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Bienen School of Music

Welcome to Bienen! You can count on our student affairs staff and your BSM peer adviser to offer helpful information and guidance throughout your time here. Below is the information for all incoming first year Bienen students, and transfer students may not need to take these placement tests based on their individual transfer credits. You’ll be contacted by your adviser, Assistant Dean Linda Jacobs, in early July, to discuss any needed exams and your fall quarter schedule

Academic advising does not begin until July through early September, and there are no music-specific requirements to fulfill before then. However, be aware that all incoming music students take one music placement exam before arriving on campus. The music theory exam will be offered online in early September; required online tutorials begin in mid-August. An overview of all three exams, along with sample course schedules, is provided here to help you prepare. Watch for our August emails with tutorial information and information about ensemble auditions for fall. 


Assistant Dean Linda Jacobs serves as the primary academic adviser for all incoming Bienen students. Student affairs staff member Jeff Merkley will be available to advise you on course requirements and registration.

If you are a five-year dual-degree student, you will have an additional adviser from your other school (Weinberg, SESP, McCormick, Medill, or Communication). Most dual-degree students use the Bienen student affairs office as their starting point for advising questions.

Don’t worry if you hear that Northwestern’s other schools start advising their students earlier. Most Bienen advising is deferred until after you complete music placement exams. At least half of your fall course selections will be based on your exam results.

If accessibility services or accommodations are appropriate for you, please initiate the process of registering with AccessibleNU well before Wildcat Welcome, when you will take BSM’s music placement exams.

Fall Quarter Course Registration

You will register for fall courses prior to arriving on campus for Wildcat Welcome. Transfer Student Course Registration takes place on Thursday, August 10th. Your academic adviser will assist you at that time in understanding degree requirements and guide you in determining which classes to take in your first quarter. During Wildcat Welcome, your peer adviser will also provide you with advice from a student lens.

Students do not need to make class selections or prepare a course schedule prior to meeting with their academic adviser during Wildcat Welcome.

AP/IB Credit

If you took AP/IB exams, your credits may count toward your degree. Four-year BSM students follow the Bienen School’s AP/IB guidelines; five-year dual degree students follow the AP/IB guidelines set by their nonmusic school. Advisers will review your AP/IB credits with you during Wildcat Welcome advising sessions.

Non-Music Placement Exams and Assessments

If you plan to take courses in foreign languages, math, or chemistry, or if you’re in a five-year dual degree program, use the guidelines on the Placement Exams webpage to determine which exams or assessments may be required for you. Be sure to note the exam deadlines.

Additional placement exams guidance for your school can be found in Purple Prep's mid-May email.

Music Placement Exams

Exam I: Music theory

Exam II: Aural skills

All new students take this diagnostic test, which includes examples of aural recognition (intervals and pitch patterns, chord qualities and inversions in progressions) and melodic and rhythmic dictation. Depending on your results, an individual sight-singing interview may be scheduled to confirm placement before registration.

A review of aural skills and basic music theory over the summer is encouraged. Websites such as and are helpful resources. If you have questions, please email Professor Susan Piagentini at

Exam III: Keyboard skills

This exam takes about five minutes to complete and is used to identify an appropriate-level keyboard skills class. Levels range from students with no keyboard experience to piano performance majors. (Jazz majors are exempt from this requirement.) 

Course Planning

Based on your music placement exam results, you will be assigned to specific sections of this fall’s music theory and aural skills classes. A keyboard skills class, an ensemble, and a private lesson (studio) teacher will also be assigned.

When first-year non-dual-degree music students register, they will have only one course choice to make: a nonmusic elective or distribution requirement course.

In contrast, five-year dual-degree students often defer keyboard skills and take two nonmusic courses, depending on their other school: for Weinberg, a first-year seminar and a distribution requirement or foreign language course; for Medill, two distribution requirements or one distribution requirement and a foreign language course; for SESP, McCormick, or SoC, two fall courses that typically count toward your nonmusic degree requirements.

Sample Course Schedules

A typical four-year music major’s first-year course lineup for fall:

A typical five-year dual-degree student’s first-year fall schedule mostly mirrors that for four-year students, except that it includes two courses for the nonmusic degree, and keyboard skills is deferred to accommodate the additional nonmusic course.

Students in certain majors may be required to take additional courses:


The Bienen School’s Office of Student Affairs is ready to assist you.

Call 847-491-3818 or contact Linda Jacobs  or Jeff Merkley by email.