Graduate Programs in Music - NIU - School of Music

Graduate Programs

Graduate Programs in Music

Summer 2016:  Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance workshop -- July 18-22 
Contact Professor Mary Lynn Doherty at for details.

Northern Illinois University is strongly committed to artistry and scholarship in all areas of music. Admission to any graduate program in music is determined by specific criteria, which must be met by all applicants.

Admission is a two-part process. Prospective students must apply for admission to the Graduate School and are subsequently admitted to a graduate program by the School of Music after performing an audition or meeting other entrance requirements.

The School of Music does not require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Initial requests for information about advanced degrees in music and/or application materials may be made by contacting the School of Music Coordinator of Graduate Studies. Further information about graduate study and music graduate programs can be found in the School of Music Student Handbook and in the Graduate Catalog. Application forms and other important information can be found on the web page of the Graduate School.

Master of Music (M.M.)

The Master of Music degree is a 32-semester hour program consisting of 13 semester hours of core requirements plus 19 semester hours taken within one of three specializations: music education, music performance, or individualized study. Individualized studies include music history, music theory, composition, world music, jazz, recording techniques, and computer music and new media technology, or they may be distinctive cross-disciplinary programs.  View curriculum checklists.

Admission to the M.M.

A baccalaureate degree in music or a diploma from an accredited conservatory or music school is required for admission to the M.M. program. In rare circumstances, applicants whose undergraduate degree is in a field other than music may be considered for admission with special stipulations regarding the completion of undergraduate deficiencies. Other admission requirements will vary, depending upon the specialization that is selected.

Music Education: Applicants are admitted to this specialization only after review of application documents and a brief interview/audition with a committee of the music education faculty.  Applicants must have public school teacher certification and a minimum of three years of public school teaching experience to be considered for admission. New for music education: MUSC 699 portfolio option.

The School of Music offers a summer graduate program in music education for public school teachers.

Performance: Applicants are admitted to this specialization only upon the recommendation of a committee of the performance faculty after an audition and review of application documents. Candidates should be prepared to perform a full-length program of the undergraduate senior recital caliber or higher for their audition. Where distance precludes an in-person audition, a CD, DVD, or VHS cassette of a full recital program may be submitted.

Individualized: A student may design an individualized specialization with course work selected from existing courses, seminars, independent study, internships, or special projects, offered both on- and off-campus. While this specialization may share some features with published specializations, its thrust should be distinctive. Individualized study may consist in part of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary courses that combine music study with such areas as anthropology, art, business, computer science, dance, theater, electronics, ethnic studies, mental health, or special education.

In cases where courses in other departments are to be used, the applicant must confirm with that department that the program is feasible.

Typical individualized specializations where the program concentrates entirely on music include composition, world music, jazz studies, and recording techniques.

Applicants are admitted to this specialization only upon the recommendation of a committee of the music faculty after an in-depth examination for competence in music and/or other applicable fields, and a review of application documents.

The Master of Music Individualized Specialization option permits qualified graduate students to major in Music Theory and/or Composition. An audition is not required, but a portfolio must be submitted as part of the application. In composition, we request scores and (CD, mp3, or YouTube) recordings of three recent works exhibiting variety in both instrumentation and style. In music theory, we request two recent analytic papers. Portfolios may be mailed directly to the School of Music to the attention of the Theory/Composition Area Coordinator. Send copies only, and if you wish your materials returned, please also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for this purpose. Alternatively, pdf papers, scores and mp3 files may be e-mailed directly to:

Performer's Certificate (P.C.)

The Performer's Certificate is a post-master's certificate program. The purpose of the P.C. is to enable advanced students to attain greater mastery of their chosen fields than they can achieve in formal study through the master's degree level. This 24 semester-hour program includes private instruction, research related to performance, and performance experience designed to develop fully-independent professional musicians.

Admission to the Performer's Certificate

Applicants for the P.C. program should consult with the School of Music Coordinator of Graduate Studies. To be eligible for admission, students must normally have completed work equivalent to that required for the M.M. degree at NIU. Applicants are required to perform an audition or submit a recording representative of their performance ability.

In some cases, applicants who demonstrate exceptional performing abilities, equivalent to a Master of Music level or greater, and who have completed a baccalaureate degree or diploma from an accredited institution or conservatory, may be recommended by the faculty for admission directly into the P.C. program. However, persons admitted to the P.C. program in this manner must reapply to the Graduate School if they seek entry into a graduate degree program such as the Master of Music.

Performer's Certificate Gainful Employment Disclosure

Program Information

Northern Illinois University complies with the U.S. Department of Education's Gainful Employment requirements by disclosing information to applicants regarding the Performer's Certificate program.  

The links below provide occupational information from a national database (O*Net OnLine) about the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) profession classifications of Postsecondary Music Teacher, Music Director (Conductor), and Musician.

25-1121.00    Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary
27-2041.01    Music Directors
27-2042.00    Musicians and Singers
27-2042.01    Singers
27-2042.02    Musicians, Instrumental

Graduates of the School of Music’s Performer's Certificate program have combined the program with the Master of Music at NIU, have pursued further graduate studies (Master of Music or Doctor of Musical Arts) at other institutions, and pursued employment among the following employment possibilities, often combining several into a portfolio career:

Recording Artist (solo or as a member of a group)
Orchestra or Choral Member
Chamber Ensemble Member
Solo Performing Artist
Accompanist/Collaborative Musician (for solo or ensemble work)
Military Music Ensemble (Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Orchestra)
Private Studio Teacher
Recording Session Musician (commercials, industrial films, etc.)
Floor Show performer (singer or musician for Las Vegas/Branson/cruise ship-type shows)
Theatre Pit Musician
Church Music Director or Performer
Freelance Performing Artist
General Business musician (weddings, corporate functions, bar/bat mitvahs, the like)
Jazz Group Member
Music manufacturer's product demonstrator/sales representative
College/university instrumental or vocal teacher
Movie/television soundtrack recording musician

Normal Time to Complete the Program

This program is a 24 semester-hour program that can be completed in one academic year if a student takes 12 credit hours each semester for two consecutive semesters. The actual time to completion for any student may be more or less than 1 year depending on the number of courses the student takes during each term and whether the student is participating in the Performer's Certificate program in conjunction with other graduate study.

Of the students who completed the program during the 2011–2012 year, 60% completed the program in one year, 80% completed in 2 years or less.


In-state tuition per semester credit hour for graduate students for 2014-2015 is $349.18. All students are subject to mandatory fees. An Illinois resident enrolling in this program for the Fall and Spring semesters of the 2014–2015 academic year, taking 12 hours each semester and completing the program in the year would pay on average: 

$     8380.32   Tuition 
$     2715.92   General Fees (this does not include health insurance or any optional fees)
$       150.00   Average Course Fees
$  11,246.24   Total

On average full-time graduate students spend $700 per year for books and supplies.

Non-Resident (out-of-state) tuition is $698.36 per semester hour. Total non-resident tuition for 24 semester hours is $16,760.64. Other costs are the same for students who are not Illinois residents. Information about all tuition and fee charges as well as a tuition estimator can be found on the Office of the Bursar webpage at: Tuition and fees are established for one academic year and are subject to annual review.  Please see the Tuition Estimator for the most up to date information.

Student Load Debt

In general students who are fully admitted to this program and enroll full-time for both fall and spring semesters can borrow up to $20,500. This loan amount is not required to cover the cost of the program and students are advised to only borrow the amount needed.

NIU does not disclose information about median loan debt for this program because the Department of Education has determined, based on the number of students who participate in and complete the program, disclosing this information would not meet privacy guidance.

Graduate Assistantships

Assistantships are awarded in all areas on the basis of merit and School of Music needs. Assistants with full- or half-time appointments will have assigned responsibilities occupying from 10 to 20 hours weekly, including, where relevant, participation in School of Music ensembles.  Please submit the graduate assistantship application to the School of Music Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

Assistantships include a monthly stipend for nine months plus a full tuition waiver. These awards do not cover incidental fees, which may be as much as $1,700 per term.  See Graduate Tuition and Fees.

Northern Illinois University is an AA/EEO employer. Minorities and women are encouraged to apply.

Tuition Waivers

The College of Visual and Performing Arts has a limited number of tuition waivers for talented graduate students. Recommendations for waivers are made by area faculty after the admission audition. Students who receive artistic talent waivers are expected to perform in School of Music ensembles, as needed, and to provide other services to the school. These awards waive a portion or all of the graduate tuition charges up to a maximum of 9 credit hours per semester but do not cover General Fees, which may be as much as $1,700 per semester. Students with talent tuition waivers can apply for an additional year of waiver support. The university also has a limited number of Recruitment tuition waivers and Underrepresented tuition waivers. Students may receive one type of award in their first year and apply for a different type of award in their second year.

Application deadlines for Fall 2015:
University Recruitment and Underrepresented Tuition Waiver: [late February]
College of Visual and Performing Arts Artistic Talent Tuition Waiver:  March 1, 2015

Application is made here:

More information on waivers can be found here:

Diagnostic Examination

All newly-admitted Master of Music students must be prepared to take the School of Music Diagnostic Examination at the start of their first term on campus. Depending upon the results of this examination, students may be required to take and pass specific courses to remove deficiencies. Such courses are above and beyond the 32 hours required for graduation.  Click here for a study guide. The Diagnostic Examination is not required for Performer's Certificate students.  Students undertaking an individualized specialization in Jazz Studies are not required to take the traditional theory and history exams, but must take a jazz diagnostic test, instead.  Click here for the jazz study guide.

NIU alums who completed their degrees no more than three years prior to beginning graduate study, and who maintained a B average or better in Theory and Aural Skills will be exempt from taking the theory diagnostic exam or the theory review class.  Likewise, students who maintained a B average or better in Music History classes will be exempt from taking the history diagnostic exam or the history review class.

Comprehensive Examination

All graduate students in the Master of Music program must successfully complete the School of Music Comprehensive Examination, usually taken during the final term. The Comprehensive Examination is not required for Performer's Certificate students.

Illinois Public School Teacher Licensure

Graduate students in conducting, performance, or individualized study programs may request to add Teacher Licensure to their degree program. (The MM in Music Education program is reserved for certified teachers with at least three years of teaching experience.) Admission to the Teacher Licensure program is based on an interview as well as audition, review of transcripts, and essay. Students must have an undergraduate degree in music to be considered for licensure.

Students who wish to earn licensure only will not be put into an MM program, because the majority of the licensure coursework is undergraduate classes. NIU now offers a Post-Baccalaureate program for applicants who have an undergraduate degree in music; students who wish to apply for this program should fill out the undergraduate application for NIU and then contact Dr. Mary Lynn Doherty, Coordinator of Music Education, and Ms. Lynn Retherford for more information.

Note: The Teacher Licensure program in music is a five semester program, with four semesters of required coursework and a semester long student teaching requirement. Classes are primarily offered during the daytime hours (9-4pm) and mainly occur during the fall and spring semesters.

Music Course Fees

Some courses in the School of Music include additional fees that range from $2 to $100 per course enrollment. Total additional music course fees in a semester typically total $75 to $200 per semester and support the following:

  • Maintenance and repair of instruments and equipment provided for student use
  • Course materials such as audio/video recording media, reeds, music provided to students for use in the course
  • Purchase of specialized equipment for use by students in the course
  • Purchase of audio/video recordings used in the course
  • Guest lecturer honoraria
  • Travel/mileage expenses for students/supervisors for course activities
  • Piano accompaniment of vocal applied study