Iceland National Overview

Updated in June 2018 by Tryggvi M. Baldvinsson, Dean of Music at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.

Overview of Higher Music Education System

The music training system in Iceland has mostly developed in the last 60 years. By law, all school age children should have music training in their public school, but unfortunately this is not the case for most of the country. More specialised music training takes place in music schools; there are around 80 in the country. These schools, which are funded by the municipalities and through tuition fees, have offered music training from the beginning of the education at the age of 6 (in some cases a little younger) until the students have completed their secondary education. In some cases, a few music schools have gone beyond that, into what is considered university level education. There is also some Suzuki training in the country (one special school) and several teachers are using this method in various music schools. The training begins much earlier, even around 3 years old.
Until the year 2001, the Reykjavík College of Music (Tónlistarskólinn í Reykjavík) offered the highest music educational level in Iceland. It was, apart from the Musicians Union Music School, (Tónlistarskóli FÍH), the only place where students could receive professional music training that focuses mostly on rhythmic music and the Reykjavik Academy of Singing and Vocal Arts (Söngskólinn í Reykjavík). There were instrumental, vocal and general music teacher departments, as well as the soloist diploma course. They were, however, not allowed to issue a University degree.
In 1999, by political decision, the Iceland Academy of the Arts (IAA) was founded to offer programmes of higher education level – (university) – in the visual arts, drama, design, architecture and music. The Academy is private, run on a contract with the government where the government agrees to pay a certain sum for a certain number of students. This sum varies according to departments. The main professional music training in the field of performance, composition, musicology and music education (instrumental teacher and public school teacher) is situated at the Academy of the Arts, which is part of the higher education or University system of Iceland.
The University of Iceland, School of Education – offers music teaching as an elective course. The course is mainly aimed at educating general public school teachers, with music as a specialization. This program does not require that students have an extensive musical background, and the elective part of the study (i.e. music and music related subjects) is less than 30% of the total credits.

The Iceland Academy of the Arts is a higher education institution offering education in the academic field of art. It is a self-governing institution, managed by its Board, Rector and Departments. The Charter, ratified by the Minister of the Interior, governs the appointment and purview of the Board. The Academy of the Arts’ Board is the highest decision-making authority within the institution and it supervises all matters that concern the Academy as a whole. The Board is a custodian of the Academy’s role and ensures that its activities are in line with its goals. The Board also elects the Academy’s Rector. The Board is responsible for the Academy´s operations, financial matters and assets, for determining tuition fees and formulating regulations concerning most of the Academy’s activities, including the appointment of its staff. The Board holds an open annual meeting presenting the Academy´s finances and principal operations. The Board formulates regulation regarding the organisation of the meeting. The Board consists of five members elected for a term of three years at a time. None of the members can earn a living from a position at the Academy or attend a course of study at the Academy. The Minister of Education, Science and Culture appoints two members of the Academy’s Board, whereas three other members are elected at the general meeting of the Association for the Foundation of the IAA. The Board elects a Chair and a Deputy Chair from among its members and determines its Code of Practice, which is published on the Academy’s website.
The University’s Rector handles the management and administration of the Academy on the authority of the Board and works on forming a comprehensive policy regarding university business. The Rector is responsible for the execution of the policy and for making sure that the organisation of the Academy’s activities complies with its role, aims and quality requirements. The Rector, with the Board, supervises the University’s administration, teaching, artistic endeavours, research, services and other activities. The Rector is responsible for hiring members of staff and management, in consultation with the Board. The Rector chairs meetings of the University’s Management Council. The Rector is the University´s main external spokesperson.
The Managing Director supervises the Main Office and all Directors of Support Services. The Managing Director works alongside the Rector and supervises the Academy´s finances and assets in consultation with the Rector and the Board. The Managing Director sits on the Management Council. The Rector is the University´s main external spokesperson.
The Management Council is a consultative platform for the Academy’s main management. The Council discusses issues shared by all Departments and Support Services, as well as the organisation of the Academy’s activities, including teaching organisation and arrangements. The Management Council also prepares recommendations on the Academy’s policy in most areas and serves as the Rector’s support in day-to-day management. The Management Council consists of the Rector, the Managing Director and the Deans of Departments. Other members of staff participate in the Council’s meetings as far as required by the meeting’s topics.
The Academic Council is a consultation and information-sharing platform for the Academy´s management, teachers and students. The Council discusses the Academy’s academic objectives, performance and quality and supports the Rector and the Board in making decisions on academic matters. Among matters submitted to the Council for review are proposals on programme composition, criteria for the quality of programmes and programme requirements, policies for research and artistic practice, as well as broader definitions of the Academy’s values and role.
The Academic Council consist of 12 members elected for a term of two years. It consists of the Rector, one Dean representing the Deans of Departments, five representatives of Academic Faculty (one from each Department), two student representatives (representing undergraduate- and graduate students) two representatives of part-time lecturers and one representative of alumni students. The Council elects a chairman from the faculty representatives. The chairman calls meetings and prepares agendas. The Academic Council meets at least once a month during the school year.

Total number of institutions
1 which award a degree: IAA
Total number of music students
There are around 130 music students at the university level studying in Iceland, nearly all of them at the University, the others studying in non-degree programs. On 1st of October 2017 there were 121 students studying at the IUA, 100 in 1st cycle and 21 in 2nd cycle.. The Annual Government contribution per music student is now (2018) ISK2.616.800 per year (Ca.€ 20.600)
Funding The Annual Government contribution per music student is now (2016) ISK2.267.000 per year (Ca.€ 19.000)
The curricula for professional music training in higher education are not controlled by the State, but have to be approved by the State.
The focus on classical western music is predominant in music education in Iceland. Musicians Union Music School has been the leading school in rhythmic music with its jazz and rock departments. In recent years, more music schools have been offering rhythmic music education for their pupils. At the University, the main focus is on classical western music, old and new, but students can also focus on Singer/Songwriting and take part in rhythmic ensemble. From Autumn 2018, the University will offer rhythmic vocal and instrumental pedagogy. There is no specific program for Folk Music or World Music, but individual courses in that field are on the curriculum.
2-cycle system
The departments were founded one by one, the department of music beginning in the autumn of 2001. Since the Bologna Declaration had been signed by then, the school was from the beginning organized according to the two cycle system, with a three-year Bachelor course. It is the same for all the Universities in Iceland, with the Masters level being two years. The Iceland Academy of the Arts offers Master’s degree programs in Music Composition, European Joint Music Masters for Audience Development and Innovative Practice, Vocal and Instrumental teachers program and Master of Arts Education.
The performance degree is B.Mus. all other disciplines (composition, musicology, music teacher and church musician) receive the BA.
Entry requirements 1st cycle
Basic qualification for acceptance into the IAA is a secondary school exam (Icelandic stúdentspróf) or completion of an equivalent program. In addition to the general requirements, applicants must meet additional requirements regarding their knowledge of music. All those who meet the general requirements are invited to an evaluation exam in music theory and aural skills.
Entry requirements 2nd cycle
A Bachelor’s degree in the field of study is the general entry requirement for the second cycle.
% of students who continue with 2nd cycle No data is available. However, estimation is that the majority of students continue with a 2nd cycle – especially performers and composers.
3rd cycle
There is no third cycle in music education in Iceland.
Credit point system European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). The 1st cycle is 3 years, 180 ECTS and 2nd cycle is two years, 120 ECTS.
Internationalization The Iceland University of the Arts actively participates in international collaboration. The University is a member of two extensive international cooperative ventures, the Nordplus educational programme organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU programme Erasmus+. Exchange, mobility and international collaboration has proofed to be vital for the Music Department. Each semester, few of our students (2 – 5) study abroad, usually for the period of one semester. It broadens their horizon and often encourages them for further studies abroad. At the same time, we receive the similar amount of foreign students that bring with them new perspectives and often have a valuable input in their classes.
Students have the option to partake in internships within the Erasmus+ framework. This can take place during their studies and up to 12 months after graduation.
Teachers’ exchange also play a big role in the Music Department’s work for the same reason as the student exchange; broadening horizons, making new connections and strengthening older ones. IAA’s Music Department was the project leader of the two year (2014-16) Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership: “NAIP: Innovation in Higher Music Education.” The strategic partnership, funded by the Erasmus+ programme, aimed at the modernisation of curricula, and teaching and learning approaches in higher music education through a further development of the European Music Master for New Audiences and Innovative Practice (NAIP). The Music Department is the project leader for the two-year (2016-18) Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership: “NAIP Training Artists Without Borders” in collaboration with six other academies in Europe and Asia.
Quality assurance
The Ministry of Education organizes external assessment with regard to the administrative and financial elements, as well as the general accountability of the institution.
The quality assurance process makes use of a self-evaluation report and visitations by experts (not peers) from IMG (a company that cooperates internationally with [among others] Deloitte, Gallup international, AC Nielsen, SHL and Corporate Lifecycle International). IMG is a research and consulting company specializing in knowledge creation that includes shaping, reviewing and evaluating institutions.
The assessment of the Music Academy took place for the first time in Winter of 2006-2007. The Academy received full accreditation from the Ministry of Education. The second follow up assessment took place in the Fall of 2010. Moving forward, the process will take place approximately every five years. The Icelandic Ministry of Education is responsible for the organization of the process, which is obligatory and public. It is organized nationally and is discipline specific.
The University operates on a contract with the government. Funding for the University is contingent upon the University performing at a certain standard and providing all information. If these conditions are not accomplished successfully, the government can cancel all funding to the Academy. The Ministry of Education sets the standards, by way of comparison with the other universities in Iceland, and arts/music institutions in Europe and America.
There is a legal framework for higher education in the Icelandic universities, where, for example, basic entry requirements and education of teachers are specified. Further information is available here.
The role of the Quality Board for Icelandic Higher Education, which was established in 2010 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, is to administer the development of a Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF) for the higher education sector in Iceland. The Quality EnhancementFramework has two components; institution-led reviews at the subject level, and quality board-led reviews at the institutional level. The Quality Board is not registered at the EQAR, but will apply for ENQA membership in 2017. MusiQuE does not need to go through an additional recognition procedure to be able to conduct reviews in Iceland.
Students have a high level of employability, especially in education in the public schools and smaller community music schools. Music teachers of any kind are needed, and students are therefore stimulated to go into this field. The problem is that students are reluctant to work outside the capital – Reykjavik. Music students, especially soloists, are encouraged to seek further studies abroad, and the government has a good student loan system for this purpose.
Academic Year
The academic year is 30 weeks, divided into two semesters. The academic year begins at the end of August, and ends in May.
Overview of the Pre-College Music Education System
Iceland has different types of music schools, but public schools as well as private ones are all financed the same way; the local community pays for the salaries of the teachers and headmasters, all other expenses should be covered by tuition fees.

Types of Pre-College Education

Music School
There are more than 80 music schools that provide music education outside of the general education system. About 75% of these are run by communities and around 25% is privately owned.
All of these music schools use the national curriculum and receive funding by communities. However, they may have different outlines; there are, for example, schools that are specialised in Suzuki method, vocal music or pop rock and jazz music (rhythmic school) or schools that only accept advanced students. Some schools also provide teaching on academic level although their training is not certified by the Ministry of Education.
Schools often reflect their surroundings. Outside the capital area the schools often have a more comprehensive cultural role in their environment. Music schools in the capital area can be divided in two: those who serve a certain neighbourhood (yet without borders) and those who provide more specialised services for the whole country. In the end, all schools that follow the national curriculum and are funded by the community are called music schools.
Cooperation of music schools with other types of schools is constantly increasing (both professionally and organisationally). Many music schools cooperate with both ‘amateurs’ and professionals in music and other arts, e.g. theater.
There is a national curriculum for each instrument and for theory subjects; “The role and main objective of music schools is to increase ability, knowledge and maturity of the pupils, as to strengthen the music life in the country”. The curriculum defines three main objectives of the music schools:
  • ‘Pedagogical’ – increase emotional and artistic maturity, cooperation and discipline and form attitudes
  • Skills and understanding in music
  • Community – increase participation in diverse educational and cultural activities
If there is space, anyone can enter a music school without auditions (although sometimes a student’s skills are tested). As a rule, music schools are open to children as well as adults, but in case of waiting lists, children are often given priority. The education is divided in three levels; elementary, intermediate and advanced. Each level is finished with an exam. Music schools are partly funded by communities; students have to pay tuition fees as well. These fees may differ per community.
Privately funded Music School
There are privately funded music schools (different from the privately owned music schools that are funded by the municipality). There are not many privately funded music schools. They do not follow the national curriculum. Privately funded music schools are often quite small, and mainly provide instrumental/vocal group teaching. Since they do not receive any funding, the tuition fees are high.
Music as a subject in general schools
From the first to the eighth grade, all students in general schools should receive comprehensive music education for one lesson (40 minutes) per week as an obligatory part of their curriculum. The lessons focus on getting acquainted with music by means of singing, moving and learning some theoretical knowledge etc. In the ninth and tenth grade, music education is offered as a non-compulsory subject; students can get their music studies evaluated as an alternative subject. This has been getting more common in past few years.
About 60% of the music schools work together with primary schools by means of accommodation. In some schools out in the country, the music school is in the same building as the primary school. In the capital area, the instrumental teaching of the youngest children increasingly takes place during the school day and within the building of the primary schools. Students are taken out of other lessons in primary school to attend the music lessons.
Many communities support wind bands within the general school system for children aged 9 – 15. Tuition fees are kept low and the pupils can rent instruments instead of buying them. Very few students continue their music education in ordinary music schools after their graduation.
Gymnasia with a special focus on music
Some gymnasia (secondary schools) accredit music lessons taken at music schools as part of the gymnasium curriculum. Students have to organise the lessons at the Music School themselves, and can afterwards ‘declare’ their hours at the Gymnasium.
New Music School
In 2016, the State founded a new music secondary school for students in the advanced level that is to be fully funded by the state. After an open invitation to submit tenders, a joint offer from Reykjavik College of Music and Musicians Union Music school was accepted and this new school is to accept its first students for the school year 2017/18. In collaboration with one of Reykjavik’s Secondary school, music students will now have the possibility to graduate with a secondary exam from this new music school.
Diploma Course for young talented and advanced music students
The Iceland Academy of the Arts, the only higher music education institution in Iceland, does not have a Junior Department or Preparatory Course. Instead, it has a special system for highly talented students whose level would allow them to enter the Bachelor studies, but who are too young to do so. This ‘Diploma Course for young talented and advanced music students’ has been approved by the Icelandic Ministry of Education. It caters for students over 16 years of age who are still in secondary school. These students get the opportunity to study at the Academy taking instrumental lessons and theory lessons alongside their studies at secondary school. Each student receives a personalised curriculum, earning ECTS (European Credit Transfer System). When entering the Bachelor, which most students do, these ECTS are used to shorten their studies significantly. There are about one or two students studying in the Diploma Course each year.
Private tuition Qualified teachers provide instrumental and vocal tuition, outside of any institutes or general education systems. Private teaching is funded by tuition fees and is therefore very expensive; most students prefer to go to a music school. Private teachers mostly provide amateur training, only some of them provide theory lessons. Some students studying with private teachers take theory lessons at music schools.

Additional Information

The IAA’s Music Department offers summer courses in theory of harmony as preparatory course for students that have been accepted but lack knowledge in harmony.

Students entering Higher Music Education
Almost all students come from Music Schools. Few students come from private teachers. Some students are autodidacts, especially composition students and some students that are from abroad. From Autumn 2018, a new pathway within composition, ‘New Media’ will commence. This programme does not require students to have a traditional music school background (with instrumental and theory proficiency) but rather, focuses on other musical attributes.
Special Facilities for Talented Students at Pre-College Level
Iceland does not have any special facilities for talented students, except for the ‘Diploma Course’ provided by the Academy of the Arts and the possibility of longer instrumental lessons at music schools. There are many youth orchestras, but these are part of music schools and not focused on extremely talented students.

Overview of Music Teacher Education System

Instrumental/Vocal Music Teacher Education

The Iceland University of the Arts is the only institution in Iceland that provides instrumental and vocal teacher education. IAA is a university offering programs in 1st and 2nd cycle.
IAA offers vocal and instrumental teachers education programs on Bachelor and Masters level. Though the program is structured as 3+2 years it offers the possibility that students can graduate with a B.Mus degree after three years. The Master degree includes the license to become teacher in primary and secondary schools. No license is yet needed to become music teacher in Icelandic music schools. On Bachelor level the main focus is on vocal or instrumental skills, but on Masters level the subject is more on the academic and pedagogical field. The Teachers Education Program was opened in 2013 for bachelor students and in 2016 for Master students. In Autumn 2018, a pathway for rhythmic music will commence at the bachelor level.
IAA has always worked by the principle that every musician must teach one day or another, so all BMus vocal and instrumental students take an obligatory course in pedagogy for their specific instrument or instrument group. The students of the BMus Teacher Education program also get extra courses in conducting, arranging and field & practice. MMus.Ed students get private instrumental lessons with their mentor as well as receiving courses in pedagogy, psychiatry, free improvisation and field & practice.
Genres The teacher education program aims to prepare vocal and instrumental music teachers for the Icelandic Music School System so classical western music is constitutive. In Autumn 2018, a pathway for rhythmic music will commence at bachelor level.
Internationalization As the programs at IAA are quite new, there has been little experience with internationalization. We expect it to play some part of the study, but as the program is groomed for the Icelandic Music School system, it has a limited attraction for students abroad. Teachers Exchange is expected to be similar as in other programs.
Students receive the title BMus and/or MMus.Ed/MA. This title is not required of instrumental and vocal teachers because Icelandic law does not require these types of teachers to be formally licensed, as the Ministry of Education does not monitor their training.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
There are no formally structured possibilities within the higher music education institutions. The IAA and University of Iceland offer a MA degree program for general music education teachers. Instrumental and vocal teachers have the possibility to enter that programme.

Education for Music Teacher in General Education (primary and secondary school)


The University of Iceland, School of Education and the Iceland Academy of the Arts (Listaháskóli Íslands) are two institutions that provide education for teachers of primary and secondary music education. Legally, all teachers must complete an MA degree to be licensed.

The Musicians Union School of Music (FÍH) has a small department for general music teachers. Graduates do not receive any license or certification from the government, and this type of training does therefore not formally qualify to teach in the public education system. The Reykjavik Academy of Singing and Vocal Arts (Söngskólinn í Reykjavík) has a small vocal teacher department. This school does not graduate students with a university degree and vocal teachers do not get any kind of certification or license. Therefore, these graduates tend to work mostly in fields such as vocal training in the choirs, but not as vocal teachers.


To receive a license to teach in primary and secondary schools students must complete a minimum of 300 ECTS, and a Master degree. IAA students who complete their Bachelor degree must complete 120 ECTS in pedagogical subjects for the Masters degree. IAA graduates are allowed to teach at both lower and upper secondary education, but graduates from the University of Iceland are only licensed to teach at the lower (primary) level.

If students plan to teach in music schools (outside the general education system) it is not necessary to have this qualification.

Students in the BA and BMus programmes are required to teach during their studies. This often takes place in music schools. Students training to become classroom teachers must do internships at local schools. Teacher education students are sent to schools in the countryside, in order to gain as much experience as possible. Students in the MA program do internships in primary and secondary schools. They also receive project based experience working in alternative settings.
Upon completion of the programme, students receive a MA degree in Arts Education. It is obligatory to have this degree in order to receive a license to teach in the primary and secondary schools.
These types of teachers are trained for education students in a music classroom setting.
Usually teachers from the teacher training college do not end up as specialist music teachers in the schools but they are valuable as positive and supporting teachers towards the specialist teacher.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
The whole question of CPD for musicians and artist is currently being revised in terms of the new legislation of the Masters degree requirement for all teachers, as well as emerging needs for musicians with broader and more diverse competences and skills.