Music in Schools

The Austrian school system is divided in Primary School, Lower Secondary School and Upper Secondary School. There is music education in all three sectors, but not in all types of schools. Schooling is compulsory through Lower Secondary School. Underneath you can see the types of schools and their offerings concerning music education. Music also plays a role in the Kindergarten, where the subject is seen as a part of the educational field ‘aesthetics’.

Primary School (age 6-10)

In the Pre-school curriculum the subject music is called ‘singing and music making’ (Singen und Musizieren). It is intended to develop and promote childrens natural joy through musical activity, movement and sound experiences. Music education at the Pre-school level may be encountered within and outside formal courses. The curriculum requires teachers, that daily musical encounters.

In the 4 years of Primary School (Volksschule) every child receives music education in the subject called ‘music education’ (Musikerziehung). The National Curriculum is divided into two stages (years 1-2 and 3-4) and focusses on the subareas of ‘singing, music making, listening, movement and dance and creativity’. The National Curriculum prescribes at least one hour of music per week per grade, but depending on the focus of the school, this can be extended to non-compulsory exercises, such as choir and ensemble playing. One can find significant differences in the quality of Primary School music lessons throughout Austria; much of this is due to the fact that nearly all Primary School teachers are trained as generalists rather than as music specialists.

Lower Secondary School (age 10-14)

At the age of 10, Austrian children have to decide whether to go to a ‘New Secondary School’ (Neue Mittelschule – NMS) or an ‘Academic Secondary School’ (Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schule – AHS). The same curricula apply to both types of schools, which requires a minimum of 2 hours of music education per week through the fourth grade. AHS, and some NMS, offer additional musical opportunities in music beyond the required curriculum; these often include ensemble work in choir, orchestra, and band.

Upper Secondary School (age 14-19)

After compulsory schooling, children can choose between an Academic Secondary School Upper Cycle (AHS Oberstufe) or Schools and Colleges for Middle and Higher Vocational Education (Berufsbildende mittlere und höhere Schulen – BMS/BHS). Students graduate the AHS and BHS with a graduation exam (Matura) after 4 or 5 years. This graduation qualifies them for studying at universities and colleges. The curricula of the different schools vary considerably according to the objectives. Music education is part of the curriculum of AHS, with students permitted to enroll in maximum of 7 hours of music instruction per week throughout the Upper Cycle. In many BMS and BHS, there are no music lessons at all, as these schools focus on a specific vocational training.

Special foci on music education

In Austria there are schools with a special emphasis in music in all three sectors. In addition to more general music lessons there are compulsory instrumental, choral and ensemble lessons. Non-binding competence-catalogues were introduced in Austria in 2013. These catalogues define the competence levels that students should gain by the end of 4th, 8th, 12th or 13th grade. The core fields of these competence-catalogues are ‘singing and music-making’, ‘dancing, moving and expressing’ and ‘listening and  understanding’. As a result of the introduction of these competence-catalogues, a new competence-based, standardized graduation exam was introduced in 2015/16.