Switzerland National Overview

Updated in March 2017 by Philippe Dinkel, Director at Haute école de musique Genève – Neuchâtel” (HEM), Switzerland.

Overview of Higher Music Education System

The Higher Education in Music system in Switzerland prepares students for the following professions, both classical and jazz:

  • Performer (soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician, accompanist)
  • Conductor (orchestral, brass bands or wind ensembles, choir, contemporary ensembles)
  • Music Pedagogue (instrumental or vocal teacher; music teacher leading groups in pre-schools, primary and secondary schools; music and movement)
  • Composer (including arranger, sound designer, composer performer)
  • Music Theorist

Other specialisms:

  • Church Musician (vocal performer, organist, conductor)
  • Cultural mediator
  • Ethnomusicologist

There are eight music schools, each one affiliated to, or part of, a university of applied sciences:

Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano/ Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera italiana (http://www.conservatorio/ch )
Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève / Haute Ecole Spécialisée de Suisse Occidentale (https://www.hesge.ch/hem/)
Haute Ecole de Musique de Lausanne / Haute Ecole Spécialisée de Suisse Occidentale (http://www.hemu-cl.ch/)
Hochschule der Künste Bern – Fachbereich Musik / Berner Fachhochschule (https://www.hkb.bfh.ch/)
Hochschule Luzern – Musik (https://www.hslu.ch/de-ch/musik/)
Musik-Akademie Basel, Musikhochschulen / Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (Musikhochshule Basel and Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (https://www.musik-akademie.ch/de/home.html)
Schweizer Akademie für Musik und Musikpädagogik / Kalaidos Fachhochschule (https://www.kalaidos-fh.ch/Departement-Musik)
Zürcher Hochschule der Künste – Departement Musik / Zürcher Fachhochschule (https://www.zhdk.ch/)

The high percentage of international students testifies to the high quality of the music education system.

Total number of institutions
Eight Institutions
Total number of music students
Approximately 3.000
There are state and private university schools of music. However, most of them receive substantial subsidies from the regional governments as well as the federal government.
Same typology in all Switzerland following successful accreditation process. Under the new federal law, the schools of music themselves (and not the curricula anymore) are subjected to an external evaluation.
Classic, jazz, pop, early music and non western.
2-cycle system
1st cycle: Bachelor consists of 180 ECTS (or 3 years of full-time study)
2nd cycle: Master consists of 90-120 ETCS (or 1,5 to 2 years of full-time study)
1st cycle: Bachelor of Arts in Music (followed by specification)
2nd cycle: Master of Arts in Music (followed by specification)
Entry requirements 1st cycle
Post-secondary title (Abitur, baccalauréat) and successful audition
Entry requirements 2nd cycle
Completed first cycle and successful audition.
% of students who continue with 2nd cycle Most students do a second cycle degree as the professional specialization takes place primarily at the Masters level, defined as the professional threshold.
3rd cycle
Since there is no 3rd cycle under the federal law, the Conference of Swiss Universities of Music (http://www.kmhs.ch/en/) and its members are developing various strategies of lobbying and creating bridges on the national and international level (discussions with the Swiss National Science Foundation (http://www.snf.ch/en/Pages/default.aspx) and the musicology departments within the universities, doctoral schools in collaboration and with other arts).
The key aim is to strengthen the concept of artistic research within the schools of music as complementary to the academic research within the musicology university departments.
Credit point system
All schools use a credit point system according to ECTS.
All three institutions offer possibilities of student and teacher mobility (Erasmus+ Programme), the Ministry of Education gives annual subsidies to all three schools in order to develop internationalization. Institutions collaborate with partner schools and institutions in Europe, USA, Israel and others. Internationalization is one of the main priorities of all three institutions.
Quality assurance
All music schools having or wishing to obtain university status are subject to external quality review and accreditation procedures. The responsible body for accrediting all Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences is the Federal Department of Economic Affairs and its State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (https://www.sbfi.admin.ch/sbfi/en/home.html). The FDEA may delegate review of accreditation requests to recognized accreditation agencies, which then determine whether the required qualitative standards and legal targets have been met.
The legal basis for accreditation and quality assurance within the UAS sector was established with revision of the federal act (SR 414.20) in 2011 (Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Swiss Higher Education Sector, (https://www.admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/20070429/index.html)
As a rule, the Bachelor in music will not be sufficient training for those students wishing to pursue a career as a performer, conductor, composer or teacher. However, students completing their first cycle will have acquired competencies that are relevant to the labour market.
Academic Year
Beginning: 43rd weekend of academic year; consists of two semesters, each 16 weeks
Overview of the Pre-College Music Education System
There are several possibilities in Switzerland to be musically trained prior to entering higher education.

Types of Pre-College Education

Basic Art Schools/Elementary Schools of Art
Basic Art Schools (also known as Elementary Schools of Art) offer arts education to children and adults. Most schools have three or four departments: music, dance, drama and painting (depending on the size of the school). There are around 800 schools situated all over the country. Basic Art Schools provide amateur music training, but prepare students for the entrance to conservatoires and higher music education as well. This type has nothing to do with the school, it is a kind of “extramural activity” (classes are organized in the afternoon and evening).
Children usually enter the preparatory class of the school around their 5th year of age after they have completed an entrance test; almost all students who apply are able to enter. Students study at Basic Art Schools until they are 16 (or more).
Basic Art Schools follow a national curriculum which is divided in two levels (primary and secondary); there is a different level for adults. Students have to take examinations every year. Curricula include instrumental lessons (mostly one-to-one tuition), orchestra and chamber music lessons and theory subjects. Most schools provide classical music education only, but some provide jazz and pop music lessons as well. Many graduates continue their education at Conservatories.
There are a number of high-level Basic Art Schools that are well known for preparing students for conservatories. This mainly has to do with specific teachers.
The Ministry of Education has implemented an accreditation system. All accredited schools follow the national curriculum and receive state funding. Some schools may receive funding by the city or a church (as well). In all cases, students only pay a small tuition fee. Virtually all Basic Art Schools are accredited.
Private Music School
There are many Private Music Schools, which even have their own association. Private Music Schools mainly provide amateur music training. Their service is often different from Basic Art Schools, including more teaching in groups. Some schools do follow the rules set by the Ministry of Education and therefore receive state, regional or municipal funding.
Conservatories in Switzerland are vocational training institutions that train students to be professional musicians. Conservatories provide music education at a very high level, combined with general education. They do not offer training at academic level (no Bachelor or Master Degrees).
Students can enter Conservatories from 14 or 15 years of age after they have passed an entrance exam. There is no preparatory class. The national curriculum includes many music related subjects and some general education subjects as well. It is therefore difficult for students to study any other subject than music in higher education. The music related subjects include instrumental tuition (one-on-one), theory subjects and orchestra and ensemble lessons. Some schools have a Jazz Department. Conservatories do not only train instrumentalists and vocalists but conductors and composers as well.
Music Gymnasium
Music Gymnasia provide high level general education combined with music education. Students can enter Music Gymnasia from the age of 10 after passing an entrance examination. It is also possible to enter later.
Music Gymnasia aim to prepare students for higher music education as well as for any other study area. They follow a national curriculum including a full general education programme at the highest level and music related subjects, such as instrumental tuition (one-to-one), theory subjects and orchestra and ensemble lessons. Music Gymnasia focus on classical music.
Many graduates proceed to higher music education, but there also is a large amount of students who continue their education at Universities in other disciplines.
Music Gymnasia is financed by the municipality, do not charge tuition fees.
Private tuition
There are private teachers who teach music outside of any institution. However, they mostly provide amateur training; hardly any students continue to higher music education.

Additional Information

Switzerland has a long tradition in the pre-college and elementary music education on a very high level. It has a rich net of elementary art schools (or basic schools of art). In the country, there is a huge number of semi-professional or amateur orchestras, choirs, chamber and opera ensembles (acting at schools, universities, municipalities, research institutions etc.), a lot of them are mixed – include both professional and amateur musicians and singers. There is also a big number of summer music courses for amateurs and future professionals.

There are quite a lot of teachers from the Academies (higher education) teaching at Conservatories and Music Gymnasia. Students are well prepared for the entrance level of higher education.

Higher music education institutions do not have Junior Departments or Preparatory Courses.
Basic Art Schools generally do not prepare students for professional career, conservatoires and gymnasia prepare 90% students for HME institution.

Music and Arts in General Education
1 class of music a week is usually compulsory subject in elementary schools and secondary schools as well. Some schools make a choice – students can have music, paintings or drama compulsory classes. Students can graduate from Music Education.
Students entering Higher Music Education
Almost all students come from Conservatories or Music Gymnasia.
Special Facilities for Talented Students at Pre-College Level
There are many facilities for talented students and there are competitions for all types of instruments, at different levels and for different age groups. There are also competitions for school orchestras and choirs.
Talented students at Basic Art Schools can receive more instrumental lessons.
Talented students can enter to HME institutions without having finished the secondary level (from the age of 15). Degree in Music is awarded after they finish their secondary level studies.

Overview of Music Teacher Education System

Instrumental/Vocal Music Teacher Education

Higher music education institutions (Hochschulen or Conservatorios) offer Bachelor and Master courses. The Bachelor offers a general education in music; specialisation takes place within the Master. The Master of Arts in Music usually offers instrumental/vocal teaching as an optional subject. There is a specific Master of Arts in Music Pedagogy as well. It is a specialized type of training that offers three different majors: Instrumental/Vocal Teaching, ‘School Music’ (focusing on teaching music in secondary schools) and “Dalcroze rythmics” (in Geneva). Some institutions offer Elemental Music Education as a major as well.
Structure and Curriculum
All Master programs take two years. The Master of Arts in Music Pedagogy in instrumental/vocal teaching includes training instrumental/vocal teaching skills and field specific subjects, in addition to the range of psychological-pedagogical-didactic subjects. Another important element is performance.
Classic, jazz, pop, early music
The Master of Arts in Music Pedagogy is usually followed by a range of students from various nationalities, and some would go back to teach in their home country. There are also various outreach programs developed with other countries or continents (South America, Middle East).
The exact qualifications for teaching at schools vary from canton to canton, but generally speaking, to be allowed to teach, students need a Master diploma (Master of Arts in Music, or Master of Arts in Music Pedagogy). Instrumental/vocal teaching graduates can teach at music schools or ‘middle schools’.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
There are postgraduate courses available, either in form of ‘DAS’ (Diploma of Advanced Studies, ca 30 ECTS) , or ‘CAS’ (Certificate of Advanced Studies, ca 10-15 ECTS).

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

Institutions Musikhochschulen, Universities, and Pedagogical universities.
Structure and Curriculum
The Master of Art in Music Pedagogy, as described above, offers a specialisation in ‘School Music’ (focusing on teaching music in secondary schools), and sometimes in Elementary Music Education as well. Some institutions also offer a Master in Art Education, which can be taken with or without a teaching certificate for secondary level schools. It is aimed at students working in education and in a broad cultural field, who wish to combine design, artistic, technological, academic and educational activities.
Internationalization Mainly focused on the Swiss market.
Employability The Master of Art in Music Pedagogy – the ‘School music’ strand – leads to teaching positions at secondary level schools. The Masters that focuses on elementary music education enables graduates to teach music to young children, aged 4 to 12 years. The Master in Art Education can lead to various positions, including teaching.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
There are postgraduate courses available, either in form of ‘DAS’ (Diploma of Advanced Studies, ca 30 ECTS), or ‘CAS’ (Certificate of Advanced Studies, ca 10-15 ECTS).