The Keynote Independent Theory Service was founded in 1985 by current Director, Christine A. Murow, a piano teacher, composer, and former theory chairman for the Maryland State Music Teachers Association. A unique idea in music education, KITS serves the independent music teacher, classroom teachers, and teacher associations, providing a well-organized music theory curriculum at the elementary and secondary levels, along with student workbooks, and annual examinations. KITS also sponsors the National Music Theory Honor Roll.
A 1967 alumna of Susquehanna University, Mrs. Murow1 first conceived of KITS in the early 80s while serving the MSMTA in its large and far-flung theory program. To bring the yearly exams to more county chapters throughout Maryland, she had the idea of a test kit, containing all the needed supplies, that could be sent to county chairmen. Upon stepping down as state chairman, she took the opportunity to write her own theory curriculum and to launch an examination program, using the test kit concept, for individual teachers and other local or state associations nationwide.
In 1990, the acquisition of a computer facilitated the production and publication not only of the exams but student workbooks as well, not to mention the ongoing sponsorship of the growing National Honor Roll. Eventually there were workbooks available on all seven curricular levels, plus supplemental workbooks for the upper four levels, and a Teachers Manual. By 2001, exam participation topped 1400, and the Honor Roll was listing more than 500 students each year. Late in 2001, with a computer upgrade, KITS entered the internet age, with the promise of improved publications and web access.
1 Listed in Whos Who of American Women, millennium edition.
The Annual Examinations
The KITS Music Theory Course
The National Music Theory Honor Roll
Whats New at KITS?
The KITS Music Theory Curriculum has seven levels, Primary through Step 6, taking the student from the earliest grades to the senior year of high school. Four basic subjects are covered, including 1) Reading, 2) Vocabulary, 3) Listening, and 4) Playing. In summary:
1) READING begins at the Primary level with keyboard geography, progressing on to note reading, music symbols, key signatures, and rhythm fundamentals. The scale is an important concept first explored at Step 1. At higher levels, interval theory is introduced, along with the species of triads and finally harmonic analysis.
2) VOCABULARY begins with recognition and naming of symbols, tempo and dynamic markings, later adding Italian and other terms deemed relevant to the repertoire a student might be studying at a given level. At each Step, the student is responsible not only for the new vocabulary, but also the list from the prior Step, thereby continually reinforcing this knowledge.
3) LISTENING refers to the development of aural skills, beginning at Step 1 in recognizing intervals (2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8ve), major and minor scales and triads, and discerning the meter, i.e. the number of counts per measure. Gradually, more intervals are added, plus different forms of the minor scale, and different types of triads. At Step 3, rhythmic dictation is introduced, and at Step 5, melodic dictation.
4) PLAYING, or applied skills, also begins at Step 1 with simple scales and cadences. More keys are added at higher Steps, along with more advanced scale and cadence requirements, until at Step 6, the student is expected to be able to play four octave scales in all major and minor keys, plus the cadence, I IV I V V7 I, in all positions. These standards roughly parallel those of the National Guild of Piano Teachers. Teachers using the program in the classroom or with instruments other than piano are permitted to adapt the applied skills requirement appropriately.
The difficulty with any music theory curriculum arises from the fact that music teachers diverge widely in teaching the subject. Those with an intense interest will emphasize music theory and expect college level achievement in high school. At the opposite end are those who feel that only the most rudimentary knowledge of music theory will ever be needed by their students. We try to steer the middle course, in the belief that music theory will bring to the majority of students the skills and the understanding of music that will prove of greatest value in their later lives. The KITS policy is that theory should parallel and correlate with a students progress in other areas of his or her music education, so that the subject is always clearly relevant. This policy is manifested in many ways; for example, as keys are added to the scale playing requirement, other questions on the exam, from intervals to triads to key signatures, will assume a knowledge only of those scales. Our curriculum booklet is the music teachers outline of material included on the KITS exams on each of the seven levels, with Sample Test Questions offered, like those appearing on the annual examinations. For a complimentary copy, e-mail your request to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your mailing address. Or click for a printable ORDER FORM.
The KITS curriculum may complement the musicianship phases of the National Guild of Piano Teachers, though differing in specific details. Here is an approximate correspondence to Guild classifications:
Primary Step........ Elementary A Step 3.............Elementary E-F
Step 1................... Elementary B-C Step 4.............Intermediate A-B-C
Step 2................... Elementary D Step 5.............Intermediate D-E-F
Every March a new test is published for each level of the Curriculum. The written part of each exam covers the Reading and Vocabulary requirements. A Listening section tests aural perception, with the teacher playing from a Teachers Guide; and the Playing test is scored by the teacher on a keyboard scoring form on the back page of each exam, starting with a number of points and deducting for note or fingering errors. (An Applied Skills form is also available for teachers of instruments other than piano. In the classroom, the scales and chords can even be sung.) Each exam has 100 points, plus a two-point Bonus Question, for a total of 102 points. A score of 90 or better qualifies a student for the Honor Roll.
Teachers receive a TEST KIT including all test materials: examination papers, keyboard scoring forms, listening guides, answer keys, and certificates. Fees are given on the order form. The exams are available only until September 1 each year.
The idea of having an annual exam in a new edition every year is to minimize the practice of teaching to the test. We want our students to learn all the required key signatures, for example, not just the ones we know are on the exam. We want them to practice all the required scales and cadences, not just those they will be asked to play on exam day. By limiting the availability of the exams, teachers and students alike face a fresh challenge every year.
Teachers have the flexibility to use the exams as suits their own circumstances and schedule. Most follow the academic calendar, giving the test at the end of the year. The exams can be given at individual lessons during Exam Week, or to the whole class on Exam Day. Teachers also determine the placement of students, though guidelines are included in our TEACHERS MANUAL. In general, Primary level is given in the second grade, with Step 6, the highest level, aimed at the high school senior. But students begin music at different ages, and so may be entered at whatever level the teacher feels will yield success. The only specifications with respect to age involve qualification for special awards given by the National Music Theory Honor Roll.
GROUP SPONSORSHIP: The KITS program is used by a number of state and local music teachers associations nationwide to offer the tools of music theory education to their members. By providing the curriculum and annual exams, KITS enables groups to establish a standard of music theory teaching and a ready means for teachers to measure their students against it. The National Honor Roll gives further incentives toward this goal. Our group sponsors have been creative in adapting the program to their student activities agenda and have had wonderful success over the years. Current sponsors include: New Hampshire Music Teachers Association, Main Line Piano Teachers in Philadelphia, Lafayette Piano Teachers in Louisiana, and the Douglas-Elbert Music Teachers Association in Colorado. For associations interested in taking part, we offer the complimentary brochure, GROUP SPONSORSHIP OF KITS, Music Theory Management for the Music Teachers Association.
Before founding KITS, Director Christine Murow worked closely with composer and master teacher, Winifred Hyson, on a similar program for the Maryland State Music Teachers Association. Mrs. Hyson had the following to say:
The KITS music theory program is ideally planned for music teachers and their students. Completion of the curriculum guarantees mastery of the basic theory material necessary for college or conservatory entrance, and the carefully devised tests are freshly written every year. Students may progress at their own speed, earning a handsome certificate as they master each achievement level. For teachers frustrated by the time and effort required to organize this important information into a coherent course of study, the KITS program will prove invaluable.
The KITS Music Theory Course is a comprehensive series of student workbooks, one for each Step of the Curriculum. Each workbook has about 30 lessons divided into four Units corresponding to the four curricular headings: Reading, Vocabulary, Listening, and Playing. A Quiz at the end of each Unit is taken from actual exams, providing excellent practice before the annual test. In fact, the Bonus Questions on the yearly exams are frequently related to Bonus Questions in the workbooks. The workbooks also include definitions of vocabulary terms and a summary of scales and cadences. Both the workbooks and the annual exams are color-coded by level: yellow, green, ivory, peach, blue, tan, and white at Step 6.
At the upper levels, Steps 3 through 6, there are Supplemental workbooks offering 20 or more additional lessons. Since these Steps often require more than a year to master, the extra practice is beneficial, especially when a student has not made the Honor Roll. With the emphasis on reaching Step 6 by the senior year of high school, students understand that it is typical to take two years at these higher levels. The workbooks are $5.00 each, and the supplemental books, $4.00, with no charge for postage. The TEACHERS MANUAL, at $8.50, has answer keys for the workbooks on Steps 4-6, and copies of all the Teachers Guides to the Listening Units, Steps 1-6. (Click here for a printable ORDER FORM.)
Written by KITS Director, Christine Murow, herself a piano teacher since 1975, the KITS Music Theory Course takes a straightforward approach that emphasizes the understanding of music theory concepts above all. The workbooks are only available directly from KITS; and in keeping with their desktop origin, they are not gimmicky or slick, but simply present what every teacher wants his or her students to learn in much the same way you as the teacher would present it. Music is a language, and theory, its grammar, i.e. the description of how people have made music through the ages. That basic knowledge contributes enormously to our students appreciation of their own musical endeavors.
The most positive aspect of the KITS program has to be the National Honor Roll for the incentive it offers teachers and students to earn recognition for their achievement in music theory. The Honor Roll, published in June and September and circulated to KITS subscribers, lists students who score 90 or better on the annual exams. Participating teachers register their honorees following the test and receive a supply of gold embossed seals to be awarded students on their certificates. In registering for the Honor Roll, proof of eligibility is required, either through a photocopy of the test paper or a Declaration of Eligibility, signed by the teacher, student, and a parent. This policy is to ensure the credibility of the Honor Roll as an impartial standard.
While KITS offers teachers complete flexibility with regard to student enrollment in the annual exams, there are certain restrictions for Honor Roll eligibility. The entire test must be given, including the playing of scales and cadences, and these must be played in the keys indicated on the test paper. (An exception is made for classroom and instrumental teachers, who may use keys more suitable to their particular instrument or to voice.) And the test must be given under supervised testing conditions, meaning it is not open-book or take-home, but the teacher or a monitor is present at all times.
Special awards given by the National Honor Roll allow teachers and students to set long-term goals in their music studies. For example, students listed on the Honor Roll for five years receive the 5-Year Medal. Those listed on all seven levels of the curriculum are awarded the 7-Step Trophy. Both of these awards are engraved with the students name. Further insuring that students stay with music for the long haul, qualifications for the trophy include an age restriction: the student must make the Honor Roll on the Primary level before turning 13.
Since the inception of the Honor Roll in 1986, an average of 40 percent of exam participants have been listed each year. Two hundred seventy-six medals have been awarded, and fifty-one trophies.
Here is the latest from our last Newsletter (June 2022):
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