The Netherlands National Overview

Update in June 2018 by Harrie van den Elsen, Principal at the Prince Claus Conservatoire Groningen.

Overview of Higher Music Education System

Higher music education in the Netherlands is offered in nine conservatoires. Conservatoires are not embedded in ‘traditional’ universities (aimed at scientific knowledge and research), but in Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) or Professional Education (UPE). Conservatoires are mostly named (or seen as) ‘Faculty of Music’ or ‘Department of Music’ within the UAS/UPE. About half of the UASs/UPEs offering conservatoire education are so-called mono-sectoral UPEs. Those UASs/UPEs offer education only in the sector of Arts (one or more of the artistic disciplines music, dance, drama, fine arts, audio-visual arts). The other halves of the UASs/UPEs offering conservatoire education are multi-sectoral UASs/UPEs. Those UPEs also offer education in other sectors than the Arts, such as Economics, Technology, Health etc.
Conservatoire programmes are offered on undergraduate (four years) and post-graduate (one to two years) level. Formally only two types of undergraduate-programmes are offered: ‘Music’ and ‘Music in Education’. The ‘Music’-programme hosts a variety of different curricula, such as performance (classical music, jazz, pop music, non-western music), conducting, composition and music technology. The undergraduate and graduate programmes are recognised as Bachelors and Masters degrees.
Other important points under discussion are entrance levels and the quality of pre-college training, and the development of a quality assurance system that takes into account the specific character of professional music education.

Total number of institutions
Total number of music students
Approximately 4.250 Bachelor students
Approximately 1.100 Master students
Of which in total approximately 50% international students
Funding State-funded, through the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Curricula are not directly controlled by the State. There is a nationwide description of training profiles (the profiles are described as competencies for the music profession), based on professional profiles described earlier by the music profession and on the Dublin Descriptors. All Dutch conservatoires have to take into consideration these profiles as a minimum outcome requirement for their study programmes.
While genres might be used, we prefer to use programmes:
Classical Music Jazz
Non Western Music
Music Technology
Music in Education
2-cycle system 1st cycle: 4 years
2nd cycle: 2 years
Bachelor of Music: Musician, composer, music technologists, music teacher. Within these strands there can be specialisations (church music, jazz, etc.). There is a specific Bachelor of Music in Education for students who want to teach music in general education.
Master: Differs per institution, but Master of Music exists in all institutions. Within the Master there are various specialisations, for example musician, composer, NAIP, opera, conducting etc.
Entry requirements 1st cycle
Passed audition/entrance exam with theory and ear training tests.
Entry requirements 2nd cycle
Finished first cycle and a study plan for the second cycle, as well as language skills.
% of students who continue with 2nd cycle Approximately 35%.
3rd cycle

Dutch conservatoires are not allowed to give out Doctorates; this can only be done in collaboration with “traditional” universities.

Research: Research on the arts has a variety of forms and has a connection with different disciplines, such as cultural – anthropological research, neurological research, technological materials research, artistic research, historical research. Arts Professorships, but also bachelor and master programs and labs conduct such research in many practices, usually in relation to direct questions from the practices involved: arts practices, but also practices in other domains (science, engineering, business, health care, social work etcetera) in which the arts are involved.

Credit point system
Institutions make use of the ECTS system.
All Dutch conservatoires have a European University Charter and make use of the ERASMUS+ scheme and the actions within it. Partners are to be found not only within Europe but also abroad. Asia, America and Africa are countries where most conservatoires have partners.
During the bachelor phase students usually use Erasmus+ student exchanges to partners which fit in their studies. During the Master phase, students go abroad with a much clearer picture and research topic. Some conservatoires have an obligatory semester abroad, a so called Mobility Window.
The attractiveness of Dutch conservatories for international students lies in the high quality of the education and because they provide an international study environment, education in English and curricula aiming at the international professional practice.
Quality assurance
The Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie (NVAO) is responsible for the accreditation process. The new system in place in the Netherlands is geared toward a go/no-go decision by NVAO which operates independently from both the institutions and the Ministry of Education and Culture, although its members are appointed by this Ministry. NVAO was founded by a Treaty (2003) between the governments of the Netherlands and Flanders and is responsible for the accreditation of higher education programmes in both countries. Programmes have to be accredited once every six years by NVAO on the basis of the NVAO Accreditation Framework. If they do not gain accreditation, they lose degree-awarding power and government funding, and therefore must close. The steps in this process include:
  1. An institution chooses a Visiting and Validating Institution (VVI);
  2. The institution sends the VVI a Critical Reflection report;
  3. The VVI sends a visitation committee (musicians and educationalists) to the institution;
  4. The VVI writes a report, which is sent to the institution;
  5. The institution offers the report to NVAO with a request for accreditation, and if positive, NVAO grants the accreditation.
The process makes use of a self-evaluation report by the institution, a visitation by peers, and a visitation by a panel of independent experts. Some training is given to the experts according to the policy of the VVI chosen.
Accreditation is compulsory and public, as both the NVAO accreditation decisions and the quality assessment reports are published by NVAO on its website.
Accreditation is the final statement in the process of external quality assurance and may lead to a decision by the Ministry to withhold funding. The Accreditation Framework also leads to a further fine-tuning of the systems for internal quality assurance by the various institutions.
NVAO formulates general standards focusing on six aspects: objectives, programme, staff, facilities, internal quality assurance and outcomes. Dutch institutions of higher music education base the layout of their objectives and programmes on (rather global) national specifications regarding the expected level of proficiency of professional musicians, formulated by institutions and music organizations (to be obtained via the HBO-Raad, Sectoraal Advies College Kunstonderwijs) and on the Dublin Descriptors.
The NVAO asks the VVIs to compare the institution which is visited with other (inter)national institutions. There are no further formal requirements concerning this benchmark. The NVAO can give to the institution special quality awards next to the normal accreditation decision.
It is hard to give the percentages of graduates finding a job within the music profession, since most foreign students are going back to their home countries. An estimation of the percentage of students finding a job is the same as the average in the whole of Higher Professional Education in The Netherlands.
Academic Year
Start academic year: September 1st
End academic year: August 31st (with classes ending around 1 July)
The academic year is divided in two semesters.
Overview of the Pre-College Music Education System
There are several possibilities in the Netherlands to be musically trained prior to entering higher education.

Types of Pre-College Education

Music School (Muziekschool)
Music Schools offer music education outside of the general education system, to students of all ages and stages. They are mainly focused on amateur training, but provide preparation for professional music training as well. Students are accepted without entrance examinations, although some schools may test a student’s skills.
Music Schools provide instrumental and vocal tuition. Theory classes are sometimes provided, but are, as a rule, not obligatory. Larger schools may have school-orchestras, choirs and ensembles. There is no national curriculum for music education.
Many Music Schools are part of a Centre for Arts Education that provides courses and workshops in other art disciplines as well.
Music Schools are funded by the local government. Students have to pay tuition fees.
There are some Private Music Schools as well. These are funded privately and are therefore usually more expensive than the schools described above. Often, Private Music Schools have a limited offer of instrumental teaching.
Harmony, Fanfare, and Brass (HaFaBra) band
In some parts of The Netherlands, there is a tradition of Harmony, Fanfare and Brass bands. Many children who want to play brass instruments or (wood) winds receive their education through these HaFaBra-unions (bands). Some of the HaFaBra-unions have their own teachers, use the national HaFaBra curriculum and have examinations. A substantial part of the HaFaBra-students follows music lessons at a Music School.
Private tuition
There are many professionally qualified private teachers that teach music outside any institute or general education system. Private teachers form an important part of the pre-college education system in The Netherlands. Some teachers have strong informal connections to conservatoires (higher music education institutions), thus preparing many students for conservatoire entrance examinations.
With the recline of funding for music schools in the Netherlands the sector of private tuition has grown substantially.
Secondary school with a specialisation in music education (Cultuurprofielschool)
Over the last years, a number of secondary schools have been established that have a strong emphasis on culture (which can be split up in different disciplines, music being one). These schools do not provide instrumental/vocal training but do often give theory lessons and undertake many music related activities. Their education is aimed at students with a special talent and interest in music. Some schools may offer an adapted curriculum to students who would want to proceed to higher music education institutions.
Secondary school with music education on an advanced level (Havo voor Muziek en Dans, School voor Jong Talent)
The conservatoire in Rotterdam has a secondary school that provides Higher Secondary Education in combination with music education at an advanced level (Havo voor Muziek en Dans). Instrumental lessons are given by teachers from the Conservatoire. Their education prepares students for the entrance examinations of higher music education. However, graduates still have to take entrance examinations to enter the conservatoire.
The conservatoire in The Hague has established a School voor Jong Talent (school for young talent) which provides an even broader type of education than the school in Rotterdam: primary level grade 7/8 and secondary school Havo/VWO/gymnasium (Higher Secondary Education and Pre-University Education). The school is open to students between 10 and 18 years of age.
At both types of schools, students receive a regular diploma of secondary education, which enables them to study in higher education.
Both schools are integrated in the buildings of the conservatoires.
Junior Department (Jong Talent Klas) All state-funded conservatoires have Junior Departments, except for the conservatoires in Haarlem and Utrecht. These so-called Jong Talent Klassen (Young Talent Classes) have the means to educate musically gifted children to the highest possible level. The age limits for the junior department vary from 7 to 17. The pupils have to pass an entrance exam including a motivation interview.
The Junior Department provides main instrumental lessons given by a teacher of the conservatoire, music theory, and ensemble- or combo-playing. At some institutions pupils also sing in choirs and receive piano accompaniment.
The Junior Departments of Maastricht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Tilburg have agreements with primary and secondary schools to co-operate in order to achieve an optimal balance between the programmes at the regular schools and the conservatoire. The Hague and Groningen also have a Pre-Junior Class for very young children.
The Junior Departments are not financed by the state, so all institutes charge fees. Duration and costs depend on the age at entrance. Some conservatoires manage to find external subsidies.
Preparatory Course (Vooropleiding/Voorbereidend Jaar) Preparatory Courses are offered by all state-funded conservatoires, consisting of one or two preparatory years of study leading directly to the entrance exam of the Bachelor programme. The preparatory years are not only meant for pupils from the Junior Department; the course is aimed at musically talented youngsters who intend to begin professional music training after finishing secondary education, but who first need to improve their instrumental level and knowledge about music and music theory.
Curricula consist of main instrument lessons, basic music theory and history, and ensemble playing. Sometimes students participate in conservatoire projects, excursions and concert visits.
The subsidised and private/commercial music schools as well as private teachers offer courses preparing for admission exams for professional music study at one of the conservatoires too.
The following higher music education institutions have a Junior Department as well as Preparatory Courses within their institution:

  • Prins Claus Conservatorium, Groningen
  • ArtEZ Conservatorium, Arnhem/Enschede/Zwolle
  • Royal Conservatoire, Den Haag
  • Conservatorium Maastricht
  • Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Amsterdam
  • Rotterdams Conservatorium, Rotterdam
  • Utrecht School of the Arts, Faculty of Music, Utrecht, only has a Preparatory Course.

In a nutshell, the preparatory phase within higher music education institutes takes four forms:

  • A full-time study within the conservatoire preparing students for education in higher music training with elements from the first year Bachelor program (Tilburg);
  • A part-time study within the conservatoire (all conservatoires);
  • A part-time study in co-operation with secondary schools, with the possibility of exemptions from certain school lessons (Maastricht, The Hague, Tilburg) or in co-operation with music schools (Maastricht);
  • Music study in combination with a secondary school offering general education with a specialisation in music education (Havo voor muziek en dans in Rotterdam and School voor Jong Talent in The Hague)

Additional Information

Music and Arts in General Education
More Music in the Classroom: an innovative Dutch programme to enhance cognitive, emotional, social and creative competences of all children. This programme aims to give access to music education for all children in the Netherlands in primary school.
Students entering Higher Music Education
Most students come from private teachers or Junior Departments and Preparatory Courses.
Some students come from Secondary schools with music education on an advanced level (Havo voor Muziek en Dans, School voor Jong Talent).
Few students come from Music Schools.
Special Facilities for Talented Students at Pre-College Level
The Netherlands have many youth orchestras on local or regional level.
There is a National Youth Orchestra, which caters for talented amateur musicians, as well as professional music students.
There are various competitions for amateur musicians (instrumentalists, vocalists, ensembles, composition, and jazz). Some are subsidised by the state.
The Nationaal Muziekinstrumenten Fonds (National Musical instrument Foundation) is a national foundation that owns many high quality instruments, which they lend to extremely talented youngsters, professional music students and professional musicians.

Overview of Music Teacher Education System

In the Netherlands, a clear division is made between instrumental/vocal music teaching and music teaching in general education. This division translates to music teacher training systems.
There are three types of institutions that provide music teacher training:

  • Conservatoires (higher music education institutions)
  • Universities
  • Pabo’s (teacher training institutions for generic teachers in primary school)

Instrumental/vocal music teacher training is only offered in conservatoires, while training for music teaching in general education is offered at Universities and Pabo’s as well. In primary schools, music is usually taught by general teachers. At secondary level, music is taught by specialised music teachers.

Instrumental/Vocal Music Teacher Education

There are nine conservatoires that all offer teacher training. A distinction is made between preparing students for instrumental/vocal music teaching, and teacher training preparing for teaching music in general education (which is discussed below).
All institutions and study programmes follow the competences set by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the HBO-raad (The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences), and are accredited by the NVAO (Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation). All institutions are allowed to develop their own curricula within the guidelines set by the Ministry.
All conservatoires offer instrumental/vocal music teacher training programmes as part of the Bachelor of Music. In recent years, various conservatoires started Master programmes with a particular focus on music education.
The Bachelor of Music programme takes four years (full time). The Master programme takes two years (full time).
Instrumental/vocal music teacher training can be an optional or obligatory part of the Bachelor of Music.
To be able to enter a conservatoire students are required to have a higher level secondary school diploma (VMBO 4, HAVO or VWO), and need to pass a theoretical and instrumental/vocal audition.
Students usually receive methodology and pedagogy classes related to their main instrument. In addition, internal or external internships are often part of the programme too. There is no set duration to the teacher training programme, as institutions are free to design their own curricula. Classes usually last between one to three years. However, some institutions put special emphasis on teacher training, for instance by offering a special educational profile within the Bachelor of Music. In that case, teacher training is of course an obligatory part of the curriculum.
Some newly set-up Master programmes focus solely on teacher education, in various forms. All programmes focus on the professional working field. Internships/work placements are therefore an important part of the curricula.
As mentioned before, instrumental/vocal teacher training is part of the Bachelor of Music or Master of Music programmes and does not lead to a specific teaching qualification. Graduates receive the title of Bachelor or Master of Music. However, the newly set up Master programmes with a specific focus on music education lead to new qualifications, for example Master in Music Education, Master of Music in Interaction in Instrumental Teaching, Master of Music in Music and Arts Education, Master of Music in Community Music and Arts.
Most students are aware of the fact that music teacher training classes could help improve their employability, especially as part of a portfolio career. In The Netherlands, music teaching mainly takes place in Music Schools or private teaching practices, the latter being the most important in pre-professional music education. In the past, conservatoire teacher training programmes would lead to an official teaching qualification, but this no longer exists. Music Schools are free to choose who to employ, so special qualifications are not needed. In other words, teacher training programmes are not necessary to be able to teach professionally. However, the newly setup Master programmes described above show a trend and a need towards high level instrumental/vocal teachers, as well as music professionals who can deal with different types of educational settings (e.g. community work, special interest groups, etc).
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Almost all conservatoires offer various CPD courses for professional musicians, mainly aiming at broadening the musician’s professional practice. There are courses on instrumental/vocal teaching and new teaching styles (such as group teaching), ensemble conducting etc.
In addition, conservatoires offer ‘Contract Education’ for professional musicians, and sometimes for highly advanced amateurs too (admission requirements vary per institution). Students follow certain subjects, and take exams. Contract Education can be entered only after auditioning, and is tailored to the needs of the student. In some cases, students receive a certificate stating which courses were taken.
There are a five institutions that offer the one-year application course ‘Professional artist in the classroom’ (Beroepskunstenaars in de Klas [Bik]), in cooperation with Music Schools/cultural centres. It is an official post-higher vocational education course, meant for professional artists (from all art disciplines) who want to teach art courses of their own design in primary schools. The Bik-course includes three internships at primary schools. Although the Bik-course does not lead to an official teaching degree, it does function as a quality mark. Nowadays, some Music Schools are starting CPD courses too.

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

Training for music teachers in general education is offered in most conservatoires (higher music education institutions), and two universities. In all the Pabo’s (teacher training institutions for primary school teachers) the teachers are trained to give music education a place in their education programme.

Conservatoires: Most conservatoires offer a special Bachelor for general music teacher training, called Bachelor of Music in Education (Opleiding Docent Muziek). This type of education aims at preparing students for the profession of general music teacher, and provides them with a first grade teaching qualification which is obligatory for teaching in general education in the broadest sense.
The practical auditions for Bachelor of Music in Education programme have a different focus than the auditions for Bachelor of Music: students should demonstrate their musical qualities by playing and listening, singing and may be asked to do a practical teaching assignment. The requested level of instrumental playing is related to the future educational circumstances and has therefore other standards than the Bachelor of Music.
Recent changes in the working field led to the development of the new Master of Education in Arts. It is currently offered by six conservatoires, in cooperation with other schools of art (higher arts education institutions). It is open to students with various backgrounds in art education (e.g. music, dance, theatre, fine arts) and focuses on the interdisciplinary aspect of the arts.
The Bachelor of Music in Education takes four years (fulltime), but some institutions also offer a two-year part-time course for lateral-entry, leading to the same qualification. The part-time course is usually taken by students who (almost) finished another conservatoire study, and who already have a part-time employment in education. The Master of Education in Arts programme takes two years.
Each institution has autonomy to develop its own curriculum, based on the competences set by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In 2013 a document has been defined describing the Body of Knowledge for all teacher Trainer departments in the Arts. All this together allows each institution to build its own profile.

University: Two universities in the Netherlands offer a Master of Arts degree in Musicology. Complemented by a one-year course leading to a first grade teaching qualification, graduates are allowed to teach music in secondary education.

Pabo: Primary education schools usually do not employ specialised music teachers. Music is taught by regular school teachers, who receive their education at a so called Pabo (teacher training institution for primary school education). Music is a very small part of their curriculum, and is incorporated into the more general subject of ‘culture education’. However, as there is a trend towards a stronger focus on culture education at primary schools, the Pabo curriculum may be adjusted in the future. At this moment the content of the training of music education in the Pabo’s does not lead to a formal qualification to teach music as an autonomous discipline

Curriculum At conservatoires, most study programmes can be divided into four groups:

  • Educational subjects (e.g. methodology, psychology, pedagogy, school practice)
  • Theoretical subjects (e.g. general music theory, arranging/composing, music history, general arts history)
  • Training as a musician (e.g. play an instrument, make music together, be a musician)
  • Music practical (e.g. piano, singing, guitar, pop practical, world music practical, conducting)
  • Other (e.g. music and movement, interdisciplinary electives, music theatre productions)

Work placements/internships are an important and compulsory element of the Bachelor of Music Education. Students get to work in both primary and secondary schools.

In the past, students in the Bachelor of Music in Education programme were usually only interested in working in general education, both primary and secondary. Nowadays students also have ambitions to work in community settings, and as educational staff members for cultural organisations such as orchestras and concert venues. Next to that a growing number of students become independent musicians and music teachers.
The Master of Education in Arts focuses on bringing up interdisciplinary art educationalist. They can be employed in various areas – ranging from schools to concert halls and museums – as teachers, or development and policy makers
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Conservatoires offer CPD courses. The two-year part-time Bachelor of Music in Education programme described above can be regarded as a CPD course too, as it is meant for lateral-entry (for general education studies).