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About Music

Performing/creative Higher Music Education encompasses a broad range of specialisations and disciplines in different genres. For example, instrumental/vocal performance, composition, conducting, music teaching, church music, music theatre, opera, music therapy and music technology. Usually, students specialise within one of these sub-disciplines, and in a specific genre, already from bachelor's level and complete the specialisation through master's level. However, there is an emerging trend towards both students and institutions wanting to explore possibilities for combining traditionally separated sub-disciplines and genres, creating space for crossovers and preparing for a job market that requires versatility. Traditionally, a large amount of the teaching in Higher Music Education, in particular in the students’ artistic main subject, takes place in a one-to-one setting, a setting which is suited to adequately meet the particular demands that arise from the highly individualised needs of learning and teaching performing/creative music. However, this one-to-one model often creates a strong bond between student and teacher, and students may develop a real dependency on their teacher. This teaching model has been challenged in recent years, with institutions moving towards a greater degree of students receiving input from more than one teacher in their artistic main subject, and teachers adopting a mentoring or coaching approach to a greater extent. Along with this emerging, gradual shift, institutions also focus increasingly on team teaching, peer learning, small group teaching and student-centred learning. As peer learning and working in small groups and chamber groups/ensembles is essential for music students, the standard of the fellow students is of great importance for students’ learning outcomes. A large amount of a student’s work takes place within the practice room, and music students therefore depend heavily on access to individual practice rooms, facilities, instruments, and technical equipment.

After the Bologna Declaration, European Higher Music Education has moved towards a clear division of education into three cycles, Bachelor, Master’s and Doctorate. Although degree titles in different countries vary, the vast majority of institutions and countries use Bachelor, Master and PhD as degree titles. Most also use ECTS credits as an indication of the students’ workload for each separate subject, and for the entire study programme, at least in international communication, although some countries use other systems domestically. Bachelor programmes in performing/creative music are usually 3 or 4 years. Master's programmes are usually 2 years, or in some cases 1.5 years, but there are also examples of 1-year and 2.5-year master's degree programmes. In addition, within performing/creative music education, over the past 20-25 years, it has become more common for institutions to offer 3rd cycle/doctoral programmes. The emergence of programmes within artistic research has become particularly interesting. However, both the understanding of the term artistic research and the design of 3rd cycle programmes currently vary quite a lot, from programmes with a strong emphasis on artistic results as a relevant and fulfilling expression of innovative understanding and knowledge, to a greater degree of emphasis on reflection texts and the application of more traditional scientific methods as part of the doctoral work. The most common degree designations used within higher performing/creative music education are:

- Bachelor/Master of performance / conducting / composition / church music etc.
- Bachelor/Master of music (in performance / in conducting / in composition etc.)
- Bachelor/Master of arts (in music / in performance / in composition etc.)
- Artist Diploma / Certificate
- PhD in music / artistic research (in music)
- Doctor of Music
- Doctor of Musical Arts
- Doctor of Philosophy

Typical degrees that are offered

Music graduates often have portfolio careers, and many utilise entrepreneurial skills to create their own work. Graduate career destination surveys show that their artistic and technical skills alongside their creative and entrepreneurial skills, enable them to find and create a very wide variety of employment in artistic, educational and cultural settings. The provision of a wide range of different study programmes and specialisation opportunities within the programmes provides good opportunities to build up individual courses of study to prepare for various tasks in working life.

Typical occupations of graduates may include the following or combinations of the following, as employed or self-employed: 

  • Ensemble/orchestra musician

  • ​Composer/arranger

  • Conductor 

  • Music teacher (instrumental/vocal/composition individual or small-group teaching, or in general education) 

  • Church musician 

  • Music manager and/or administrator (orchestras, ensembles, educational institutions, theatres, festivals, record companies etc.) 

  • Music producer (orchestras, ensembles, theatres, festivals, record companies etc.)

  • Artistic leader (ensemble, orchestra, concert venue etc.)

  • Researcher

Typical occupations/employment students achieve

Learning Outcomes


View and download the Overview of typical Music field related Generic and Subject-specific Competences

The following are descriptions of three case studies, or examples of good practice, which show a clear connection to the eight domain dimensions in the CPAD Qualifications Reference Framework for Bachelor, Master and Doctorate studies. These case studies demonstrate recent developments in conservatoires in Europe and focus on Level 6 and Level 7. All of the case studies have taken a holistic approach, where multiple subjects or topics, that are often perceived by students as separated elements, are integrated and combined, with a focus on the student as an artist in the professional world. This holistic approach means that often all eight dimensions are covered. 


Case Study 1: The Core Portfolio – Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo (Level 6 & Level 7) 

In order to succeed in today’s musical society, and also for the sake of a vibrant and diverse arts scene, it is crucial that musicians are conscious, curious and autonomous. Being a musician involves continuously reflecting on one’s musical directions: where do I come from, where do I want to go next, and in which ways can I contribute with my art to society? Artistic identity is in flux; it changes as the musician develops and acquires new musical experiences in a reciprocal relationship with an ever-evolving music industry and society of which the musician is part. Thus, to support students in becoming robust and flexible practitioners, it is essential that the education supports and encourages the development of critical thinking regarding possible musical crossroads. The Core Portfolio is a project aiming to develop performance students’ artistic development through dialogue and reflection. The students write reflection texts and engage in conversations with peers and teachers concerning issues directly connected to their playing and artistic choices, while at the same time focusing on reflection and building awareness of the student’s overall direction and artistic identity. Students receive coaching sessions both in groups and individually during the project period and build a digital portfolio showcasing their artistic profile. The Core Portfolio connects to all eight dimensions. For further information, see 


Case Study 2: The KUA-class – Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen (Level 6 & Level 7) 

Establishing artistic development as the pivotal curricular element, in the KUA-class, students meet weekly to present, discuss and reflect on the students’ artistic work processes and products. At the Rhythmic Music Conservatory the central educational activity for students on all programmes is the KUA class. KUA is an abbreviation of the Danish term for artistic development work. Learning objectives for the class centre around developing the students’ ability to initiate, develop and perform artistic ideas and productions, contextualise their work and critically discuss and reflect on their own and their peers’ artistic work processes and products. This way, the student becomes an active agent in their learning process, making deliberate choices from a number of options and reflecting on and discussing these choices with peers and teachers. The KUA-class connects to all eight dimensions. For more information, see 


Case Study 3: The Master Project – Royal Conservatoire, The Hague (Level 7) 

The Master Project aims to create a holistic and student-centred learning environment through a profound integration of artistic development with research and professional integration activities. The educational philosophy of the Master of Music programme at the Royal Conservatoire is dedicated to developing a student’s individual artistic vision, personal growth, inquisitive and entrepreneurial attitude and independence, and their performing/creative and technical skills at a high qualitative level. To guide a student’s development, the master curriculum is designed in three domains: artistic development – research – professional integration. The programme is aimed at helping students find their place in the professional practice. Students are constantly encouraged to make their own choices and develop and carry out their own ideas and plans. The Master Project challenges students during their two-year studies to connect all three domains in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them, so that they can find their ‘niche’. This authentic assessment helps them navigate the complex realities of today’s music profession. The Master Project connects to dimensions 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8. Depending on the chosen topics by the student, dimensions 4 and 5 may also be covered. For further information, see 

Examples of good practice in Higher Music Education

The main focus of a Higher Music Education programme is to develop a student’s artistic and technical skills to a high, professional standard. A music programme therefore has a strong emphasis on individual artistic development. Due to three factors, Higher Music Education Institutions are in the process of revising and changing their curricula. 


Firstly, historically, music education in Europe centred around classical music, and conservatoires were educating instrumentalists and singers, church musicians, composers and conductors. Since then, HME has seen a substantial change as the musical landscape has expanded, and music programmes now can include various genres and specialisations, e.g. jazz, pop music, world music, electronic music, electro-acoustic music, composition for screen, sound production, etc. With multiple genres and specialisations in one place, students and teachers influence each other and as a result students often seek to combine disciplines and/or instruments which are traditionally separated, to create space for crossovers. In response to this need, HME will have to broaden their scope when it comes to studying one principal instrument or one traditional specialisation only. 


Secondly, the professional practice is continuously changing, and as mentioned above, the scope of music education today is broader and it also prepares for a professional career that to a larger extent is based on and dependent on a freelance market. The current professional practice has multiple faces, and artists often have a portfolio career that requires regular switching between different roles, skills and responsibilities. Such a portfolio career is often not limited to performing music only and can include organising and promoting concerts/festivals/competitions, arranging/composing/writing/publishing/recording music, writing articles for specialised journals, newspapers, websites, and developing videos and other materials for teaching and performance. Crossovers and interdisciplinary projects have become more prevalent. Changes in the professional practice have also reached professional orchestras. Orchestras nowadays perform a broader range of repertoire (including crossovers with other artists) to reach varied audiences, and often have their own educational programmes and activities, with outreach projects for the local communities. 


Thirdly, due to recent and continuous technological developments, musicians have different and new ways of recording and disseminating music and reaching and connecting to audiences and communities these days. As most musicians are freelancers, they can decide for themselves how to access the market, approach and stay in touch with audiences in various ways, for example via social media. Additionally, technology is more and more used in performance as well as in music education. This requires strategies and tools which have to be considered in a HME curriculum. 


These three factors appeal to musicians’ self-reliance and illustrate a shift in possible career paths. Because of this change in the traditional professional music practice, HMEIs have to constantly innovate and modernise their programmes. The modularisation of programmes which has been one of the core elements of the Bologna process, has significantly contributed to make curricula become more dynamic and thus to make subjects become more adaptable to individual needs. This change is accompanied by another development, as future ideas and policies for Higher Education include a stronger focus on student-centred learning and student-centeredness. In a student-centred learning environment, students are placed at the centre of the activities and the student voice is acknowledged as not only important but central to learning and teaching. For further information on student-centred learning in HME, see the following article by Monika Nerland: Beyond policy: Conceptualising student-centred learning environments in higher (music) education - Monika Nerland, University of Oslo, Department of Education. Published in S. Gies and J.H. Sætre, eds, Becoming musicians: Student involvement and teacher collaboration in higher music education. NMH-publikasjoner 2019:7. Oslo: Norges musikkhøgskole. Available online at 


Curricula today have a stronger focus on professional or career skills, like entrepreneurial skills and business skills, to create awareness of various career paths and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset. Additionally, this shift could be seen as a starting point to investigate and reflect on the role of musicians in contemporary society. Besides professional ensembles actively reaching out to local communities, another example of how the role of the musician in society might be changing is the use of music in public health settings, such as concerts and tailored music sessions in hospital wards and making music with and for people who have dementia. Because of these types of developments, a modern music education approach includes fostering social awareness, engagement and reflection, to equip students to play meaningful social roles. 


Besides a large emphasis on individual artistic development, and a renewed attention to professional, career and entrepreneurial skills, a typical HME curriculum offers subjects in the areas of music theory, musicianship skills, academic skills, music history and contexts, ensembles, improvisation, pedagogical skills. In terms of assessment, the following types of assessment are generally used: formative, summative, authentic, and sustainable assessment. Due to the many individual lessons, students receive high-quality feedback from their teachers, creating regular formative assessments as part of the teaching method. Summative assessments are used to check if the required learning objectives of subjects have been met. Authentic assessments are becoming more commonplace as they are suitable for the preparation for the professional practice. These assessments include internships with professional partners, like playing in a professional orchestra, or doing a teaching internship in an educational setting. Authentic assessments can also involve organising concerts and performing solo repertoire, chamber music or playing in a big band at external venues. Besides using authentic assessments that imitate the professional practice, it is also important for students to learn how to assess themselves through sustainable assessments, as once they have graduated, they can no longer rely on regular feedback from their teachers. Sustainable assessments are aimed at sustainable, lifelong learning and involve peer assessment and self-assessment to become competent learners and operate effectively after graduation. 


In order to reach the necessary professional standard of performing, one-to-one tuition in the main artistic subject is still the core element of most curricula in HME. While this type of learning-and-teaching setting allows for individualised support, it may create a dependency on the teacher, and the individual educational experience of students may rely heavily on this teacher. However, this teaching model has been challenged in recent years, as teachers are taking a mentoring or coaching approach and a gradual shift is emerging as institutions focus increasingly on team teaching, peer learning, small group teaching and student-centred learning. The three case studies below illustrate this shift.

Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Music Education and Examples of good practice

Student workload & ECTS

In the CPAD European Higher Education sector Bachelor programmes normally vary between 180 and 240 ECTS-credits. Master programmes normally vary between 90 and 150 ECTS-credits. When specified, Doctoral/PhD programmes usually last three years and have 180 ECTS. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, use a different credit system, however, the education level and experience is comparable.​

Quality Enhancement

In working on the qualification framework and defining the learning outcomes/competences for the three cycles the SAG stresses the outcomes are not to be taken as prescribing the content and curriculum of individual arts academies/universities programmes but helping these institutions to ensure the quality and standards of their programmes. 


In developing the quality framework the SAG has adhered to the following values:


  • commitment to respect and promote cultural, artistic, and pedagogical diversity.

  • the needs of society and the world of work for the development of creativity and generative critical thinking, which are key attributes of higher arts education.

  • operating a review methodology based on peer review, in which the participation of students, relevant professional bodies and/or employers as stakeholders is embedded.


The CPAD SAG stresses the content and distinctiveness of the programmes are: 


  • the primary responsibility of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in assuring the quality of their own provision.

  • being responsive to the diversity of higher education systems, institutions, programmes and students. 

  • taking into account the needs and expectations of students, other stakeholders and society. 


In institutions developing their internal and external quality assurance policy and processes the SAG recommends:


  • to promote student-centred approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.

  • to develop a quality culture for excellence and its continuous enhancement.

  • to guarantee the equivalence of minimum threshold standards for any academic qualification offered in the EHEA.

  • to continually enhance the student learning experience to achieve the highest standards; 

  • to operate a review methodology based on peer review, in which the participation of students, relevant professional bodies and/or employers as stakeholders isembedded;

  • to support staff research and encourage the transfer of knowledge gained through it back into teaching and the curriculum.

  • to instil trust and confidence in the processes of quality assurance and enhancement. 

  • to build institutional capacity for high quality internal review and enhancement.

  • to ensure that all its activities are underpinned by explicit criteria and transparent processes.

  • to ensure that all its processes are open to external scrutiny.

  • to establish a range of formally verified external and international reference points and/or criteria (primarily guided by the 2015 ESG).

  • to ensure that the outcomes of its accreditation and assessment processes have formal status, are decided independently and are publicly available.

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