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Chicago Music Schools with Degree Program Summaries

The Chicago area has a few colleges and universities that offer music programs, including three located within 20 miles of the downtown. Learn about the degree programs, admission info and program requirements for these three schools to make an informed education decision.

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Music Schools in Chicago

The following resource includes a summary of the degree options at three Chicago music schools, as well as a comparison table with important information about admissions and tuition, among other key statistics. At the end of the resource, you'll also find a paragraph about six other schools in the Chicago area that offer programs for aspiring music professionals.

  • Northwestern University, located 20 miles from downtown Chicago, offers specialized bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs through its Bienen School of Music.
  • DePaul University, the largest Catholic postsecondary school in the nation, is located 5.4 miles from downtown Chicago. The university's undergraduate and graduate programs in music include classical and jazz studies, as well as a degree in the recording arts.
  • Columbia College Chicago, located less than a mile from the downtown, offers undergraduate programs in music that allow students to focus on contemporary and popular styles and genres. A specialized master's degree program is also available in composing for visual media.

Northwestern University

The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University has 125 faculty members and 620 students, including 410 undergraduates 210 graduate students. Founded in 1895, the school offers undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degree programs in music.

Bachelor of Arts in Music

The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Music is a liberal arts program with a non-performance concentration. However, prospective students must audition in order to be admitted.

In addition to fulfilling foreign language and liberal arts requirements, students participate in performance ensembles and take core courses in music history, music theory and aural skills. Areas of concentration include composition, musicology, music cognition and music theory. Students can also concentrate in multiple areas. The B.A. in Music program culminates in a senior project.

Bachelor of Music

The Bachelor of Music (B.M.) is a performance-oriented program with concentrations in music cognition, education or theory; jazz; musicology and composition. Instrumentalists can pursue concentrations in piano, strings, brass, percussion or woodwinds; a specialization in voice and opera is also available. Students in the music education program can specialize in choral or instrumental music and prepare for teacher certification in the state of Illinois. Undergraduates can also design their own programs by combining concentrations.

Requirements for the B.M. vary from major to major, but all include six courses in the liberal arts and sciences. Major coursework covers topics in music theory, aural skills, music history and conducting. Some programs, such as performance and music theory, include classes in keyboarding; many majors have ensemble requirements. Students may also have to participate in a junior and/or senior recital.

Master of Music

The Bienen School of Music offers one-year and two-year Master of Music (M.M.) programs. Two-year programs include concentrations in music education, jazz, conducting or performance in brass, percussion, piano, voice, strings or woodwinds. Instrumental students may choose to combine their training with studies in pedagogy. The M.M. program with concentrations in music theory or pedagogy may be completed in one year.

Graduate students who concentrate on music education may complete their programs in one year if they are already certified or two years if they are seeking certification along with their degrees. Requirements vary across concentrations; students may also pursue more than one area of focus. Concentrations in performance require participation in an ensemble, a final recital and a final examination. Some concentrations may have language requirements in German or French.

Doctor of Music

The Doctor of Music (D.M.) program at the Bienen School of Music emphasizes both music scholarship and performance. Concentrations may reflect those taken at the undergraduate level and include conducting, composition or instrumental performance. Students who concentrate on piano can also focus on piano accompaniment or pedagogy. The D.M. program requires two years of residency with an intensive study of an instrument and/or the area of concentration, as well as a reading knowledge of German or French.

After completing their coursework, students must pass a qualifying examination. They also have the chance to develop their teaching skills through an internship or other related experience. Additional requirements include three or four professional recitals and submission of a body of written work, either in the form of one large document or several smaller documents.

Doctor of Philosophy in Music

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program focuses primarily on music research in two areas of concentration: the first in music theory and cognition, music education or musicology and the second in a non-music field. The program requires full-time residency for nine academic quarters, though students entering with a master's degree can complete the residence in six quarters.

Students pursuing a concentration in music education need a master's degree and three years of teaching experience. All Ph.D. candidates must pass a portfolio assessment after their first year, gain proficiency in a foreign language and complete a teaching demonstration. In order to have their dissertation proposals approved, students must pass written examinations and oral defenses. Candidates for graduation write and defend dissertations, as well as create presentations or papers that are open to the public.

DePaul University

DePaul University's School of Music has 110 faculty members and grants Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science and Master of Music degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the school awarded music degrees to over 60 students in 2010-2011.

Bachelor of Arts in Music

The B.A. in Music is more academic in focus than the B.M. program; students learn about music in the context of a liberal arts curriculum. Required liberal arts courses include three science classes and two classes each in the following: art and literature, philosophy, religion, society and history. Students also take one year of a foreign language.

Core coursework includes topics in music theory and history, aural skills, conducting, musicology or ethnomusicology. Candidates for the B.A. take 16 quarter hours of private lessons in their instrument and participate in a performing ensemble every semester. In order to graduate, students must gain field or work experience and complete a research assignment called the Senior Capstone Seminar.

Bachelor of Music

Students in the B.M. program may concentrate on performance, composition, jazz and music education. There are also related programs in performing arts management. The performance curriculum allows for further specialization in brass, percussion, woodwind and piano, as well as strings, guitar and voice. Once enrolled, students take private lessons in their instrument and perform in ensembles; courses in pedagogy and music literature are also required.

Students who concentrate in composition receive private lessons and take classes in contemporary music, counterpoint, orchestration and music analysis. The concentration in jazz includes instruction in jazz performance, improvisation, history, theory and pedagogy; studies in arrangement and composition are also part of the program.

Master of Music

The two-year M.M. program at DePaul allows for specializations in jazz, music education, composition and performance, which includes the same instrumental areas offered at the undergraduate level. All concentrations involve core coursework in music history, theory and research, as well as a final comprehensive exam. Concentrations in performance and jazz require participation in performance ensembles and a graduate recital. The specialization in jazz includes instrumental lessons and coursework in jazz improvisation, arranging, pedagogy and/or composition. Composition students have quarterly opportunities to have their work performed and submit a final composition

The M.M. in Music Education takes just over two years to complete and requires summer and evening classes. Program focus is on both the theory and practice of education. Applicants must be certified teachers with a bachelor's degree in music education and a year of teaching experience. The program culminates in a final project or paper.

Columbia College Chicago

With over 15 faculty members, Columbia College Chicago offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music programs, with particular emphasis on popular and modern genres. A Master of Fine Arts in visual media composition is also available.

Bachelor of Arts in Music

All undergraduate music students begin their studies in the B.A. in Music program, which includes 42 credits in the liberal arts and sciences and offers five concentrations: composition, contemporary music, instrumentals, vocals and jazz performance. Students concentrating in composition have opportunities to work with large ensembles and take courses in melody, tonal and chromatic harmony, counterpoint and orchestration; later in their studies, they take private composition lessons. The concentration in contemporary music allows for the study of musical genres, such as Latin or R&B, popular music history and theory. Students also receive training in performing, songwriting, arranging and recording and have opportunities to perform in genre-specific ensembles.

Students who concentrate on instrumentals develop both ensemble and solo playing abilities through an individualized course of study and private music lessons; courses emphasis is on musical styles, like blues, rock, jazz and musical theatre. Vocal specialists focus on both solo and ensemble stage performances and take private lessons in classical voice and a variety of popular genres. The concentration in jazz requires performance in jazz combos, ensembles and orchestras; private lessons and coursework in jazz improvisation, history, theory, composition and arranging.

Bachelor of Music

Students seeking a B.M. from Columbia College begin their studies in a related B.A. in Music program. After earning 45-60 credits, they may audition for the B.M. program and concentrate on composition or contemporary music. The B.M. with an emphasis on composition includes classes in counterpoint, analysis, electronic music, orchestration and conducting.

The contemporary music program emphasizes popular styles and genres and trains students for careers as professional musicians. It includes courses in songwriting, arranging and studio recording; additional coursework covers topics in music technology, business, history and theory. Students also participate in ensemble work and solo stage performances; at the end of the program, aspiring professionals create, perform and record original music with a band. The program also provides study abroad opportunities at European sister schools.

Master of Fine Arts in Music Composition for the Screen

Students seeking a graduate degree in music at Columbia College Chicago can earn a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Composition for the Screen. This is a targeted course of study designed to help students acquire the professional skills needed to work in the field. Under the guidance of their teachers, professionals employed in the field, students work with industry-standard equipment to create their own composition portfolios. They also learn how to score for films and video games, create compositions, conduct and edit music.

Required coursework includes topics in genre and style and film aesthetics; students also develop career skills and pursue independent projects. During their final semester, future professionals participate in an apprenticeship or internship. They must also create a final composition for an advanced student film project, which they then conduct and record with a live studio orchestra.

Comparison of Schools

First-time students can use the following table to compare the cost of attendance at the three featured schools, as well as their prospects for receiving some form of financial aid. Note the open admissions policy at Columbia College, as well as the retention and graduation percentages at all three schools.

Northwestern UniversityDePaul UniversityColumbia College Chicago
School Type4-year; private, not-for-profit4-year; private, not-for-profit4-year; private, not-for-profit
Total Enrollment (2011)20,959*25,398*11,625*
Campus SettingSmall cityLarge cityLarge city
Tuition and Fees (2011-2012) $41,983*$30,618*$20,644*
% of Incoming Full-Time Students Receiving Some Form of Financial Aid (2010-2011)67%*91%*79%*
Acceptance Rate23% in 2010*64% in 2011*Open admissions policy*
Retention Rate (2010-2011)97% of full-time students*86% of full-time students*67% of full-time students*
Undergraduate Graduation Rate (For students starting in 2005) 86% in four years; 94% in six years*49% in four years; 66% in six years*29% in four years; 41% in six years*

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics - College Navigator.

Other School Options

Music programs in Chicago can also be found at Roosevelt University, the VanderCook School of Music and the University of Chicago. Students can also earn a degree in sacred music from the Moody Bible Institute. Other schools in the Chicago area with music programs include Concordia University - Chicago and Elmhurst College.

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    • California campus Stanford
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • Massachusetts campus Cambridge
    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
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    • Pennsylvania campus Philadelphia
    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • Rhode Island campus Providence
    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
  • School locations:
    • North Carolina campus Durham
    Areas of study you may find at Duke University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
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    • Indiana campus Notre Dame
    Areas of study you may find at University of Notre Dame include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
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    • Tennessee campus Nashville
    Areas of study you may find at Vanderbilt University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Performing
        • Piano and Organ
        • Stringed Instruments
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • Florida campus Gainesville
    Areas of study you may find at University of Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
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