Core Curriculum

Undergraduate Core Curriculum

All music students will complete a core music curriculum that incorporates music theory, aural skills, history and literature. In addition to the core curriculum, you will take one-hour primary lessons with applied faculty and participate in various ensembles.

The theory and aural skills curriculum require students to complete four consecutive semesters (two years) of coursework. If you have taken previous music theory coursework prior to NIU, you may complete a music theory placement exam. Music theory credit from other institutions is non-transferable and Advanced Placement (AP) credit for music theory is not accepted by the School of Music. However, upon acceptance to the School of Music, all transfer music majors and minor students will complete a music theory placement exam. First-year students who have completed any music theory coursework or taken the music theory AP exam are welcome to take the placement exam if interested in attempting a higher music theory placement.

Jazz majors will also take jazz theory and aural foundations of improvisation courses. Music education majors will also complete coursework in conducting. As space is available, students can also look to take secondary lessons in conducting.

In addition to theory and aural skills, you will complete two to three junior/senior-level semesters of music history, taken after completing the two-year music theory sequence. Music history courses meet three times weekly. The language and perspective gained through these courses enable you to better understand the music you read and hear, and to converse intelligently with other musicians—including your teachers, peers and your own future students. You can read descriptions of these and other music history and literature area courses in the Undergraduate Catalog.

Instructors of these fundamental courses are developing and implementing curricular changes, to provide a more inclusive and comprehensive background of composers and theorists music for all undergraduate musicians. Additional elective study in the area may be required for some baccalaureate music programs, as well.

Graduate Core Curriculum

The required Master of Music core curriculum includes music theory, music history, research methods and a final recital, thesis, composition or project. We currently offer a number of course options that satisfy the music history area requirement. You can read descriptions of these and other music history and literature area courses in the Graduate Catalog.


Our music theory, aural skills, history and literature faculty members are musicians whose scholarly work has been published and presented internationally and throughout the U.S. These professional activities enable us to provide you with the benefits of our broad experience in both classroom instruction and musicological research. We are all “lifelong learners” who value education and love to teach.

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