Music Education in Estonia

I. Political Framework. 2

II. School System and Structure. 3

III. Music Education in Schools. 8

IV. Music Curricula. 9

V. Critical Comment and Future Development 14

I. Political Structure

Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic wherein the supreme power of state is vested in the people. The activities of the Parliament, the President of the Republic, the Government of the Republic, and the courts are organised on the principle of separation and balance of powers. The official language of Estonia is Estonian.

Throughout their history, the people of Estonia have always valued learning and good education. Despite the uniformity of education systems during the Soviet period, the Estonian education system, as well as the other Baltic States, was able to preserve certain differences compared to the rest of the Union. For example much attention was paid to the preservation to the Estonian language and culture within the in the confines of a totalitarian state. The understanding is, that in this tiny country, which has limited natural resources, one of the main drivers of the development of society is through good education.

Since 1992, Estonia has made constant progress in the gradual establishment and improvement of the education system through the legislative powers of an independent state. The legal framework was built up concurrently with changes to the content of the curriculum, the structure of educational institutions and the organisation of education. The developments of the first decade following the restoration of independence have received considerable support through international cooperation: Estonia has joined the Bologna and Sorbonne conventions establishing a European Higher Education Area, joined the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region and adopted the Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act, which ensure equal participation opportunities for studies and employment in Europe.

As of the end of the 90`s, the Estonian education system is characterised by the efforts of various education authorities and experts to improve curricula, make management of educational institutions more professional and effective and use means allocated for the education system more efficiently.

The current priorities in the development of the education system are related to ensuring the quality and availability of education at all levels. Introduction to the principles of lifelong learning among all people of Estonia is now seen as increasingly important in order to develop self-respect, citizen awareness and competitiveness on the global labour market.

So today, the Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia is working continuously to shape the conditions for an education system that is ready for the demands of a modern, knowledge based society. Such a system provides a high quality education, is transparent and open for innovation, works on social inclusion and creates incentives for lifelong learning in order to support the development of all citizens and of the Estonian nation, especially within a unified Europe.

II. School System and Structure

Pre-Primary Education

The organisation of pre-primary education is based on the Framework Curriculum of Pre-primary Education approved by the government of the republic on October, 15th 1999. The framework curriculum is a basis for municipal and private childcare institutions to prepare their own curriculum and it also allows for parents choosing to educate their children at home. The most common methods upon application of a curriculum in pre-school childcare institutions are:

·         The method of a good beginning

·         The Montessori method

·         The Waldorf method

A nursery school may be connected to a primary school (a nursery-primary school with the same management). Nursery schools are divided into municipal and private childcare institutions. The catering expenses of a child in a childcare institution are covered by parents.

Basic Education

Basic education is the minimum general education that is compulsory for everybody from the age of 7-16. It consists of three stages, primary, basic and secondary. Attendance at Kindergarten is voluntary. After graduating the basic school most children go to secondary school. The alternative is to attend vocational training schools.

Schooling and education objectives, bases of organisation of studies, mandatory and optional subjects, subject content and syllabi, requirements to school levels and for finishing schools of the basic level have been provided for in national curricula.
Each school prepares its curriculum on the basis of the national curriculum. No tuition is charged for studying in state and municipal schools of general education.
Acquisition of basic education gives the right to continue studies for acquiring secondary education

Secondary education

Secondary education is also compulsory, follows basic education, and is divided into general secondary education and secondary vocational education. Completion of general secondary education gives the right to continue studies at institutes of higher education. Secondary vocational education is a direct way into the labour market. General secondary education takes place in upper secondary school, the upper secondary level is grades 10-12. An upper secondary school is a comprehensive school where each subsequent academic year (class) is directly based on the previous one and allows for smooth transition from one school to another.
Admission to upper secondary schools is based on the results of finishing basic school. Final examinations are organised for finishing an upper secondary school. Upper secondary school final examinations include state and school examinations.

III. Music Education in Schools

The Estonian music education has two branches:

·         Music is a compulsory subject in general education (in kindergarten, primary school, basic school and secondary schools)

·         Special music education is available in music and art schools, in special music colleges, in Tallinn Music High School and in the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre

Aims, contents and methods in general music education

Every person should have the ability to perform, create and listen to music with understanding. To achieve that end, every person should have access to a comprehensive and balanced programme of music education in school in order to:

·         support a person’s development;

·         experience, understand and evaluate cultural and musical heritage of the world;

·         develop personal skills;

·         educate knowledgeable audience.

Singing, including choral singing, is regarded as one of the main goals of music teaching to preserve and maintain Estonian cultural heritage and traditions. Music is a compulsory subject from the first up to twelfth grade.


Type of school


Amount of music lessons



2 (per week)

Primary school



Basic school





Secondary school



(National Curriculum for basic and secondary schools 2002)

Besides compulsory music lessons it is common in Estonia that every school has to have at least one or two choirs. In Estonia music is mostly taught by qualified music teachers (there are few exceptions in primary and basic level where music is taught by classroom teachers). From seventh grade up to the twelfth grade all subjects are taught only by teachers-specialists (regulated by the law).

Basic activities of general music education:

·         Performing: singing, playing instruments (classical, Orff, folk, electronic incl. “body percussion”)

·         Composing: creating musical improvisations, rhythmic and movement accompaniments, creative musical expressions using visual arts and media

·         Music listening and music history: experiencing and analysing vocal and instrumental music of different styles and genres from different eras

General music teaching in Estonian basic and secondary schools is based on methods by Riho Päts, Heino Kaljuste, Carl Orff and Zoltán Kodály.


Music teaching aims to introduce students to the world of music, to enrich the emotional side of their nature, to develop their musical taste and to develop their understanding of musical culture. Music teaching has the following components: singing, the acquisition of knowledge and skills related to voice and music, improvising, listening to music, rhythmical motion, playing on simpler children’s instruments. Teaching is based on the experience gained through practical musical activities.

From grade 1 to grade 3 – teaching is focused on singing a cappella. Alongside with single melody line songs, the student is introduced to elementary two-part (voices) pieces (canons). Once a song has been mastered by the student, it may be sung with instrumental accompaniment.

From grade 4 to grade 6 – attention is increasingly paid to songs in two parts. The main aspects the student needs to consider while listening to music are the mood, content and form of the piece, as well as its dynamics, tempo and musical patterns.

From grade 7 to grade 9 – the student usually takes a great interest in popular music. In addition to teaching songs, including popular songs, and musical theory, attention is paid on rhythm. Well-known classical compositions are recommended for listening at this stage.

Objectives of teaching

The aim of teaching music in basic school is to ensure that the student:

·         engages actively in musical activities;

·         is able to sing in a relaxed and natural way;

·         develops musical literacy;

·         acquires listening experience;

·         enriches the emotional side of his/her nature through musical impressions;

·         develops musical taste.

iv. Music Curricula

Curriculum for Grades 1-3

Singing and voice-development

·         Singing in a clear, sonorous tone

·         Developing a correct breathing pattern to ensure the clarity of tone and diction and an expressive mode of singing

·         Children’s songs suitable for the age level, Estonian and other people’s folk and dancing songs, canons

Musical knowledge and skills

·         Metre and rhythm

·         Duple and triple time

·         Duration of notes and rhythmic forms

·         Rhythmical accompaniments

·         Improvising


·         Following the direction of movements in a melody

·         Differentiating between high and low notes

·         Understanding modes

·         Major and minor modes, triads

·         Introducing notation


·         Children’s songs and instrumental character pieces

·         Musical genres such as march, polka, waltz

·         The lyricist, composer, soloist, ensemble, choir, choir leader, orchestra, orchestra leader, conductor


·         Accompaniments for songs

·         Preparing simple rhythm instruments

Curriculum for Grades 4-6

Singing and voice-development

·         Developing the sonority, expressiveness, as well as individual quality (timbre, compass) of voice

·         Polyphony, canons, folk songs

Musical knowledge and skills

·         Metre and rhythm

·         Time signature 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

·         Introducing time signatures 3/8 and 6/8

·         Rhythm improvisations, accompaniments


·         The treble clef

·         The absolute values of notes

·         The relation between the absolute and relative values of notes

·         Keyboard, octave

·         The keys C-a, G-e, F-d; triads

·         The natural, major and minor mode of songs; accidentals


·         The form in music: motif, phrase, sentence, period; two- and three-part simple forms

·         Performers, types of voice, types of choir

·         The best-known Estonian singers, choirs, conductors

·         Estonian folk songs, folk dances, folk instruments, folk singers

·         Some knowledge of the music of European countries to illustrate the songs in the programme

Curriculum for Grades 7-9

Singing and voice-development

·         Developing vocal abilities and individual qualities of voice

·         Vocal care during the period of puberty

Musical knowledge and skills

·         Time signature 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8, songs with alternating rhythm

·         New rhythmic forms

·         Rhythm improvisations, accompaniments

Melody and mode

·         Singing by note-names (the syllables and letters designating notes).

·         The keys C-a, G-e, D-h, A-f sharp, F-d, B-g, E flat-c

·         Introducing intervals and chords

·         Introducing the basic accompaniment chords tonic, sub dominant, dominant

·         Introducing the bass clef


·         Instruments, types of orchestra

·         The form in music: rondo, sonata, fugue, variations

·         Genres: mass, oratorio, cantata, opera, operetta, musical, ballet, prelude and fugue, string quartet, concerto, symphony, suite, overture

·         Jazz and rock music; Estonian popular music (R. Valgre, U. Naissoo, A. Oit, etc.)

Curriculum for Secondary

At secondary level, music is studied in its various styles, sound structures and forms as an art undergoing constant change and development. The history of music is part of the history of culture, and should be approached within a common framework with other important events, art and literature of a particular period. Singing contributes to the emotional side of the history of music.

Objectives of teaching

The objective of teaching music in the gymnasium is to ensure that the student:

·         has an understanding of musical styles of different periods, musical genres and forms; learns to analyse the music covered by the programme;

·         learns about the history of music by studying the works of distinguished composers;

·         is able to carry out independent research by writing essays, carrying out research projects, etc. on the history of music;

·         enriches the emotional side of his/her personality through musical impressions;

·         attends concerts and musical productions, learns to view them with a critical ear;

·         applies the knowledge and skills acquired at the basic school level to the study of the history of music, to analysing music and participating in musical activities;

·         sings with a correct breathing pattern, a clear diction, in a stable and soft voice;

·         learns many-voiced singing.

Course I

Content of teaching

·         The Antiquity

·         Ancient civilizations and music

·         Mythology and music (tragedy, comedy) of Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans

·         The Middle Ages (a survey of the period and music)

·         Romanesque and Gothic styles

·         Christianity, Gregorian chant

·         The appearance of polyphonic music

·         Organum, motet, liturgical drama, mystery play

·         Folk music, minstrels, poetry of chivalry

·         Notation

·         Instruments

·         The Renaissance (a survey of the period and music)

·         Instruments, dances

·         Madrigal, opera, mass, requiem, passion

·         The appearance of homophonic music, Protestant hymn, the leading countries of music and composers: Despres, Dufay, Ockeghem, Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso

·         The Baroque (a survey of the period and music)

·         Instruments, instrument groups.

·         Concerto grosso, prelude and fugue, oratorio, passion, cantata, baroque opera

·         The leading countries of music and composers: Bach, Händel, Vivaldi.

·         The Classical period (a survey of the period and music)

·         Instruments, ensembles, orchestras

·         Forms: Rondo. Variations. Sonata

·         Sonata, symphony, concerto, string quartet, overture, opera

·         The leading countries of music and composers: Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart

Course II

Content of teaching

·         Romanticism (a survey of the period and music)

·         Instruments, orchestras

·         Programme music, symphonic poem, solo song

·         Miniatures, étude, prelude, nocturne, dances

·         Opera, operetta, ballet

·         The leading countries of music and composers: Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner, Glinka, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Sibelius

·         Music of the twentieth century (a survey of the period and music)

·         Late Romanticism: Mahler, Bruckner, R. Strauss

·         Impressionism: Debussy

·         Expressionism: Schönberg

Course III

Content of teaching

Music of the twentieth century:

·         Neo-Classicism, Stravinsky, Orff, Hindemith

·         Jazz, symphonic jazz, Gershwin

·         Ravel, Rahmaninov, Skryabin, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, Honegger, Poulenc

·         Avant-garde: Cage, Stockhousen, Schnittke, Penderecki, Boulez

Estonian music:

·         Folk music, older folk poems. newer folk songs

·         Amateur period, choirs, brass bands

·         The first song festivals: Kunileid, Saebelmann, Thomson, Hermann

·         The first professional composers: Härma, Läte, Türnpu

·         New genres: Tobias, A. Kapp, Süda, Lüdig

·         The founders of Estonian choir music: Saar, Kreek

·         The founder of Estonian instrumental music: Eller

·         The founders of Estonian opera: E. Aav, A. Lemba

·         The birth of Estonian ballet: Tubin

·         Tubin, Ernesaks, E. Kapp, Tormis, Pärt, Mägi, Tamberg, Rääts, Sumera, Kangro, Tüür, Eespere, Sisask


Estonian music education has been oriented on singing tradition. Since 1991 instrumental music (playing an instrument in music lesson) has not been developed to a great extent because of the lack of the instruments.

The curriculum in Estonia emphasises integration between different disciplines. Most of music teachers are interested and able to integrate music and other disciplines – languages, history, sciences, visual arts, movement. They have started to use computers and technology in music lessons (that area has still not been well developed in Estonia). Here one can see another danger – they offer less and less time in music lessons for singing and for playing instruments.

Supporting Activities in music education

·         Song festivals for youth choirs, orchestras and dance groups are organized (with interval three years since 1962) by the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration Foundation

·         Contests, festivals and competitions are organized every year for different kinds of school choirs, orchestras and for vocal soloists by the Estonian Society for Music Education

·         Every two years Music Olympic Games are organized for pupils from 7th and 11th grades by the Estonian Society for Music Education. There are three parts in the MOG – singing, composing and musical knowledge and it has two tours – regional and the final tour.

V. Critical Comment and Future Development

The developing process of the national curriculum is focused on integration between different disciplines. The newest version of the national curriculum will be finished by June 2011.