"When I was a young musician, the only option available to pursue secondary education in music was to attend a classical conservatory." -Billy Joel

If you want to be employed after post-secondary schooling, attend a Conservatoire and study music. 99% of graduates from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance were employed within the first 6 months of graduating.

These facts are extremely reassuring for amateur musicians and pianists who wish to make a career of playing music.

A Conservatoire is a synonym of excellence. It is often thought that only the best pianist, bassist, drummer or violinist can enter into a program and attend classes at Conservatoires.

Admittedly, places are limited for pupils but there are many additional programs offered to students from ages 8 to 17 and even adults!

While some denounce a course fraught with pitfalls, where your talent is pushed to its limits and where elitism is law, others swear by Conservatoires stating that they are the best place for budding musicians.

Therefore, how is piano teaching at a Conservatoire really taught? 

Playing the Piano: What Exactly is a Conservatoire?

Understanding a Conservatoire

Rest assured, piano teachers at Conservatoires are normal teachers just like anywhere else. The piano teachers will not close the lid of the piano on the fingers of the students who make mistakes as in the film The Piano Teacher starring Isabelle Huppert and directed by Michael Haneke.

In the past, Conservatoires were only a mere dream for most students. Only the cream of the crop could enter and attend classes. However, since the 1980's there have been various new courses implemented favouring amateur practice. Junior programs are now offered and even courses for post-university adults who wish to practice music.

Some Conservatoires even often specialized training and courses for those who come from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. 

When one thinks of a Conservatoire, they may think of the most prestigious one in the country, such as the Royal Academy of Music, where only the social elite can enter.

However, there are many well known and highly recommended Conservatoires all across the UK. 

For learning how to play the piano and all other musical instruments (violin, clarinet, harp, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, cello etc.) teaching is centred around 3 different sections:

  • Music training to learn music theory,
  • Instrumental practice,
  • Collective practice.

Public concerts are organized to confront the students' stage fright from the first year of learning piano.

Other events to improve the students' skills can be organized throughout the year depending on the piano teacher and their pedagogy: solo concerts in front of other students, chamber music training, working with a symphonic orchestra or choir...

Classical piano music from famous pianists such as Mozart and Beethoven plays an important role in teaching but so does improvisation, pop and jazz music.

Certain songs from current music can be taught during classes to improve the students' musical culture, all of this depends on the Conservatoires teaching staff. They will carefully select the repertoire that needs to be taught.

Length and Details of Study

Music Conservatories
Musical performances in front of a live audience prepare students attending Conservatoires for their future musical careers. (Source: Visual Hunt)

To enter and study at a Conservatoire, there are some entry requirements and qualifications needed. For example:

  • Qualifications and exam grades: 2 passes at an A-level and GSCE passes in at least 5 subjects, grade 4 (C) or above. All grades from secondary school are expected to be highly satisfactory.
  • Audition: when applying to attend a Conservatoire for post-secondary studies, a performance or audition is scheduled. During the audition, your skills and suitability for the course are evaluated.
  • Overall Suitability: when applying for a course at a Conservatoire, there are always course descriptions that mention skills, interest and experience that is important to have. Make sure you have a few of the listed suggestions because competition can be fierce among students.

Alright, after receiving your admittance letter to start classes in the fall semester you might be wondering how many years will it take to receive your professional diploma of studies?

Undergraduate courses offered at Conservatoires in the United Kingdom last 4 years rather than the standard 3-year bachelor degree at a university. The fourth year allows students to refine their skills and let their imagination and creative abilities run wild.

That extra year is reflected in the career opportunities of Conservatoire music graduates. Many past students have gone on to work with companies such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bergen National Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival.

How are courses structured during the 4 years of study? 

Let's use the course entitled Music/Instrumental and Vocal Performance/Composition/Music Technology from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to understand how a course may be structured at a Conservatoire.

From years one to three, students are offered individual lessons and coaching from a professional teacher usually lasting 90 minutes once a week. Performance classes, composition and music technology seminars are all taught. There are also quite a few performances included in the syllabus such as orchestral, ensemble, chamber music, concert performances and music festival performances.

Throughout the 3 first years, different styles of music are listened to, analyzed and played like film music and scores, folk music, jazz and 19th-century symphonies.

The fourth and final year of study is designed based on your career aspirations. You are assessed on performance and composition. Students are also asked to design their final project in any area of music they wish such as piano, violin or bass guitar. Students spend more time in independent study than they do in lectures and seminars.

To receive their Bachelors in Music, students are assessed in 3 different sections:

  • Practical Exams (63%),
  • Coursework (28%),
  • Written Exams (9%).

Nevertheless, Conservatoires across the UK may differ in course syllabuses, structure and assessment. The aforementioned course serves as an example to illuminate students on what they might encounter during their 4-year studies.

Who Can Attend a Conservatoire to Learn Piano?

playing an instrument
There are many programs offered by Conservatoires for young musical talents from the age of 4 years old. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Contrary to popular belief, there are courses and lessons offered at Conservatoires for children, adolescents and adults. Depending on the city, region or school, courses are organized differently.

For Children and Preteens

Courses and music classes are offered at some Conservatoires for students from 8 to 17 years of age. At these Junior Conservatoires, young musicians are offered private tuition from qualified tutors, some are even members of an orchestra.

During these junior courses, students will learn more about classical music, jazz and chamber music. At the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, there is a course offered entitled The Young Strings Project which offers tuition to beginners who are as young as 4 years old.

Conservatoire piano and music classes for young ones are usually offered during weekends from 9 am to 5 pm. These classes are perfect for young ones who have a talent for playing the piano and could possibly make a career out of it. When youngsters assist classes that are taught at a Conservatoire, there are higher chances that they can attend as a student in their later years.

Classes For Adults

In some Conservatoires, a specific curriculum is dedicated to adults based on their collective practice in the past. Thus, a beginner adult can learn piano in group lessons.

However, there are very few classes for adults offered and it would probably be best to attend a private music school to learn piano from a professional music teacher or take online piano lessons from an experienced piano player.

When is a Good Time to Sign Up at a Conservatoire to Learn Piano?

As soon as possible!

Registrations are usually open from May/June for classes during the fall semester. Do not hesitate to look up on the internet different Conservatoires near you.

Often, the registration file is available for download online. All you need to do is fill it out correctly writing down all your personal information (age, name, address, etc.) and explaining what program or course interests you (piano, jazz music, violin etc.).

When the application or registration file is received there are 2 potential scenarios:

  • You or your child is invited to audition in September,
  • You are subject to the draw.

Some Conservatoires have set up the draw so that everyone has an equal chance to assist classes at the Conservatoire. There are many applicants for junior and adult courses since there are few options.

How Much do Piano Classes Cost at a Conservatoire?

The cost of attending piano classes at a Conservatoire varies enormously depending on the following criteria:

  • The geographic location (you will obviously pay more in the bigger cities like London or Manchester),
  • Your place of residence in relation to the Conservatoire,
  • Your family income.

Whatever may be the case, the cost will be much lower than music instruction in private schools or personal one on one lessons with a professional piano player.

However, in this situation, we are not talking about attending a Conservatoire after secondary school as part of your further education.

Taking full-time, undergraduate courses to attain your Bachelors in Music costs around £9,000 per year at a renowned Conservatoire. 

We are talking about taking extra classes that are offered on evenings and weekends at a Conservatoire by professional teachers for children and working adults.

Nevertheless, the quality/price of learning how to play piano at a Conservatoire is unbeatable given the level of experience of teachers present. 

Estimated costs per year can range from £50 to £350 per year of classes. Sometimes discounts are available for families with more than one child attending. It is best to inquire with the institution as to what promotions are offered.

For the piano, it is impossible to loan the instrument from the Conservatoire. It is, therefore, necessary to invest and buy a piano or keyboard at home to practice during the week.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning the Piano at a Conservatoire

Conservatoires are often criticized for their social elitism and teaching methods. Like all musical establishments, there are some advantages and disadvantages to learning the piano at a Conservatoire.

The Advantages

For a quality learning experience, there is no better choice. From the beginning to the end, the artistic education in classical piano but also the saxophone, flute or contemporary dance is of the highest quality!

The teachers have all been previously trained at a Conservatoire level and usually have several years of experience.

You are sure to receive superior training and education. Music theory occupies a large place, but artistic practices are also present through public performances in the auditorium or at a music festival.

This unbreakable alliance between music theory and practice allows the player to acquire a good piano level quickly. The student will also develop confidence in his skills by playing publicly.

Conservatoires train students from a more classical repertoire, which gives the pupils a good foundation from the beginning and then the student is free to choose his own style of music for his creative purposes.

Musical practice is almost daily in front of a small or large audience. This is a great way to learn how to handle stress and during the beginning of the learning process. In the future, this will be of great importance in order to not lose your cool or get too nervous while auditioning for a symphony orchestra.

The Disadvantages

having fun while playing
For some, Conservatoires do not allow enough instrumental practice which can cause the students to lose joy. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Like any other music establishment, Conservatoires have some disadvantages that may be a deal breaker for some students.

Instrumental courses are highly academic at a Conservatoire. They follow specific themes and lessons that are mostly very classical. Music theory takes a lot of place before being able to move on to practical exercises.

This method may seem daunting for some enthusiasts who wish to practice and get creative with their instrument from the beginning.

This forbidden side can lead to a loss of student motivation and boredom. The pleasure of playing can be quickly overshadowed by the intense amount of theory!

Definitions for Conservatoire

Learning to play the piano at a Conservatoire, also means learning new vocabulary words and learning more about the history of music.

What is a flat? 

A flat is the opposite of sharp and means lower in pitch.

What is the stave? 

A stave is a set of 5 horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch.

Find out about playing the piano at an association.

Discover more about piano classes at music schools.

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