from music analysis.

One drawback we've noticed, though, is that this version is not thoroughly updated.

Pros
  • Good for beginners
  • Relevant review material
  • Focuses on music theory
  • Affordable option
Cons
  • Not an updated version

4 - Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory is a music theory book that aims to develop your aural skills through proper ear training.

While this is not aligned to the AP Music course, you'll find helpful theoretical information in each unit of the book.

Based on our research, the questions provided in the book more or less covers the same problems you'll encounter while taking the AP Music Theory exam. You can use these questions to gauge your progress as you prepare for the AP exam.

Most former test-takers we've talked to recommend this book for self-starters, so if you're looking for a review material before the AP class starts, start reading Alfred's book.

Pros
  • Ideal for self-studying
  • Contains several helpful questions
  • Aims to develop aural skills
  • Good reference book
Cons
  • Not aligned to the AP Music Theory course

5 - Elements of Music: Pearson New International Edition

Elements of Music: Pearson New International Edition

The Elements of Music review books also focuses more on the content of the AP Music Theory course. With its comprehensive approach to learning, this review book is ideal for beginners and self-starters.

We like how the musical concepts are discussed in detail so you get a better understanding of the subject as you prepare for the AP exam.

Based on our review, The Elements of Music book can also double as a reference book so either way, it could be a very resourceful material while taking the AP class and preparing for the exam.

This prep book is on the pricey side but most students we've talked to claim that the quality is worth it.

Pros
  • Good for beginners
  • Contains in-depth discussion
  • Can be used as a textbook and reference book
  • Focuses on theory
Cons
  • A bit on the pricey side

Things To Consider

College Board AP Music Theory Exam Information Date and Time

The AP Music theory exam is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. It is divided into two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.

Section 1: There are 71 multiple-choice questions. You have 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete this section. This section will account for 45% of your exam score.

Section 2: There are seven written questions and two sight-singing questions in the free-response section. You have 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete this section. This section will account for 55% of your total exam score.

Section 2 has two parts:

1. Written section includes the following.

  • 4 questions on dictation
  • 2 question on part writing
  • 1 question on the composition of a bass line

2. Sight singing section includes the following:

  • Sing and record two diatonic melodies
  • You have 75 seconds to examine and practice each melody. And total 30 seconds to perform it

Our Final Thoughts

After going through quite a few AP Music Theory prep books, we've come up with the following recommendations:

For a comprehensive discussion of the key concepts and complete with answer explanation, you can go with Barron’s AP Music Theory – 2019 Review. It also comes with a CD for both the aural and monaural chapters of AP Music. We like how it includes full-length mock tests to track your progress.

If you want a quick study guide, you may also want to consider Julie Johnson’s Guide – Best AP Music Theory Book .

Barron's AP Music Theory Book - 3rd Edition

Our #1 Recommendation

Barron's AP Music Theory Book - 3rd Edition

  • Comprehensive AP Music Theory book
  • Key concepts well-explained
  • Value for money
  • Includes numerous practice tests
  • Get the BEST PRICE until the end of January
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About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

1 Comment

  • Aw, this was a really good post. Taking the time and actual
    effort to produce a really good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

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