Program Information

This page contains specific information for undergraduate students related to ensemble requirements, applied lessons, juries, recitals, program honors, and awards and competitions. Additional information is available for jazz, piano, strings, winds & percussion, and voice & opera


All performance majors are required to audition for, register for, and participate in a major ensemble during every quarter of applied lesson study, with the exception of piano majors, who have a one-year ensemble requirement. Students in ensembles commit to being present for all rehearsals and performances; no unexcused absences are permitted. 

When an absence from rehearsal has been excused, substitute performers may only be approved by the ensemble conductor. Failure to comply with this policy may result in forfeiture of membership in the ensemble.

The instrumentation needed for the large ensembles is pre-determined by the conductors and faculty. If and when additional performers are needed for specific repertoire in a second ensemble, performers will be invited by the ensemble directors to assist in rehearsals and concerts. Students may decline the invitation to play in additional ensembles if they do not wish to participate.

Ensembles that fulfill the major ensemble requirement are:

Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra
Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra
Contemporary Music Ensemble
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Symphonic Band
Jazz Orchestra (for jazz studies majors)
Guitar Ensemble (for guitar majors)
Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble
University Chorale
University Singers

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Applied Lessons

Bachelor of Music Requirement

Bachelor of Music students in good academic standing who have lessons required as part of their degree are guaranteed those lessons with applied faculty. This includes performance and composition majors (four years); music education majors (three years); and musicology, music cognition, and music theory majors (one year). Lessons consist of applied study; each student receives the equivalent of 50 minutes of personal instruction weekly. 

Students requesting applied lessons beyond the required number of quarters for their degree program (i.e. fifth year lessons for dual degree students) must complete the Fifth Year Lesson Request Form (see below), acquire the necessary signatures, and submit to the RCMA Office of Student Affairs for processing.

Fifth Year Lesson Request Form

Fifth year lesson requests must be submitted by January 15 of the fourth year. Students will be notified of a decision via email by the RCMA Office of Student Affairs by May 15. The number of students that the performance faculty may accept is determined by teaching loads and Bienen School of Music policy.

Any student approved for non-required lessons must also be enrolled in a major ensemble in each quarter receiving applied lessons. Although non-required lessons may be approved, there is no guarantee those lessons will continue with the same studio faculty member. Applied lessons are not available for ad hoc majors. 

Lesson Registration

Numbering systems are categorized according to the instrument and class level. Specific course numbers are listed on CAESAR by instrument and teacher. Registration is according to the following levels:

100 - first year level
200 - sophomore level
300 - junior level
300 - senior level
400 - master’s level
500 - doctoral level

Junior and senior music education majors who do not perform an advanced standing jury register for 200-level lessons.

Changing Studios

In instrument and voice areas with more than one faculty member, it is possible to change studios if the preferred teacher has room in his/her class load and if approved by the program coordinator and department chair. The student must discuss any change of teacher with both of the teachers involved and must make a written request to the program coordinator and the department chair. In all cases, applied lessons must be with faculty in the program area of study in order for those lessons to count toward the degree.

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    During the second half of the sophomore year, all performance majors must perform an advanced standing jury before members of the faculty. This jury decides whether or not the student may continue as a performance major. Students who pass this jury are approved for applied study at the 300-level beginning junior year. Details on advanced standing jury requirements may be discussed with the studio teacher and/or program coordinator.

    Should the sophomore receive a "fail" at the advanced standing jury, one opportunity for a replay in front of the program faculty will be offered. Students who are denied upper-class performance major standing at their jury should discuss plans for another major with the program coordinator or the assistant dean for student affairs.

    A student who cannot perform for the jury at the assigned time may make up the examination. The make-up examination must take place within the next quarter in which the student registers for performance study.

    See program-specific guidelines for additional jury information.

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    A minimum of one full-length senior recital is required of all performance majors. In some instrument areas, junior recitals are also required (see degree requirements listed in the Undergraduate Catalog).

    Upon the recommendation of the studio professor, any undergraduate student may present non-required recitals. The studio professor or a designated faculty substitute must attend and approve each undergraduate recital. If the major performance professor cannot be present, the student must present the professor with a high quality recording that can be used to grade the recital.

    Undergraduates presenting non-required recitals may share their recitals with other students. Total recital duration is usually 60 to 75 minutes in length.

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    Program Honors

    Each year, faculty have the opportunity to nominate graduating students for program honors. Eligibility includes:

    • Student must graduate in fall, winter, or spring quarter of the current academic year or summer quarter of previous academic year
    • Student must have a GPA of 3.0 or above 
    • Student must be an outstanding contributor to the program
    • Students majoring in Voice & Opera performance have additional guidelines for Program Honors (see Program-Specific Guidelines)
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    Awards & Competitions

    Through the generosity of individual donors and foundations, special awards are given to select Bienen School of Music students. Descriptions and conditions are on file in the music admission office. Travel expenses may be partially covered for students or student performance groups in certain cases. See the department chair for details, or download the request form below. 

    Travel Request Form

    Northwestern students entering ANY competition must have the expressed consent of their major instructor. Ensembles may not use the name "Northwestern University" or "Northwestern University Bienen School of Music" without the written consent of the Bienen School of Music. International students should check details with the International Office before committing to any engagements. 

    Concerto/Aria Competition

    Juniors, seniors, and graduate students are eligible to compete in the Bienen School’s Concerto/Aria Competition. The winner or winners will perform with one of the university performing ensembles on a regularly scheduled program.

    The competition takes place in the spring quarter for rising seniors and graduate students. Any work with band or orchestral accompaniment may be presented for the audition. The competition will involve two rounds. Each program conducts a preliminary audition prior to the final school-wide round. Each program area will post its initial audition dates. Consult the studio teacher for additional details.

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    See Additional Program-Specific Information

    Strings, Winds & Percussion
    Voice & Opera