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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. Academic advising does not begin until mid-August through early September, and there are no music-specific requirements to fulfill before then. However, be aware that all incoming music students take music placement exams before arriving on campus. Theory and aural skills exams will be offered online on September 7; required online tutorials begin in mid-August. An overview of the 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

Academic advising and fall quarter registration occur within the Purple Prep period, prior to students arriving to campus. The advising opportunities mentioned above will fully prepare students for fall quarter course registration on September 9 or 10. You will also participate in a virtual peer adviser group meeting in early September for additional support. Learn what a peer adviser is and when you’ll hear from them.

Your registration appointment day and time will be announced in late July. You share an appointment time with your peer adviser group, allowing your PA and a school staff member to virtually support your group during your registration block. More information regarding advising and registration, along with when you can begin looking at available courses, will be released in August’s Purple Prep email. Students do not need to make class selections or prepare a course schedule prior to meeting with their academic adviser. 

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.

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.) Watch your email in late August for keyboard placement information.

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.