Music (BA | BMus)

Refine your skills in Columbia College Chicago’s Music bachelor’s degree program, which focuses on contemporary, jazz, and popular music. In core classes, you’ll learn theory, composition, improvisation, arranging, technology, history, analysis, and aural skills. You’ll enroll in private lessons for your primary instrument/voice and complete coursework designed to provide collaborative music-making experiences with students and faculty members. You’ll also gain performance experience in ensembles that play a variety of styles and genres.


An audition for admission is not required, but Music Department faculty members will evaluate your music theory knowledge and performance skills before your first semester. The goal of this evaluation is to place you in the appropriate level of coursework. If you don’t have formal training, our curriculum will help you gain the knowledge and skills you will need to develop and refine your talents. If you do have formal training, we will place you in courses that will bring your musicianship to the next level. 

Degrees Available

The Music Department at Columbia College Chicago offers three degree options: the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Music and two Bachelor of Music (BMus) degrees. Regardless of your program, you may audition for any ensemble and may take private lessons.

Columbia’s BMus degrees are designed for students who want a career in performance, composition, or production. They both require more credits and more specialized music coursework than the Music BA. Both BMus degrees include the same core of foundational coursework as the BA degree. The BA degree provides a broad education in the field but has more flexibility for students to pursue other passions outside of music through a minor or double major.
If you plan to apply directly to the BMus programs, you’ll need to include some additional materials.

View course requirements:

Curriculum Highlights


All Music majors (instrumentalists and vocalists in the BA and BMus programs) perform in ensembles as part of their coursework. You’ll gain skills and experience in collaborative music-making. We offer a wide range of ensemble courses in contemporary, urban, and popular styles. Genres covered in ensemble courses include pop, rock, jazz, R&B, fusion, and gospel. All ensembles are directed by our faculty of professional musicians. Columbia also has ensembles dedicated to creating original music, allowing you to gain experience in arranging, rehearsing, recording, and performing.

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Private Lessons

As one of your degree requirements, you’ll take private lessons with faculty members who are experienced professional musicians. The lessons are available across a range of vocal and instrumental genres and styles. During this dedicated time with faculty members, you’ll master your performance skills and hone your distinctive sound.

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Performance Opportunities

Chicago is a great place for students studying the performing arts. You’ll have many performance opportunities in a variety of settings, both on campus as part of your coursework and in Chicago’s vibrant music scene. Columbia’s Music Center hosts more than 200 student, faculty, and artist-in-residence performances and workshops each year.

View the Performance Calendar


Music Columbia College Chicago Cory Henry workshop

“To see students take on songs and put their own feelings in them—it’s gratifying.”

-Grammy winner Cory Henry, Artist-in-Residence

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We bring professional musicians to Columbia College Chicago for week-long residencies every semester. You’ll study with these artists and perform with them on stage. They lead workshops and master classes with student ensembles. They also lead recording sessions and public performances. Through your interactions with them, you’ll gain valuable experience and insight into possible career paths.

Some recent artists-in-residence include Grammy-winning, multi-instrumentalist Cory Henry, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, keyboardist Cassandra O’Neal, and saxophonist Donny McCaslin.

Learn more about our Artists-in-Residence program.

Program Snapshot


Music faculty member Cassandra Oneal

Cassandra O’Neal teaches her students lessons from more than 20 years of working as a musician alongside artists like Prince, Mary J. Blige, LeAnn Rimes, and Macy Gray.

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Columbia College Chicago’s Music faculty is a diverse group of professional musicians, renowned as composers, performers, and music educators. They have released solo recordings, written original compositions and arrangements, and toured with well-known bands. They are Grammy, Emmy, and Dove Award winners and nominees. In private lessons with them, you’ll hone your individual skills and techniques in your primary performance area and gain mentoring experiences essential to achieving your career goals.

View all Music Department faculty.

Student Spotlight

Charlie Curtis-Beard

Charlie Curtis-Beard fosters his musical talents at Columbia College Chicago.

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Music Facilities


With access to rehearsal space, concert halls, and recording gear, you’ll have the space and tools you’ll need to make your music. You can also rent professional equipment for your creative and artistic pursuits.

Take a look at our music facilities.

Alumni Success

Many Music alumni work and perform together, building lifelong relationships and a strong Columbia presence in the Chicago music scene. Many alumni also mentor and collaborate with enrolled students. Music graduates are performers, composers, educators, and music business professionals. Many Music grads also have successful careers in other industries.

  • Jonathan McReynolds ’11 is a Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning gospel vocalist and songwriter.
  • Alicia Walter ’12 is a composer/songwriter and performer whose work was described as a “finely controlled art-pop explosion” by Wired magazine.
  • Keanon Kyles ’10 is part of "Earth to Kenzie," a co-commissioned opera production between Lyric Opera of Chicago and Seattle Opera. In fall 2019, he also will perform a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City, to be covered by Good Morning America. 
  • Sarah Marie Young ’15 is a jazz singer-songwriter who won the Montreux Voice Competition judged by Quincy Jones. In 2017, she was featured with Postmodern Jukebox, and in 2018, appeared on Playing for Change’s “Skin Deep” video with Buddy Guy.
  • Austin Deadman ’17 is a drummer and pianist and is a subbing percussionist for the Chicago production of Hamilton.
  • Shi-An Costello ’10 is a pianist, composer, writer, and activist described by the Chicago Reader as “a precise, engaged, welcoming performer unafraid of deep ambiguities.” Shi-An’s music has been performed throughout Canada, the U.S., and Europe.
  • Elizabeth Newkirk ’10 is the pianist in the duo Bow & Hammer, a classical group that renews excitement of chamber music by incorporating works from all musical eras. They started their own concert series in Chicago and were voted Best Classical Group in the Chicago Reader in 2016.
  • Morgan Krauss ’12 is a composer pursuing a doctorate at Northwestern University for music composition. She has collaborated with orchestras and ensembles all over the world and is a two-time New Music USA Grant recipient.

Listen to Music at Columbia

Visit our YouTube page to hear music created by Columbia students, faculty, and alumni. ​

Many BA students explore other interests and broaden their career preparation by pursuing a minor. Our innovative Hip-Hop Studies minor will connect you with the local hip-hop community, and our Music Business minor will give you managerial and entrepreneurial experience. Some students explore other passions like cultural studies, photography, acting, or fashion.

Explore all minors.