Creating a Music School Network: A Finnish Perspective

Introduction: Music education all over the country

The purpose of this essay is to shed light on how the music school network was created in Finland. Besides compulsory music education, Finland has established a network of publicly supported music schools offering voluntary music education for children and adolescents all around the country. (For more information refer to Heimonen 2004a, 2005.)

Generally, pupils attend these schools after their school hours at the comprehensive school or upper-secondary school. In addition, almost every music school has a music kindergarten offering early childhood music education for children from around the age of 3 months to 7 years. A department for adults is part of a number of schools. An open department may also be established offering tuition for everyone without the obligation to pass an entrance examination although, in general, music schools select their pupils by means of tests and auditions.

In addition to the publicly supported (law-based) music schools, voluntary music education is offered at so-called workers’ institutes and people’s high schools as well as at private studios and music schools. The music university, the Sibelius Academy, has a junior department for especially talented schoolchildren. Several arts institutions, such as the Finnish National Opera or Helsinki Philharmonic, arrange projects with children and the young. Universities, including the Sibelius Academy, offer courses for everyone interested in music at their “open universities.” 1

The term music education is used here in a broad sense to refer to all aspects of music education and comprises of such terms as tuition, instruction, training and schooling. This essay focuses on the network of publicly supported, law-based music schools 2, and the term “voluntary music education” refers to education offered at these schools. “Extracurricular music education” might also be used, even if these schools have to ensure that their curricula conform to the national core curriculum. In addition, the term “out-of-school music tuition” might also refer to studies at music schools since they are not, in principal, a formal part of compulsory schooling.

Creating a Network for Voluntary Music Education

In Finland one of the most important principles, linked to the principle of life-long learning, is the principle of equal educational opportunities. 3 This principle is constitutionally secured. It refers to the subjective right of each child to receive an education regardless of her or his geographical background. Moreover, this principle refers to real factual opportunities; so, in basic education almost everything related to school is offered free-of-charge for children. 4

General music education is part of this compulsory schooling, as is the education offered at so-called “music classes,” at which more music lessons are available than usual. The principle of equality should ensure that every child will be educated in music. However, there has been a threat of diminishing the amount of lessons available in music and other arts subjects in schools, and in general teacher-education as well. 5

In addition to the formal educational system of compulsory schooling, a music school network offering voluntary music education has been created. Education at these schools is not free but it is supported by public financing. So, in practice, a great number of Finns can afford one-on-one music tuition (in a Master-apprentice relationship) for their children. 6

The principle of equality was one of the main arguments used when the first Act securing state support for music schools was enacted in the late 1960s. The problem with this legislation was the fact that, due to limited resources, only a few of the existing music schools, which in general had been established by individuals enthusiastic about music, could be granted state support. In the 1970s, the number of music schools increased rapidly, and several new schools were granted state financial support. However, the problem is still relevant: not all the music schools interested in applying to become part of the network can be accepted due to limited public resources. 7

Until recently, music school legislation has been changed several times. Presently, the Basic Arts Education Act (633/98) governs the education offered at these schools. The tendency is towards more freedom and flexibility in the content of study programmes; not only should a firm basis for future studies aimed at a profession in music be created, but also a life-long interest, a love of music should be aimed at and a good relationship to music developed. Within this spirit, the national core curricula have recently been renewed (Finnish National Board of Education 2002; 2005) and the framework for pupil evaluation and examinations has been as well (Association of Finnish Music Schools,

Some Final Remarks

The network of music schools has promoted the flourishing musical life of Finland in several ways. Firstly, all children (and not only those living in the capital and other cities) are offered an opportunity to receive music education regardless of their geographical background. Secondly, teacher training and qualification requirements for music-school teachers have been used as a means of controlling the standard of education, as have been the activities and projects arranged by the Finnish Association of Music Schools. This might have been a key to the “flowering of Finnish creativity” making it possible that “since the 1960s, with a population not greater than London’s, Finland has produced more leading musicians than any other country in Europe.” 8

The challenges for the future comprise of several aspects that are mainly linked to the demands of offering a broader content and more child-centred view in education. Reports have shown that, rather than a lack of professionals, there will be a need for audiences and music lovers – amateurs -in the near future. Moreover, the surrounding society is changing: it is not only classical music but also a great number of other musical genres that encompass pupils’ lives. 9 Commercialism – the music business – is part of this development. Present discussion seems to be related both to equality-related questions and to moral and ethical dimensions in music education, such as the question of how we could nurture humanistic values rather than serve the efficiency of business-life within present societies.

Finnish music schools are presently balancing between different aims and values in their education. In short, more freedom and flexibility in the content of education combined with financial security is an aim that might promote our musical life also in the future. An education that promotes the development of a good and flourishing relationship between individuals and music, and evokes a life-long interest and love of music could be regarded as a principal aim and essential part of a proper basis for all involved in music.


1. See, e.g. Palonen 1993;; [return]

2. In Finnish, “lakisääteinen musiikkioppilaitos.” See more, Heimonen 2002, 26. [return]

3. See, e.g. (Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning and Education). [return]

4. On the right to education, see Heimonen 2003. [return]

5. The arts students are trying to support the arts subject’s position in schools and in teacher-training by arranging a public demonstration in front of the Parliament in March 2006; see, e.g., Teemu Luukka 2006. Taideopiskelijat lähtevät barrikadeille koulujen taideaineiden puolesta [Arts students leave for the barricades in support of schools’ arts subjects]. Helsingin Sanomat 23 March 2006. [return]

6. For a broader view, see Heimonen 2004b (on Swedish music and arts schools), and the first chapter of Heimonen 2002 (Comparative perspectives on music schools in Germany, England and Sweden). [return]

7. This is one of the reasons why no special legislation for music and arts schools [musik- / kulturskola] has been enacted in Sweden (see more, Heimonen 2004b). [return]

8. Andrew Clarks in Heimonen 2002, 255. [return]

9. Research and literature concerning music studies and teachers in music schools; see, e.g., Broman-Kananen 2005; Lehtonen 2004; Huhtanen 2004; Hirvonen 2003, Tuovila 2003; Kosonen 2001; Kurkela & Tawaststjerna 1999; Kurkela 1993. [return]


Association of Finnish Music Schools [Suomen Musiikkioppilaitosten Liitto],

Basic Arts Education Act [Laki taiteen perusopetuksesta 633/98], Suomen Laki II. Helsinki: Talentum Lakimiesliiton Kustannus.

Broman-Kananen, Ulla-Britta 2005. På klassrummets tröskel. Om att vara lärare i musikläroinrättningarnas brytningstid. [On the Threshold of the Classroom – On Being a Teacher during the Transition Period of Music Schools.] Studia Musica 24. Sibelius Academy. Helsinki: Hakapaino.

Finnish Journal of Music Education. Special number on ethics and music education, vol 8, no 2.

Finnish National Board of Education 2002 and 2005: Core Curricula for Basic Arts Education, Music (Helsinki: Edita Prima). See: http:

Heimonen, Marja 2005. Soivatko lait? Näkökulmia musiikkikasvatuksen filosofiaan. [Do laws sound? Perspectives in the philosophy of music education] Sibelius-Akatemia, EST- julkaisusarja. Helsinki: Hakapaino.

Heimonen, Marja 2004. The Development of Finnish Music Schools: A Legal Perspective. Nordisk musikkpedagogisk forskning Årbok 7 (2004), 117-131. (Heimonen 2004a)

Heimonen, Marja 2004. Music and arts schools – Extra-curricular music education in Sweden: A comparative study. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education ejournal Vol 3, No 2, July 2004. (Heimonen 2004b)

Heimonen, Marja 2003. Music Education and Law: Regulation as an Instrument. Philosophy of Music Education Review 11 (2), 170-184.

Heimonen, Marja 2002. Music Education & Law. Regulation as an Instrument. Studia Musica 17. Helsinki: PB-Printing.

Helasvuo, Veikko 1977. The Education of Young Musicians on the Pre-Collegiate Level in Finland. ISME Yearbook. Volume IV (1977). Papers of the ISME Seminar, Hannover 1976, ed. by Egon Kraus. Mainz: B Schott’s Söhne, 103-106.

Hirvonen, Airi 2003. Pikkupianistista musiikin ammattilaiseksi. Solistisen koulutuksen opiskelijat identiteettinsä rakentajina. [How young piano students become professional musicians. Students of soloist music education as constructors of their identities.] Oulu: Oulu University Press.

Huhtanen, Kaija 2004. Pianistista soitonopettajaksi. Tarinat naisten kokemusten merkityksellistäjinä. [A Pianist Becoming a Piano Teacher. Narratives Giving Meaning to the Experiences of Women.] Studia Musica 22. Sibelius-Akatemia. Helsinki: Hakapaino.

Kosonen, Erja 2001. Mitä mieltä on pianonsoitossa? 13-15-vuotiaiden pianonsoittajien kokemuksia musiikkiharrastuksestaan. [What is the point in piano playing? Experiences of 13-15-year old piano players.] Jyväskylä studies in the arts. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Printing House.

Kurkela, Kari 1993. Mielen maisemat ja musiikki. [Landscapes of the Mind and Music.] Musiikin tutkimuslaitoksen julkaisusarja no 11. Helsinki: Hakapaino.

Kurkela, Kari & Tawaststjerna, Erik T. 1999. Analyysi kuuden musiikkiopiston toiminnasta ja ajatuksia musiikin perusopetuksen järjestämisestä. [Analysis of the activity of six music schools and ideas on arranging basic education in music.] In Terhi Heino and Maija-Liisa Ojala, eds., Musiikkioppilaitosten perusopetuksen arviointi 1998. petushallitus. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino, 89-150.

Lehtonen, Kimmo 2004. Maan korvessa kulkevi… Johdatus postmoderniin musiikkipedagogiikkaan. [Walking in the backwoods of earth … Introduction to postmodern music pedagogy.] Turku: Turun yliopisto.

Luukka, Teemu 2006. Musiikkiopistot kalliita Helsingissä. [Music schools expensive in Helsinki] Helsingin Sanomat, 21 March 2006.

Luukka, Teemu 2006. Taideopiskelijat lähtevät barrikadeille koulujen taideaineiden puolesta [Arts students leave for the barricades in support of schools’ arts subjects]. Helsingin Sanomat 23 March 2006.

Palonen, Osmo 1993. Aspects of Musical Life and Music Education in Finland. The Sibelius Academy. Series of educational publications 8. Helsinki: University Printing House.

Tuovila, Annu 2003. “Mä soitan ihan omasta ilosta”: pitkittäinen tutkimus 7-13-vuotiaiden lasten musiikin harjoittamisesta ja musiikkiopisto-opiskelusta. [“I Play Entirely for My Own Joy!”: A longitudinal study on music making and music school studies of 7 to 13- year-old children.] Studia Musica 18. Sibelius-Akatemia. Helsinki: PB-Printing.

Website material / links:

Http:// Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning and Education (CELE).

Http:// A Gateway to Finnish Culture on the Net.

Http:// Musiikkia internetissä

See also, e.g., the Finnish music journal Rondo (on the current debate on music school studies), the Finnish Music Quarterly (special number on Finnish music education, autumn 2006) and Finaali – Journal of Musical Performance and Research.

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