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The Special Feature 3/2020 Editorial: Music education as a reflection of changes in society

by Anu Ahola

FMQ Special Feature 3/2020 is all about recent developments in Finnish music education. But that is not all: in looking at what kind of music is being taught our children and adolescents and how it is being taught, we also see a portrait of society at large and of its values and choices. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”


These are key elements in Finland’s music education today: a student-oriented approach, continuous learning, self-expression, the big picture, active cultural participation and collaboration. This is rooted in the notion that learning goes on all the time and that learning is closely connected to the surrounding world and the community in which we live. Many new things are best taught and learned in a group context. (See the article on the new National Core Curricula.)

Although community is an important element in our modern understanding of learning, it is also important to ensure that students get their own voice heard and have space for individual development. Students can reinforce their own voice by performing and also by creating music themselves – by composing. Composing and performing can be seen to coexist in harmony as two sides of a musician’s persona.

Music education institutions aim to produce not just future professionals but also informed amateur musicians for whom music will become a lifelong pastime. Instead of making all students play the same repertoire and complete the same level performance examinations, studies are now designed to play to students’ strengths and interests. Instead of stress-inducing examinations, students may progress in smaller steps according to a customised roadmap. Learning focuses not only on technical proficiency but also on the sharing of music with others. As pedagogue-composer Soili Perkiö says: “Music is not just accomplishments, it is everyday life!”


Basic education in the arts is seen in Finland as an integral part of the general education system, and this is extensively reflected in the curricula introduced two years ago at schools and at music institutes. The National Core Curriculum offers a nationwide framework that educational institutions are free to apply in their own appropriate local ways.

Technology plays a natural and vital role in Finnish music education. Finland’s music institutes were suddenly obliged to make a dizzying digital leap in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown. This resulted in a lot of extra work for teachers and institutions, but some practices adopted during this digital leap will no doubt become a permanent feature of contact teaching too.


Although the diversity of content found in Finland’s music education is well ahead of the curve compared with many other European countries, we need to keep asking the questions: whose music are we playing? whose voice are we expressing? which names from history or from our own time are we highlighting?

Colonisation is still a major influence in how various music cultures get to be expressed in various parts of the world. In Finland, it was not until this year that the first conservatory-level qualifications in Sámi music were completed. If our aim is to create a society that is equal, diverse and accessible, then these values must of course be applied in our music education too.

As noted in this package, practices in Finland’s music education are transforming, slowly but surely. The process is headed in the right direction, even if the goal is still some way off. Great changes always demand time and patience.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Markku Klami