The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice
During the past two decades, there has been a boom in the popularity of
music playschools in Finland. More and more Finnish parents want to put
their children in music playschools at younger and younger ages, even
three months old at the earliest. "Finns must love music very ardently"
may be the first idea that comes into mind. While this is certainly true,
it is only part of the truth. Many other features are also intertwined
with early childhood music education.
The purpose of this paper is to analyse some aspects that contribute to
the popularity of music playschools in Finland. The aim is to show that
the music playschool system in Finland has many functions and serves many
purposes, not all of which directly relate to music education as such.
Learning to appreciate music is considered important, but it is not the
only reason for why so many organisations offer music education, or why
parents decide to put their children into music playschools.
The paper will first explain what is meant by the term "music
playschool". Then it will introduce the music playschools in Tampere, the
third largest city in Finland, in order to give an overview of different
organisations that offer early childhood music education in Finland. Then
it will describe the historical background of the music playschool system
and the education of music playschool teachers. It will also review the
purposes of early childhood music education, and the motives of the
parents for putting their children in music playschools. Finally, it will
give some examples of ways in which children's individual needs are paid
attention to in Finnish music education.
What are music playschools in Finland?
The term "music playschool" (musiikkileikkikoulu in standard
Finnish, muskari in colloquial Finnish) refers to general music
education for children under seven years of age. Instruction is offered to
small groups of children who are of approximately the same age: the group
size usually varies between 5-12 children. Children under three years
attend classes together with a parent. The duration of a class usually
ranges from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the age of the children and the
school policy: according to some schools, 45 minutes would be too long a
time for babies and toddlers, whereas other schools do not regard
45-minute classes as excessive (Järvinen).
The substance of the instruction naturally varies according to the age
of the children, but classes normally involve at least listening to music,
singing, playing instruments, playing games, and moving according to the
rhythm of the music. Music playschool teaching does not usually include
individual instrument studies. However, in some schools it is possible to
take instrument lessons in groups of 2-3 children for an extra fee
(Musiikkileikkikoulu, Ryhmät). Some schools even offer individual lessons
(Tampere, Musiikki- ja tanssileikkikoulun ilmoittautumislomake).
However, the term "music playschool" is used rather loosely in Finland,
which may sometimes cause confusion. Early childhood music education is
offered by several types of organisations, not only institutions
specialised in music education. Furthermore, learning music may not always
even be the primary goal of music playschool activities: in many cases,
such as in social work or music therapy, music is used as a medium to gain
some extra-musical end. Thus, the term music playschool can be widely used
even in contexts in which music instruction is tailored to meet the needs
of some special group. For example, health and social authorities have
organized music playschool groups for mothers and babies who live in
difficult social conditions, and who may even be in danger of being
alienated from society, and the results have been promising (Stakes,
Arviointi). There has also been a lot of discussion in the Music
Playschool Teachers' Association about applying music playschool
activities to social work (Järvinen).
Such applications of music
education are not considered to be a marginal phenomenon that is only
remotely associated with music playschools. On the contrary, they are
regarded as a very important part of music education. "Who would need the
healing power of music, if not children with problems?"1 asks Marika Järvinen, a music playschool teacher
at Tampere Conservatoire2 (Järvinen).
Music playschools in Tampere
Tampere is the third largest city in Finland, with approximately
200,000 inhabitants. The following overview of the music playschools in
Tampere gives some idea of the variety of institutions that offer early
childhood music education. Schools usually take children in the order in
which applications are received; very often all applicants are accepted,
at least if parents are ready to participate in any group available in the
curriculum. At least the Conservatoire and the Evangelical Lutheran
Parishes in Tampere seek to establish as many groups as necessary
(Säätelä). Most schools have groups for three- or five-month-old babies up
to six-year-old children. Tuition fees range from approximately 100 euros
to 500 euros per year.
Tampere Conservatoire (in Finnish Tampereen
konservatorio) is a government-subsidized music institution that gives
instruction in four districts in Tampere, in the centre of the town as
well as in the suburbs (Tampere).
Pirkanmaa Music Institute (Pirkanmaan musiikkiopisto) is
a government-subsidized music institution owned by Tampere YMCA
(Pirkanmaa, Music). There are music playschool groups in five different
locations in the Tampere region (Pirkanmaa, Musiikkileikkikoulu).
The Evangelical Lutheran Parishes in Tampere provide a multitude
of activities for children of all ages. They are popular even among
families who do not take part in other activities of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church: in the year 2000, 45% of all four- to six-year-old
children in Finland attended playgroups organized by the Church (Salonen).
There are 11 parishes in Tampere, and there are music playschool groups in
10 places across the town (Evangelical).
The Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (Mannerheimin
lastensuojeluliitto) is the largest child welfare organization in
Finland, with more than 95,000 members and 564 local associations
throughout the country (Mannerheim, General). In the local association of
Tampere, there are music playschool groups for babies and three- to
six-year-old children (Mannerheim, Musiikkileikkikoulutoiminta).
The Adult Education Centre of the City of Tampere (Tampereen
työväenopisto) primarily provides non-formal general interest courses
for adults, but there are numerous activities for children as well: its
music playschool groups are for children up to four years of age (Adult).
The Adult Education Centre of the Ahjola Settlement (Ahjolan
kansalaisopisto) is part of the Finnish Federation of Settlements.
Originally, the aim of settlement work was to promote the values of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church; today, the activities of the Finnish
settlements are no longer religiously oriented. Activities include an
adult education centre, child and youth work, a day-care centre, various
free time activities for adults, and community work (Ahjola Settlement).
Ahjola offers two specialities in the field of music education that are
worth mentioning: a multi-cultural music playschool group for immigrants,
one purpose of which is learning Finnish, and groups emphasizing ethnic
music (Ahjola, Kansalaisopiston ohjelma).
There are also private music playschools in Tampere: Maija Salo's Music
Playschool (Maija Salon musiikkileikkikoulu), Appasionato, and
Suzuki Music School (Tampereen Suzukikoulu). A common factor is
that they are not subsidized by the state or the City of Tampere, so they
are considerably more expensive than subsidized music playschools:
approximately 300-500 euros per year.
Development of the music playschool system in Finland
Only a few decades ago, early childhood music education was not
generally considered to be important (Musiikkikoulu, Maija). To a great
extent, the music playschool system in Finland, including study programmes
for teachers, is due to a few strong women who did the pioneer work. The
first music playschool in Finland was established by Sinikka Valkola-Laine
in Helsinki in 1958 (Leppäaho). Valkola-Laine created a model that worked
well, and her model set an example that many others followed later on
(Pirhonen). Ritva Ollaranta established the music playschool in the East
Helsinki Music Institute in 1965. She also started music playschool
teachers' education in the Helsinki Conservatory of Music in the 1980s
(Stadia, Ritva). The first courses for music playschool teachers at the
Sibelius Academy started in the 1970s at the initiative of Ellen Urho, the
rector of Sibelius Academy at that time, and Maisa Krokfors (Leppäaho).
Soili Perkiö has composed a lot of music for music playschools. Perkiö is
currently the Head of Department in the Department of Music Education at
the Sibelius Academy. Music playschool teacher Ritva Mustonen-Laurila was
also one of the pioneers (Musiikkikoulu, Historia).
Many music teachers were particularly inspired by Zoltán Kodály's new
ideas of music education. In the 1960s there was a major reform of music
education in Hungary due to Kodály. Finland has traditionally had strong
cultural ties to Hungary, because Finnish and Hungarian belong to the same
language family. So, news from Hungary reached Finland rather quickly, and
many Finnish music teachers went to Hungary to study the Kodály method
(Musiikkikoulu, Historia). Many Hungarian musicians and music pedagogues
also came to Finland. Some of them, such as Géza and Csaba Szilvay, have
become key figures in Finnish music education (East).
Nowadays, the Kodály method is not the predominant method anymore,
because music teachers have become more familiar with other methods and
philosophies as well. But the Kodály philosophy still affects the point of
view that many Finnish music educators have. Kodály's basic principles
were as follows:
- Music is a prime necessity of life.
music of the highest quality is good enough for children.
education must begin nine months before the birth of the child.
instruction must be a part of general education for everyone.
- The ear,
the eye, the hand, and the heart must all be trained together. (IKS)
Different methods do not, however, exclude each other. They have
different approaches to teaching music, and they emphasize different
things: for example, Kodály emphasizes singing and purity of tone, Orff
playing instruments, Suzuki listening, and Dalcroze learning by moving.
Therefore, all of them have something to give, and they can be used
Music playschool teachers' education
Music playschool teachers' education started at the Sibelius Academy in
1971. At that time, the Sibelius Academy gave only short-term
supplementary courses for music teachers. At the secondary level, at
conservatories, education started in 1987 (Leppäaho). Gradually the study
programmes were extended to their present comprehensiveness, so that the
first music playschool teachers who had undergone a four-year study
programme graduated in 1991 (Järvinen).
The organization of music playschool teachers was also an important
step, because there were no ready-made models nor any teaching material
available. Teachers started to get together informally in the 1960s in
order to share new ideas (Pirhonen), and the Music Playschool Teachers'
Association was founded in 1979 (Music).
Nowadays music playschool teachers graduate from the polytechnics of
Helsinki, Lahti, and Jyväskylä. The graduates receive a diploma of
"musiikkipedagogi (AMK)", which is "music pedagogue" in English.
[AMK is the abbreviation for ammattikorkeakoulu, i.e. "polytechnic" in
Finnish.] The polytechnic degrees are equivalent to a Bachelor's degree
(Stadia). The graduates are qualified to be appointed to posts at music
institutions. Studies take approximately four and a half years (Lahti). In
the Sibelius Academy it is also possible to specialise in early childhood
music education. Those who graduate from the Sibelius Academy have a
Master of Music degree (Sibelius).
The purpose of early childhood music education
When the first music playschools were established, they still were
relatively performance-oriented. However, the tendency during the
development of music playschools has been to move away from performance
orientation towards a more holistic view of music education (Pirhonen).
The main purpose of music education is to support the development of a
child's personality and self-expression as a whole, not to make children
little musicians on the terms of adults. Music can help broaden a child's
personality; for example, it can encourage a child who is quiet and shy,
and help a restless child to calm down and concentrate (Lamponen 45).
Especially with infants under three years of age, connecting the family
members and strengthening the bond between parent and child is also
regarded as being important, as well as encouraging parents to play and
sing together with their children (Stakes, Tavoitteet).
From the music institutions' point of view, music playschools do a
valuable job laying the groundwork for music studies. Fewer children apply
to music schools every year. So, music institutions have noticed that it
is in their own interest to support early childhood music education. For
example, approximately 70-80% of the children who start instrument studies
at the Tampere Conservatoire come from the institution's own music
playschool, and the remaining 20-30% have usually gone to some other music
The motives of the parents
In Finland, there is nowadays a rather strong tendency to organize all
sorts of activities for children, because a wide range of stimuli is
considered to be important for children's optimal development. This
tendency shows not only in the popularity of music playschools, but also
in structuring children's time in general. Children participate in all
kinds of organized activities more than before. One reason for this is
that nowadays learning concrete skills is valued more in our culture than
free playing (Lasten).
In addition to this, Finnish mothers taking care of children at home
are often lonely, because most friends and neighbours have full-time jobs
outside the home, and grandparents and other relatives may live far away.
Most mothers do not have such a natural social support network around them
as mothers used to have. Nowadays, mothers have usually gone to work
before they have started having children, and they miss the company of
other adults, especially those who are in a similar situation in life. In
music playschools mothers can meet other parents who have children of the
same age. Even music playschool teachers themselves often attend music
classes with their babies for social contacts (Säätelä).
Sometimes parents are very interested in music, but they are so
insecure about their own musical skills that they may even be afraid of
making their children unmusical, if they cannot sing in tune. At music
playschools parents themselves gain more courage to sing to their
children, which can be very therapeutic for the parents – and
children love their parents' voices no matter how rough they may be
Focus on a child's best interests
"Music instruction is for everyone" was one of Kodály's most important
principles, and that is the underlying idea in the music education in
Finland as well. All children should have the right to get music
education. It should not be reserved just for the particularly talented or
otherwise privileged. Usually schools take children in the order in which
applications are received. Many schools try to establish enough groups so
that all applicants can be taken. Searching for talent is not considered
as a primary function of music playschools, and children's musical skills
are not tested (Järvinen, Säätelä).
It is also important to operate on the children's terms, respect their
individuality and have reasonable expectations. For example, especially
2-year-old children are often shy and do not do much during the classes.
Some children are known among teachers as "recorders": Such children do
not do practically anything in class. As a matter of fact, they may
absolutely refuse to take part in anything, but they listen and watch
everything very carefully. Parents are sometimes almost desperate; it may
seem useless to bring the child to the classes, but teachers usually tell
them to be patient. It may take a while, but usually sooner or later
children will start to discharge what they have recorded. Some children
may never start doing anything during the classes, but they may sing and
play at home all the time. Teachers encourage parents to continue even if
it does not seem to make much sense to the parents: if the child learns
new things in classes, and sings and plays at least at home, coming to
classes is worthwhile.
At the age of three children begin to go to classes without a parent.
Usually children who have had the same teacher before do not find the
change very difficult. For new children in the group it takes more time to
adjust. Many schools allow parents to come along and stay in the same room
during the classes until their children are ready to be left alone.
Are there children who would not want to go to music playschools? This
seems to be relatively rare. The great majority of children like singing
and playing. However, in some cases, a child is obviously scared of or
discontented with something every time she comes to a class. If teachers
and parents do not find out the reason for her behaviour, and if the
situation does not improve, teachers have to propose to parents that it
would be better to give up for the time being and maybe try again the
following year (Järvinen). With older children it may sometimes be more
complex. They do not express themselves so openly and directly anymore, so
it is more difficult to know whether a child likes attending the classes
or not (Säätelä).
Some children may be so hyperactive that they do not fit in with the
group. Such situations are delicate, and a teacher has to be skilful in
order to handle them. It is not always easy to find out whether the child
has some developmental disorder that would need treatment, or whether the
child's behaviour relates only to the music classes: the child may not
behave in the same way at home and in day care, and the child's parents
may be genuinely surprised when they are told that their child is out of
control at the music playschool. However, with few exceptions, things
usually clear up after discussions between the teacher and the child's
Why are music playschools so popular in Finland?
In only a few decades, the music playschool system in Finland has
become so established that an increasing number of parents want their
children to go to music classes as a matter of course. Parents naturally
hope that their children would learn musical skills and grow to love
music, but there are also many other factors that affect their decision.
The parents themselves want to learn new songs and games, and especially
if they take care of their children at home, they want to meet other
adults. Parents also hope that their children will acquire social skills
in a group. Music playschools are generally considered to be a fun way of
being together: children are respected, and music playschools operate with
the children's best interests in mind. The threshold for participating is
low: There are music playschools across the whole country, and at least in
the biggest towns there are several options, organized by many different
institutions. For most people, music playschools are not too expensive
either. In addition, the quality of music education is high, because
teachers are well educated.
As a result of all this, many children in Finland are starting to get
music education at an early age. Perhaps paradoxically, particularly
talented children are also being detected earlier, even if searching for
talent is not considered as a primary function of the music playschools.
Overall, the music playschool system offers many benefits to both children
and their parents as well as to Finnish culture and society as a whole.
- Translated by the author. (back to the
- Many Finnish music institutions use the spelling
"conservatoire" instead of "conservatory". The use of these terms is not
always consistent: an institution may sometimes be referred to as a
"conservatoire" and sometimes as a "conservatory". (back to the text)
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Viewed 18 April 2005.
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- ---. Ahjola
Settlement. Updated 29 March 2005.
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Musiikkileikkikoulut Viewed 18 April 2005.
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Viewed 2 May 2005.
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Viewed 18 April 2005.
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- ---. Taustat ja perusteet. Viewed 18 April 2005.
- ---. Tavoitteet. Viewed 18 April 2005.
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