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 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 after arriving on campus and during Wildcat Welcome. 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.
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 languages other than English, 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 June email.
Music Placement Exams
Exam I: Music theory
- Part I—Basic skills (required). This part of the music theory exam covers fundamentals such as note reading, major and minor key signatures, rhythmic notation and beaming, intervals, and triad and seventh chord construction and identification. This part is for placement purposes only.
- Part II—Advanced placement (optional). Part II of the music theory exam is offered for students who wish to place into an honors section or place out of some first-year course sequences. Unlike high school courses, the honors designation does not mean an increased workload; it does mean a more rigorous application of topics. Part II measures advanced proficiency and readiness for in-depth studies in these areas:
- Counterpoint: species writing and terminology
- Figured bass: realization and melodic composition
- Tonal harmony: Roman numeral analysis, nonchord tones and cadence types, part-writing, and harmonization of a given melody or bass line
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 musictheory.net and teoria.com are helpful resources. If you have questions, please email Professor Susan Piagentini at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.)
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 course in a language other than English; for Medill, two distribution requirements or one distribution requirement and a course in a language other than English; 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:
- Music theory (0.5 units)
- Aural skills (0.5 units)
- Keyboard skills (0.5 units)
- Ensemble—band, orchestra, or chorus (0.5 units)
- Applied lessons (1 unit)
- Nonmusic elective/distribution requirement (1 unit)
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:
- Voice majors also register for vocal solo and diction classes.
- Some instrumental majors also register for studio class or studio ensembles.
- First-year music education majors take a music education class instead of a nonmusic elective/distribution requirement.
- Piano and composition majors may defer meeting the ensemble requirement to their second year or later.
- Jazz majors take an improvisation course instead of keyboard skills.
The Bienen School’s Office of Student Affairs is ready to assist you.