Music Theory & Composition

CSMA offers a comprehensive program in Music Theory & Composition - both components of a complete, well-rounded music education.

CSMA’s Music Theory & Composition program teaches music comprehension skills to reinforce and expand on what is learned in private instrument lessons.

Students at all skill levels who study an instrument (at CSMA or off-site) can enhance their private lessons with Core Curriculum classes including Music Theory and Composition. These classes develop a student’s musical intelligence by teaching the reading, writing and listening skills necessary to reinforce and build on what students learn in their private lessons.

What is Music Theory?

Music Theory is reading and writing the language of music. It is the study of the building blocks of music, including harmony, melody and form. Learning music theory is learning to understand the common language of music.

Why Study Music Theory?

  • Music theory helps students develop the skills to understand the language of music.
  • Studying music theory helps students understand how the pieces they play are organized, making them better ‘readers’ of music.
  • Students that study music theory can more efficiently and effectively understand and express what in going on in a piece of music.
  • Understanding music theory, and the language of music, makes better musicians.

What We Offer

What’s New

In Fall 2017, CSMA is changing the curriculum for Music Theory classes to coordinate with the new textbooks. All concepts will remain the same, however a new class numbering system will take effect. See the Current Student Placement Plan chart below. Returning students should contact their CSMA Music Theory teacher for the correct course recommendation. New students should contact Heather Paisar ( for information on placement.

Music Theory Classes

  • CSMA offers a variety of Music Theory classes - from introductory classes to advanced classes including harmony and counterpoint.
  • All CSMA music theory classes include sequential curriculum in written music theory and ear training.
  • Music Theory 1-8: CSMA recommends levels 1-8 for all students. This is a great foundation of music theory fundamentals and gives students the tools they need to make connections between theory and performance.
  • Harmony (Beg, Int, Adv): Harmony courses are advanced courses that cover harmonic function and analysis - how concepts are put together to form musical phrases and compositions. These are upper level courses designed for students with a firm understanding of theoretical concepts.
  • AP Music Theory: This class is for high school students looking to take the AP Music Theory exam.
  • Music Theory for Adults I-IV: Music theory classes are available for adult students at all levels, from beginning to advanced.
Music Theory - Current Student Placement Plan
Course Completed (Passed)Next Course
K-1 Music Fundamentals Class
Intro to Music Theory (1st Graders)Intro to Music Theory for Children (Gr 2)
Intro to Music Theory (2nd Graders who passed)Theory 1
Theory 1Theory 2
Theory 2Theory 3
Theory 3ATheory 4
Theory 3BTheory 5
Theory 1-3 ComboTheory 5
Theory 4ATheory 6A
Theory 4BTheory 7A
Theory 5ATheory 8A
Theory 5BBasic Harmony A (Level 9)
Theory 6ABasic Harmony B (Level 9)
Theory 6BIntermediate Harmony A (Level 10)
Theory 7AIntermediate Harmony B (Level 10)
Theory 7BAdvanced Harmony

Music Composition Classes

  • Music composition develops a student’s ability to use musical language skills learned in theory classes and apply them to their own compositions - learning to communicate musically as a composer.
  • Composition classes are open to students who have completed Theory 4 or Adult Theory III.
  • Composition classes are taught by professional composers and expose students to various music styles.
  • Students complete original works, which may be performed throughout the year.

Music Theory Exams

The Associated Board of Royals Schools of Music (ABRSM), The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program (MDP) and Certificate of Merit (CM) are some of the exams in which our students participate.

While CSMA doesn’t require that students complete music exams, music theory classes are helpful preparation for students that are interested in music exam programs.


  • CSMA Private lesson students receive a 50% discount on one Music Theory (or other Core Curriculum) class each semester (except summer).
  • For more information and direction on class placement, contact CSMA’s Music Classes Program Coordinator, at 650-917-6800, ext 312, or email

For the current class schedule, visit our online registration site or browse our catalog.