This article is written for those who have some basic knowledge of music theory. If you are not familiar at all with the concepts discussed, take some piano lessons quickly before heading off to college!
If you have learned to play an instrument or had formal voice training, you should have learned to read music. But, depending on the instrument or your singing part, you may have learned to read only one of the clefs. If you only learned to read treble clef, you need to also learn to read bass clef for your college music classes. If you only learned to read bass clef, learn the treble clef as well. College music theory encompasses both staves, so you want to be proficient at identifying notes on both treble and bass staves.
Key Signatures and Scales
You will be expected to have the ability to play and/or sing in various keys. The best way to work on this skill is to practice scales in different keys. Find a resource (book or online) that includes instruction on proper fingering–this will help you play more quickly and more accurately.
Simple and Compound Meter
Be familiar with the basic meters or time signatures. Most beginning students can play in 4/4 or 3/4. Expand your skills to becoming comfortable in meters such as 6/8 and 12/8. This will give you a head start on many of the students in your first music theory classes.
Before enrolling in college theory classes, you should be able to play basic rhythm patterns without much effort. This only becomes possible with careful and consistent practice. (Have you guessed that I am a music teacher?) Reading music is much like reading your native language–the more you do it (the right way) the better you get! The first time you practice a piece of music, go slowly enough to count out each note and rest. As you become familiar with where the piece is going musically, you can begin to play or sing up to tempo.
Check out the resource section for additional help with this topic.