Global Music: providing a bachelor pathway for students with diverse cultural backgrounds


Since 2016, Sibelius Academy has offered a bachelor programme in Global Music aimed at students from culturally diverse musical and educational backgrounds. The bachelor programme was developed to provide a path towards the already existing masters programme. It is able to take approximately 5 – 6 students each year, and the students have the right to continue their studies to the masters level once they are accepted. The selected group should represent cultural and musical diversity as well as a balance of genders.

The programme aims to fill the ‘opportunity gap’ for potential students whose aspirations and/or previous music education point at other directions than the current programmes in Western Art Music, composition, jazz, folk music etc. The programme aims to educate music practitioners with strong skills in creative collaboration and visions for socially engaged practice. In addition to individual studies the compulsory courses include subjects such as global orchestra and ensembles, rhythmics, choir, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, and community engagement. The program is open for students from any musical background, and skills in notation or reading music are not prerequisites for entry. The bachelor studies in Global Music are more structured than the masters studies, but the accepted students are able to choose elective courses according to their personal preferences. Below is the description of the audition process and how it is designed to break some of the barriers associated with higher music education. 

The audition process

The first stage of the application process comprises a letter of motivation, CV and video excerpts sent to the admissions office. Based on these pre-assignments the audition jury selects the applicants for the auditions held at the Sibelius Academy. Many of the applicants have not taken internationally recognized formal instrumental exams so it is important that they are able to demonstrate their competences and motivation in a variety of ways. The auditions aim to accommodate different musical backgrounds and provide possibilities for the applicants to demonstrate their strengths and potential as creative musicians in intercultural collaboration. The auditions are structured as follows:

Free choice performance: solo and/or ensemble

The applicants can choose to do a solo performance on one or several instruments, or they can bring another musician/ensemble to perform with. They can also choose to prepare a combination of solo and ensemble pieces. The applicants are encouraged to perform music that best demonstrates their current musical identity and skills, possibly including music they have composed or arranged themselves. The performance can include improvisation but it is not a requirement.

Interacting with an ensemble

A three-piece ‘house band’ formed of students from the Global Music programme takes the applicant through a number of tasks. The music is composed by Global Music staff especially for this part of the audition. The session is led by the band members inviting the applicant to learn certain musical elements by ear (for example a mode, melodic and rhythmic patterns), improvise with the band, and find ways to interact with the musicians and the feel of the different sections of the music. The applicants are advised by the jury that the emphasis in this task is in the quality of interaction, listening, and creative solutions rather than imitation or stylistic idioms. The applicants have varying degrees of experience in improvisation, and the band members try to create as relaxed and encouraging atmosphere as possible for every applicant.


In the interview the applicant has a chance to elaborate on their motivation for the studies and talk about their musical background and artistic aspirations in relation to local and global contexts. Part 3 also involves a listening test, as well as a handwritten essay in English on a given topic.

Interactive group workshop and discussion

A selected group of applicants is invited to this last part of the audition. The workshop is led by a Global Music staff member comprising group exercises using voice and body. The exercises include improvisation with vocal sounds and body percussion/movement, and short group composition tasks using voice and body. The workshop seeks to assess the applicant’s awareness and communication strategies as a group member, the ability to produce and negotiate artistic ideas, and the mindset and agility to experiment and perform in this context.

The workshop is followed by a group discussion facilitated by a staff member. The applicants are asked to freely discuss given topics related to intercultural collaboration and learning environment. The questions might include topics such as musical identity, cultural appropriation, social justice in music, and other themes that challenge the applicants to consider how they understand their role and possibilities as a musician in the society.

There are two other aspects that play a significant part in the audition process and that are under ongoing scrutiny and development. Firstly, there are many questions about how the potential applicants find information about the programme, and how the information about the course manages to communicate that all musical traditions and genres are welcome. There are also more subtle and covert perceptions relating to the idea of who university is for, what kind of socio-economic situation, upbringing and education one must have in order to ‘fit in’. Some of these issues need to be dealt with beyond course prospectuses and information on the university websites. Global Music attempts to build links with relevant organizations, community programmes and schools to have personal contact with possible candidates that might benefit from possibilities to talk with current students and staff. Secondly, the line-up of the jury needs to reflect the values and ethos of the programme, and embody the diversity the programme aims for. Again, this requires careful design and ongoing reflection.

This article is a part of our ongoing series entitled How are diverse cultures integrated in the education of musicians across Europe? Other posts in the series can be found here.

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