This guide describes the general musicianship skills that will benefit students who plan to start professional music studies. Sufficient general musicianship skills enable the students to enjoy professional music studies and to cope with their intensive pace. The guide is mainly intended for the main subjects of classical instruments and singing.
The Sibelius Academy entrance exams include limited samples of students' general musical skills. Students can familiarise themselves with the entrance exam requirements in the admissions guides and previous years' entrance exam assignments (see the information pages for applicants).The exams include assignments with varying levels of difficulty, and some tasks are purposely quite difficult. This guide complements the information in the entrance exam instructions and focuses on practical musicianship. The aim is to demonstrate through examples what kinds of situations and skills professional music students are likely to face in their studies.
The assignments guide the students towards self-evaluation and independent self-improvement. In our experience, students do not always remember clearly which music theory courses they have studied and what the courses have included. It is important that students aiming for professional studies take increasing responsibility for their own learning, including recognition of their own strengths and developmental needs. Assessing the situation is especially useful if the general musical skills have been studied very young or if there has been a pause in the studies.
Comments on aural skills requirements and sample assignments
Aural awareness is best developed by diverse practical music-making. Even though this guide emphasises skills connected to notation, a broad experience of practical musicianship supports these skills. Ensemble singing, playing by ear, improvising and composing music are all valuable to future professional students. On the other hand, students should have conscious study techniques for, for example, notating music by ear or sight singing (e.g., developing the feel of the tonic and melodic scale degrees as well as a conscious working technique in notating and sight singing). In aural skills learning, the emphasis should be on rehearsal skills and problem solving instead of achievement in tests.
Singing – both solo and in ensemble – is highly recommended for instrumentalists, too. We also recommend that students learn to apply singing to their instrumental repertoire and sing, e.g., bass lines. Such work may require some practice, and textures need to be reduced to singable lines by changing octaves and leaving out melodic figuration. Sheet music for various vocal ensembles is available, for example, on the ChoralWiki database.
Some students find it challenging to remember melodies. If students have mostly learned music from scores, they may be inexperienced in learning by ear. In that case, the skill of notating melodies can be supported by practising how to learn melodies by ear. The sense of intervals, in turn, can be developed by singing scales, and intervals based on different scales. It is also useful to find on an instrument, or to write down, the melodies that students already know by ear. For example, themes from well-known repertoire for the student's own instrument are good study material.
Comments on music-theory skills and sample assignments
Under the heading Music Theory, we have collected skills relating to reading music, rudiments of music theory, music analysis and composition or arrangement. Below are more detailed comments on the assignments for different areas. Professional music students are expected to possess the basic skills for reading music in several parts, as well as repertoire for instruments other than their own. Harmony in particular presents different types of challenges according to the instrument. For example, string and wind instrumentalists need to understand and perceive chords practically in connection to instrumental repertoire (e.g. finding chords in solo instrumental texture) and to know practical methods for the study of harmony. Piano repertoire, in turn, involves rather complex analytical and structural challenges from the very beginning of professional studies, and requires pianists to develop their analysis skills in advance. We have purposely included music for different instruments in the analysis assignments, and students can choose from them the ones that are central to their instrument.
The identification of note names, intervals and chords represent rudimentary skills that need to be secure. We recommend students to practise these assignments orally and to strive for speed and fluency. Students can rehearse in pairs and quiz each other in various basic tasks, such as the identification of notes, intervals and chords.
Fluent sight reading (e.g., prima vista) is strongly based on the recognition of familiar patterns (e.g., chord progressions and textural patterns idiomatic to an instrument). In familiar music, pattern recognition is typically tacit and connected to the musician's movements, whereas the conscious identification of notes, intervals and chords supports the analytical study of music. Students should also be fluent at conscious identification by the time they start professional studies.
Sometimes even advanced students have difficulty reading the F clef fluently. We recommend that they sing or play bass lines from choral pieces or their own repertoire on the keyboard.
Being open-minded and curious are important qualities in learning contemporary music. Reading contemporary music may remind one of an expedition, where the meaning of the notes must be discovered according to each piece, and even experienced musicians have to learn something new. Notation applies to the music in very different ways in different musical styles.
Music analysis refers here to the study of music by listening, reading and playing. Broadly conceived, music analysis is possible for anyone interested in music, without specific preliminary skills. However, students aiming for professional music studies need to be fluent enough in reading music and to know the basic terminology used by musicians.
There are no "correct" answers to most of the music analysis assignments presented here. The assignments invite students to try out how they can use different analytical approaches and concepts to make meaningful observations about music. Students should be encouraged to develop their personal ways of listening to and perceiving music, and to discuss their observations and experiences. Through music analysis, students also become familiar with the way music is discussed or conceptualised among musicians.
The analytical study of music, broadly conceived, is a never-ending task for a musician. Furthermore, students do not always experience music in a way that is directly related to notation or established concepts of music theory. It is important to acknowledge and reflect these situations. Deepening your own experience as well as knowing the terms and conventions used by musicians should both be developed in the long run.
Students who aim for professional studies should be able to read and understand music in several parts well enough to explore new repertoire independently, and to practise solo and chamber music. Students should also get used to searching for information, sheet music and recordings.
Harmony and voice leading
In this guide, harmony and voice leading refer to the practical study of music through playing, writing and analysis. Practical experience of working with various musical structures provides tools for understanding compositions as well. Many harmony assignments connect naturally to aural-skills assignments (e.g. the recognition of structurally important tones). Since harmony skills take time to develop, we recommend that students learn practical approaches to harmony well before they start professional studies.
There are different pedagogical approaches to the learning of harmony, some of which rely, e.g., on the arranging and composition of music. The harmony assignments in this guide emphasise the students' understanding of their instrumental and vocal repertoire. In their instrumental and vocal studies, students typically practise notated music faithfully in all its details. For harmonic awareness, however, it is useful to use methods where the score is not executed meticulously, but where the student tries to understand harmonic and melodic events beyond basic notation. Reading music with understanding is a skill that develops slowly, but the methods presented here help students to get started.
Comments on skills and assignments in music history
In the field of the arts, musicians have an especially close relationship with history. Musicians' historical consciousness refers here to the ability to create one's own reference points to music history and to relate one's own music making to tradition. In professional music studies, one needs to have the interest and patience to continually widen and deepen one's knowledge of music
The assignments in this guide start from the students' own repertoire and provide questions and viewpoints whereby students can increase their knowledge and awareness of music history. The students are not expected to know all the background information or terminology mentioned in the assignments, which illuminate possible approaches to music history learning. Activities that are available for all students include listening to music, reading and following scores, and searching for information. Students should also be encouraged to pose questions about music and compare ways of interpreting and presenting music history. The possibilities of investigative and dialogic study are best realised with the help of a teacher and a group.
Wind musicians need strong practical awareness of harmony when playing in orchestras and ensembles. In order to achieve good intonation, the musicians have to relate their part to the surrounding harmony. We recommend wind students to pay attention to aural skills and develop their aural awareness of harmony in ways they personally find natural. At first, practical music making and listening are more important than analytical recognition.
Skills that are important in the wind musicians' profession are singing, rhythm reading, practical awareness of harmony and intonation. If writing melodies and recognising chords seem difficult, the students can initially practise such skills by notating melodies from memory and harmonising them (see aural skills assignments).
String musicians should make sure they can read music fluently in two or more clefs, as well as get used to reading various types of scores (piano parts, common chamber music ensembles). We also recommend string students to develop their awareness of harmony both aurally and by reading different kinds of notation. It is also important to understand harmony in solo instrumental pieces.
The singer's instrument – the human voice - does not visualise intervals the way other instruments do. Vocal students should take enough time to develop their general musicianship skills and aural awareness. They also need to learn to read music in meaningful patterns and avoiding getting stuck in individual notes. Rhythm reading skills also deserve attention.
Keyboard and accompaniment skills are essential in the singer's profession, and developing them early enough will make the professional studies easier. We also recommend that singers use the keyboard to investigate musical structures such as chords, and to carry out practical analysis of their vocal repertoire (e.g., playing bass lines, simplifying harmonies and practising vocal entries).
Pianists' repertoire offers many challenges in analytical and harmonic awareness even before professional studies. We recommend that pianists study the more challenging harmony and analysis assignments in this guide and to practise aural skill on the keyboard, e.g. by
- playing melodies by ear and harmonising them
- transposing and figuring chord progressions featured in the repertoire
- singing bass lines and second parts in the instrumental repertoire
- practising rhythmic patterns by playing with two hands
These comments for pianists also apply in part to students of accordion, guitar, kantele and harp. Because of the importance of contemporary music in the repertoire of these instruments, the students need strong music-reading skills and an open-minded attitude. Combining aural skills and instrumental studies may also require special attention. We recommend that students learn to sing excerpts from their instrumental repertoire, simplifying the pieces into singable melodies and practising polyphonic segments by playing one part and singing another.