Professor Antti Juvonen of University of Eastern Finland responds to questions from Professor Gary McPherson and Dr Richard Letts (January 2014).

We had received information that in Finnish primary schools, music is taught by classroom teachers but that they had received 270 hours of mandatory music education as a part of their preservice degree. This compares with an average of 17 hours in Australia.

We included this statistic in our submission to the Victorian inquiry into school music education. Its report challenged the number. Gary McPherson and I contacted Antti Juvonen in Finland with a series of email exchanges in which we tried to pin down exactly what does happen in Finland in this regard.

Our Questions and Antti’s Responses

RL and GMcP: We were informed that in Finnish primary schools, music is taught by the classroom generalist teachers, and that in their prior university courses, they receive 270 hours of music education. It this true?
And also, about how many hours of music would primary (Elementary) students receive in schools per week or across the school year?

:AJ: When I started as a university music lecturer the situation was close to what you mentioned (270) hours, but nowadays the number of music lessons has gone down radically. I will try and answer to each of your questions:

Do Finnish general primary/elementary teachers do an undergraduate degree then a master’s degree in teaching/education?

:Today all Finnish classroom teachers first make their so-called candidate level studies 180 credits (which does not give them qualification to work as classroom teachers) and after that they do their master’s degree 120 credits (which qualifies them to work as classroom teachers). In their studies they all have to take music courses which are obligatory. These courses are different in numbers of lessons and in substance depending in which university they are done. For example in our University of Eastern Finland we have so called “diversified” studies which means that they learn the basics of all school subjects (including music).

:These vary from 3 to 6 points (credits) (each point (or credit) means altogether 27 hours of work for the student). Our music obligatory music studies are 6 ect points which means that every student who will be qualified classroom teachers will have about 162 hours of music which includes their own work (piano practicing etc.). There are 75 contact teaching hours and 87 hours of student’s own work.

See locations of universities mentioned during the interview — right.

:After this our students have a possibility to choose music as a minor subject which means that they will get 25 credits (including singing 5 points, music pedagogy 6 points, music knowledge (history theory) 8 points and instrument skills (piano, guitar, band etc.) 6 points

:In music as a minor subject 25 credits the contact teaching hours go as follows:

  • singing 5 points including 72 hours contact (student’s own work 63 hours)
  • music pedagogy 6 points including 68 hours contact (student’s own work 107 hours)
  • music knowledge 8 points including 86 hours contact (student’s own work 117 hours)
  • instrument skills 6 points including 72 hours contact (student’s own work 90 hours)

:298 contact hours plus the 75 mandatory hours.

:Even after this our students can choose music as a so-called “long minor subject” which means that they will get a qualification to work as music teachers in upper elementary classes 6-9, but not as real subject teachers for example in secondary school level.

:This long minor subject music includes 35 credits more music:

  • singing II 6 credits (86 contact + 88 student’s own work)
  • Music pedagogy II 7 credits (70 contact + 105 student’s own work)
  • Music knowledge II 13 credits (130 contact + 187 student’s own work)
  • Instrument skills II 6 credits (66 contact + 84 student’s own work)

:Another 352 contact hours. Note that there is a further degree for teaching music in upper secondary years – next para.

:After going through all this our university students have a possibility to go to Jyväskylä University and finish their qualification to real music subject teachers during 1-2 years of studies. But see below: there is a separate 5 year course for secondary music specialists.

:So this is how our university works.

:But in many other universities in Finland these obligatory studies in music which all classroom teachers must do to get qualification are only 3 credits which means that they only get about 48 hours of contact teaching (including piano lessons) and 33 hours of own work. They also have possibilities to choose music as a minor subject. Of course not all students choose music.

Can they just do a four year undergraduate degree and be primary/ elementary general school teachers?

:No this is not possible in Finland, all classroom teachers have a master’s degree

:I hope that this will help you. If not, please ask me more questions and I will try to give you the answers.

Candidate level 180 credits, masters extra 120. Sounds like 60 a year, for a total of 5 years. IS THAT CORRECT?

:That is correct

So are the Finnish kids in lower primary taught music only by teachers with at least a music minor?

:That is not correct: There are many teachers who have only studied their obligatory music studies (3-6 credits depending on which university they have been studying) who teach music.

:This is because it happens that there are not any suitable teachers (who have done their music as a minor subject) available in all schools.

:In Finland there are still many small schools which have only 2-4 teachers, and if none of these teachers who have got their job in that kind of school has music as a minor subject, then they have to survive with the small obligatory music studies.

The idea is that every teacher who is qualified and has done master’s degree is able to teach every subject at school.

This is because earlier (in 1920-1970) there were so many schools where they had only one teacher. These schools were in distant villages in eastern Finland and Lapland, for example.

What is the purpose of the minor?

:The idea of the minor music studies is to offer teachers more music skills than only the (too) small obligatory 3-6 credits. So that they could be better in music teaching.

If they are taught music by any accredited classroom teacher, what is the purpose of the minor?

:See earlier answers. Every qualified teacher must be able to survive in teaching any school subjects including music, PE, math etc. This is why we have these mandatory studies. Our students usually choose their minor subjects according to their own motivation and choose those subjects where they feel to be good. Every teacher has at least two minor subjects in which they have deepened their skills and knowledge deeper than mandatory skills.

Secondary specialists add another 2 years. So that sounds like a total of 7 years of study for them!

:That is not correct. It only goes that way for our university’s music students and it is only our specialty.

:Usually music subject teachers study in their own degree program which is also planned for five years of studying.

:Our students get first the qualification as classroom teachers. In addition to that, if they have done both the minor subject (25 credits) and the longer minor subject (35) in music they have an opportunity to add these subject teacher’s final studies to their qualification in Jyväskylä University.

:This is a unique bilateral agreement between the two universities and it is not the usual way to become a music subject teacher in Finland.

:There are three universities in Finland where you can become a music subject teacher in Finland: Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Jyväskylä university and Oulu university.

In Australian primary schools, the first year of school is not called Year 1, but Kindergarten (K). Antti mentioned teaching Finnish years 6 to 8. In Australia, they would actually be the seventh to ninth years because our first year is called K. Is this the case in Finland?

:Before children go to school, 98 percent of Finnish children go in preschool, which takes place in kindergartens. It is not obligatory, but most parents want to put their children there. They are taught by kindergarten teachers and they do many kind of practices which should help children starting in school. After preschool children go to school in class 1.

Who is taught by teachers with a long minor? Do teachers with so much extra skill teach students with a special interest in music, or do they just teach regular (lucky) classrooms?

:This kind of long minor can only be done in Turku University teacher education and University of Eastern Finland in Savonlinna campus (where I work). This means that this kind of education is quite rare and this kind of teachers are maybe 25-30 altogether right now in Finland. Teachers who have done this long minor in music are qualified to teach music in classes 1-9 but not in upper secondary schools. Normal classroom teachers are qualified to teach classes 1-6. That is the difference.

Other information I have indications that people can train in Finland to have a specialist degree in primary school education. Is this, in fact, the long minor?

:There are following types of studies in music in Finland:

  • Classroom teacher with only the obligatory music studies (3-6 credits depending on where the studies have been done) is qualified to teach any subject in classes 1-6
  • Classroom teacher with these obligatory studies + music specializing studies (which means usually 25 credits of music studies) is qualified to teach any subject in classes 1-6
  • Classroom teachers with music as a long minor subject: obligatory studies + 25 credits of music studies + 35 credits of music studies is qualified to teach any subject in classes 1-6 + music in classes 7-9
  • Classroom teachers who have studied also the highest level music studies after all these mentioned studies. They are qualified to work as classroom teachers but also they are qualified to work as music subject teachers in any level, also in upper secondary school.

Roughly what percentage of classrooms are taught by music specialists?

:This is a very difficult question. Earlier (till 1990s) there were many small schools in Finland, and there the situation was, that many times they didn’t have a teacher with music specializing studies, and so generalist teachers had to teach music without very good abilities in it. Now the situation has changed, because small schools are being drawn down and children are put to big schools. There are more teachers in big schools which means that usually there is also someone who has music specializing studies done. That means that more and more of music lessons are taught by classroom teachers with music specializing background. This does not mean that they would be music subject teachers. In some schools where there are both secondary school and elementary school in same unit or building the music lessons are taught by a music subject teacher even in the lower elementary classes.

:I don’t know what percentage of pupils is taught by different types of teachers, but I can try to make a wild guess, but remember that this is not statistical fact, just my thought about things:

:Music taught in classes 1-6:

  • Classroom teachers with music specializing (short minor) studies 70 %
  • Classroom teachers without music specializing studies 15 %
  • Music subject teachers or teachers with music as a long minor subject 15 %

Music taught in classes 7-9 and upper secondary school classes 1-3:

  • Music subject teachers 80 %
  • Classroom teachers with music as a long minor subject 10 %
  • Classroom teachers with music specializing studies 10 % (not qualified for this work in upper secondary school)

Is there a practice by which school principals assign a classroom teacher with special musical skills to swap classroom time with regular teachers and teach music to the whole school or a large part of it? If yes, how widespread is it?

:Yes, this is the case. It is the normal way of acting in all bigger schools, and also in small schools whenever it is possible.

Do primary school children have the opportunity to take musical instrument lessons in school? What percentage? Or do they do this at municipal music schools? If the latter, do they pay?

:No they usually do not have this possibility. In normal Finnish classroom there are some musical instruments nowadays: there are usually percussion instruments like shakers and claves, also instruments which are played with mallets: xylophones, metallophones and tambourines etc. also recorders are widely used. Also the Finnish traditional instrument “kantele” is widely used in lower classes. In most of the schools there is a music classroom where there are guitars and electric guitar and electric bass with amplifiers and a drum set for band playing. These instruments are used in music lessons. Sometimes also ukuleles are bought and used in lessons. But the children do not get private lessons at school.

:If the children wish to learn instrument playing or singing they go to music schools (and after that to conservatoires) but there are also adult education centres which offer instrument teaching to children, too. The Finnish network of music schools is excellent which provide most of the children a possibility to take instrument playing as a hobby if they wish and have enough money to buy the instrument.

One final question. Do children pay to take lessons in the music schools? If so, how much? Can financially poor people attend?

:There are two kinds of music schools in Finland, private music schools and music schools owned by cities or communes. The children must pay a seasonal tuition which seems to vary between about 150€ – 400€ depending on the area. It seems to me that prices in capital district (Helsinki) and southern Finland are a little bit higher than those in small towns and municipals.

We also asked this question of Timo Klemettinen, who formerly headed the Finnish association of music schools and now is CEO of the European Music School Union. He responded:

:There are great differences in tuition fees. On average the state covers 57%, municipality 27% and families 16% of all expenditures of the music school. When in bigger cities like Helsinki the tuition fee can be 1000€ per year, in rural areas tuition fee can be only 200€ yearly.

:Tuition fee covers all music studies except second instrument, which normally makes 100-200€ extra costs for the family.

(Only NSW has a counterpart to the municipal music schools found in profusion in practically every European country. It has 17 ‘regional conservatoriums’. They are subsidised by the government but students/parents pay something like the market rate for lessons.)


Richard Letts, January 21, 2014. Entered on Knowledge Base 28 January 2014.

See Also
Includes spoken lecture plus print transcription. Antti Juvonen is a co-author and the paper covers aspects not included in the above interview.

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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