Music Education in Austria
Austria is a federal republic with nine federal provinces. The education system is the same in all provinces. The federal government is responsible for academic secondary schools (“Allgemein bildende höhere Schule – AHS”) as well as medium and higher-level technical and vocational schools (“Berufsbildende mittlere und höhere Schule – BMS / BHS”), the provincial authorities are responsible for the general compulsory schools. Education is compulsory for all children who have reached the age of six, and lasts for nine years.
Most schools in Austria are state-run, but there are also some private (confessional, mostly Catholic) schools. Most private schools have the same legal status as state schools.
Fig. 1: Graphic representation of the Austrian education system. Source:
Primary education: 4 years from age 6-10
· primary schools
· special schools
Secondary education I: 4 years from age 10-14
· regular secondary schools
· secondary academic schools (lower school)
· special education: special schools and integrated instruction – upper school
There is currently a political debate about the introduction of one school for all 10 to 14 year-olds (“Neue Mittelschule”). This school has been implemented in some areas as a pilot scheme.
Secondary education II: 4/5 years from age 14-19
· secondary academic schools (upper school) – “AHS”
· higher-level technical and vocational schools (incl. the general qualification for university entrance – “Matura”) – “BHS”
· medium-level technical and vocational schools (without the general qualification for university entrance – “Matura”) – “BMS”
· part-time vocational schools for apprentices
· polytechnic (pre-vocational) schools (one year only)
· advanced training courses
· educational institutions for nurses
· education and training for health professions
The school-leaving examination (“Matura”) is taken after 12-13 years of schooling. It consists of written exams in 3 to 4 subjects as well as oral exams in 3 to 4 subjects. Alternatively, a so-called “Fachbereichsarbeit” (a dissertation specialising in a particular topic) can be written. This paper replaces one written exam and must be written in the last school year. The exam questions are compiled individually by each teacher. A centralised exam is currently the subject of political debate. Music can be chosen as a subject for the oral exams.
In secondary schools with a particular focus on music and in special curricula for music there are written tests (“Schularbeiten”) in music as well as a written exam as part of the final examinations. In a special type of upper school for music (“Oberstufenrealgymnasium – ORG”) instrumental music (as a compulsory subject with 2 lessons per week for 4 years) in combination with music can be chosen for the oral exams (compulsory and graded practical).
In primary education music is compulsory and taught by the class teacher which means that the quality of music lessons depends greatly on the musical abilities and the commitment of the respective teacher.
Primary schools with special emphasis on music education (in the federal provinces) and primary classes with a wider range of musical activities (in Vienna) provide the opportunity for specialisation.
The curriculum states:
The task of music education is to encourage singing, making music, conscious listening, moving to music and creative musical work by taking into account the acoustic and musical environment and by paying attention to the individual nature of each child.
Secondary Education I
In secondary education I (regular secondary schools and secondary academic schools) all pupils (except those attending special schools) are taught according to the same curriculum; music education is compulsory.
Regular secondary schools with a focus on music and special secondary academic schools provide the opportunity for specialisation.
The curriculum offers very general teaching and learning objectives, which are divided into six equally important groups: vocal music-making, instrumental music-making, listening, moving to music, creative representation and music theory.
In the exact wording:
Vocal music-making: voice training and speech training in groups and in chorus, relaxation, posture, breathing, onset of speech/attack, articulation); acquisition of a repertoire, also taking into account listening experience and local, regional musical traditions; development and practice of single-part and multi-part songs and spoken-voice pieces with a view to achieving musical and inflective accuracy; interpretation of songs of various genres, eras and cultures both accompanied and unaccompanied and also incorporating movement.
Instrumental music-making: technique of rhythm instruments and staff music instruments; music-making with conventional, home-made, electronic instruments and body percussion; elementary song accompaniment; elementary group improvisation.
Movement: movement in conjunction with voice training; development and practice of posture and sequences of movement; set movements and free movement, also incorporating objects and instruments; use of movement to discover metre, time, rhythm and melody as well as form, tone and style; group dances, set dance patterns and dance forms created by the pupils themselves, dancing songs.
Creative representation: creation of texts, representations and pictures to music; creative games with rhythms, pitches and sounds; use of media and new technologies.
Listening: discovery, description and analysis of the acoustic environment; development of emotional and cognitive relationships to music by listening to selected examples from various eras, genres, fields of use and cultures and by vocal and instrumental music-making.
Music theory: basic concepts of music theory, especially relating to the class repertoire: graphic and traditional notation as an aid to listening, playing and singing; metre, time, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, phrasing; intervals, chords; major, minor, pentatonic elements; motif, theme; two and three part song, rondo, variation; introduction to musical genres; visual and aural recognition of the most common musical instruments and how they are played; acquisition of a vocabulary of musical terminology; information on the lives of musicians in connection with selected examples of music.
Secondary Education II: Secondary Academic Schools
Music education is compulsory in all nine federal provinces from the first to the tenth year. In the upper school music is an alternative compulsory subject. Students choose between art and music in the 7th and 8th form.
In addition to the minimum number of hours of compulsory lessons schools can autonomously change their curricula in accordance with their particular areas of specialisation. In forms 6 to 8, optional subjects (“Wahlpflichtfach”) allow student-centred specialisation.
As an additional choice schools can offer choir, instrumental ensemble, and instrumental and singing lessons. The extent to which such additional lessons are provided depends on the individual profile of a school, the number of teaching hours available and the school’s commitment.
As in the lower levels, the curriculum includes teaching and learning objectives and emphasises especially the contribution to personality development of adolescents and their cultural understanding.
Areas of the Curriculum
Practice of music: Regular basic musical training is essential for the development of a musically proficient personality. This includes training correct use of the voice and musical instruments and conscious listening. Special attention must be paid to accuracy, confidence and artistic expression in a variety of different forms of presentation.
Musicology: Experience of sounds, compositions and interpretations coupled with details of composers’ and performers’ lives should form the basis of every approach to acquiring knowledge in the field of musicology. In addition, musicology must be seen in the context of the general historical, cultural and philosophical developments prevalent at the time. The shift from action to knowledge must be accomplished by means of the practice of music, multimedia and activities and must be interdisciplinary in nature.
Music reception: Conscious listening is the basis of an integral understanding of music. A crucial element of this is direct experience of musical performance. It is therefore necessary that efforts are made to enable pupils to meet musicians in their school and local environment. Beginning with a critical examination of familiar material the aim is to awaken the desire and curiosity to discover new and unknown music. Pupils must be given the opportunity to experience music with all their senses as an accompaniment to life. On the basis of a broad and varied musical repertoire, coupled with a thorough grounding in music theory, efforts must be made to enable the pupils to approach music from an intellectual standpoint and with sufficient means to argue their case.
These three aspects of the curriculum are interrelated and must always be seen as such. Where necessary to reach a particular learning objective they must be combined and this linkage must take interdisciplinary and intercultural aspects into account. School and extracurricular projects and events should encourage the pupils to take part in artistic activities, promote shared experiences and attract the attention of a public beyond the confines of the school environment. Particular attention must be paid here to cooperation with local cultural institutions. Encounters with the forms of expression of other cultures should foster respect and critical understanding.
The means of appreciating music should be communicated to the pupils aurally, visually, kinaesthetically and emotionally in a way that is in keeping with their intellectual and physical development. The various learning levels “introduction – exploration and experience – learning, developing and practising – knowledge and application” should be applied with the learning objective in mind by judiciously combining various learning approaches. The teaching methods used must also be in keeping with the learning objective.
Where appropriate, new technologies must be used as teaching aids in all three areas of the curriculum.
Excerpt from the curriculum of upper schools, for detailed information see here.
Secondary Education II: Medium and Higher-level Technical and Vocational Schools and Part-time Vocational Schools for Apprentices
In these kinds of schools music is only taught in schools for occupations in the social and services sector which means that approximately 50% of pupils over 14 do not come into contact with music education in schools.
A relevant exception is nursery teacher training colleges. Here, in keeping with the profession aspired to, music education, instrumental music education and rhythmic-musical education is part of the compulsory curriculum.
In Austria too there is undoubtedly – to a variable extent – a relevant discrepancy between the lessons stipulated in the curriculum and actual music lessons taught at particular schools. Due to the lack of appropriate methods of data collection the authors have had to restrict themselves to the “fiction” of the curriculum. The value placed on the subject undoubtedly varies depending on the location, the type of school and the people concerned (teachers and students), to name just a few relevant factors.