Like many nations, Finns have a close bond with music.
But what is noteworthy about them is that the Government has made music a vital part of the citizens’ lives on a grand scale by institutionalising musical education from an early age.
This has paid off in many ways, especially in the metal music arena, according to experts and music researchers.
Apart from the popularity that many heavy metal bands from Finland enjoy internationally, Finnish metal music has progressively emerged as a well-known cultural export. Raving fans of Finnish metal bands in many different parts of the world believe that Finns have a knack for the headbanging genre.
Finland has as many as 70 metal bands per 100,000 residents, which is the highest among all European nations. The UK has a mere 7 bands per 100,000 inhabitants.
So, what helps Finns develop an intimate relationship with music? There are three noteworthy points:
1- The seed of music is sown in a Finnish mind “way too early”
For Finns, it starts in daycare.
Before starting formal education at the age of seven, Finnish children spend the early years of their life in daycare and that is where they are exposed to the multifaceted world of music.
In the high-quality Finnish daycare centres, music is one of the activities that children participate in. For a Finnish toddler, music is something he or she gets familiar with from the very beginning of life.
In other words, Finns are exposed to musical training even before they start the mandatory scholastic education in school. The Nordic nation believes that it is never too early for a child to start getting acquainted with music.
In addition to daycares, there are music playschools in Finland. They are not daycares, in the sense that they do not provide any basic childcare. They are institutions where children learn the basics of music methodically through singing, playing instruments and games, musical exercise and listening to music.
The basic lessons are designed to support cognitive, emotional and social development of the young learners as well. In the classroom, they learn how to form friendships and become more self-confident. On top of that, they get to know themselves better.
Thousands of Finnish children attend music playschools, most of which operate in conjunction with dedicated music schools (music institutes and conservatories).
Following pre-school, music is a compulsory subject for all children from grade 1 to 9, starting at the age of seven.
Some 190 schools and facilities provide music education in Finland, according to the Association of Finnish Music Schools (Suomen Musiikkioppilaitosten Liitto). Of them, 89 receive government funding as they follow a national curriculum governed by the basic arts education act.
The association has 97 members. Of them, 86 are music institutes and 11 are conservatories.
A total of 67,000 students are enrolled in music education, and 64% of them are girls.
Rachel Lucius, an American music educator who visited Finland in 2017 as a participant in the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Programme, wrote that there is no standard music education for US students below the kindergarten level.
“In Finland, all children do receive music education in pre-school, and have access to music classes from birth,” she wrote on her blog.
2- It is more about instilling genuine love for music
The music education system in Finland does not rank students based on standardised, performance-based measurement criteria. It serves a far greater purpose.
Its main objective is to create conducive circumstances that inspire young students to develop a positive, life-long enthusiasm for music.
Simply put, the education system is designed to make learners fall in love with music, and nurture that love throughout their life. It is more like an attempt to make music a permanent fixture in the life of citizens.
One day, I was talking to a Finnish friend, who runs an animal training business in Oulu. I shared the romantic track Kun Olet Poissa (When you are away) by Eppu Normaali with her and asked her why there are so many beautiful pieces of music in Finnish language.
“Because we do not have any rules for what kind of music we make, and because music is taught to every Finn in school so that everybody can make their own music”, she replied.
This is the key reason why Finns develop an affinity with music since an early age. The early childhood music education works as a strong, solid foundation that helps them hone their musical abilities as they grow up.
Like Finland’s nine-year comprehensive school system, the music education is also very individualistic and learner-centric. Music school teachers are not obliged to follow a strictly-defined curriculum to teach students. Neither are they decidedly focused on producing the next musical megastars.
What they do is that they create pleasant learning experiences, and help students level up at their own pace. They focus on how the lessons will cater to the individual needs of students. The onus for making progress is on the students.
One size does not fit all, and teachers keep that in mind while carrying out their duties in classroom.
3. The principle of equity is at play in music education too
Finland’s school education system was run-of-the-mill before substantial reforms were initiated in the 70s. As part of the reforms, Finland extensively prioritised equity.
Equity, in the context of education, means ensuring access to high-quality education for all children irrespective of where they live, what the economic situation of their parents is, or which school they attend.
In other words, Finnish education reform programmes were specifically focused on providing good education for every single child across the country. The authorities understood that when it comes to progress and development for such a small nation, every brain counts.
The music education system is governed by the same doctrine. Finland wants to ensure the opportunity to learn music for all children irrespective of all social classes and backgrounds. The door is open for all.
Besides, the country believes that music is not something that only some privileged or elite classes in the society should have access to. That is why a lion portion of the funding for music education comes from the central administration and municipal authorities.
According to 2013 data (the latest available) from the Association of Finnish Music Schools, the state covers 57%, the local municipality 25%, and the remaining 18% comes from student fees.
Esa Lilja, a professor of music at the University of Helsinki, maintains that the government’s willingness to invest in musical education for young children is the reason why Finland today has such a vast number of heavy metal bands.
Not every Finn is born with the aptitude for music. Music skills do not come to them as a bolt from the blue either. It is how Finnish minds are programmed and built over the years ever since they come into this world.