Western European vs Eastern European Music Institution – Where Should You Go?

Europe is filled with amazing music institutions, one older and more famous than the other. But when you have to make your choice, you know it’s about more than within which walls you will spend the next three years of your life. It’s about the experience, the promise of great success, being employable after you finish your studies, and being in a place with great opportunities. Or, why not, being able to create your own opportunities wherever you go, which should be better still. With so much at stake when looking to get into a musical institution, does the simple West and East division have any bearing at all. What is the difference between these institutions, after all?



If you start off with the argument of tradition, know that this is not the winning one. The West may boast with some of the oldest European Institutions, but the East does not fall too far behind in this category. Sure, the Conservatoire de Paris dates back to 1795, the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna dates back to 1812, but the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory was founded in 1866 by Imperial decree. What is more, the Sankt Petersburg Conservatory was founded in 1862. The Warsaw Fryderyk Chopin University of Music was founded in 1810 as the Music School for singers and theater actors.

Education, and more than that, musical education, became very important for the modern society of the 19th century all over Europe. And although they might have spoken different languages and studied different folk music, there was great appreciation for the classics and an openness to create the great musical minds of the future. We have these people to thank for today’s rich heritage and abundance of options of universities to choose from.

Focus on learning

Giorgi Latso giving masterclasses at the Moscow Conservatory

Giorgi Latso giving masterclasses at the Moscow Conservatory

In the end, this is the main reason why you will choose one institution over the other. And this is one of the first points of difference between Eastern and Western music school. While Western schools have that “skill-focused” approach with a large number of professors working closely with the students, Eastern schools focus much more on technique. Therefore, if you wish to master an instrument inside and out, if you want your technique to be admired above everything else, and if you wish your performance to be beyond reproach, then Eastern universities are the ones for you. They are sticklers for doing things the proper way and professors are very strict. You will come out of there are one of the best musicians ever. The Moscow Conservatory is famous in this respect.

However, if you are looking for a place that will focus less on molding you into the perfect musician and more on helping you become the best musician you can become, then Western music institutions are the ones for you. A great example here would be the Sibelius University in Helsinki, an institution that closely follows the Nordic educational system and that caters to the needs of students in a different way.

Modern vs classical

The Amsterdam Conservatory

The Amsterdam Conservatory

No doubt, when you told someone you were thinking of going to a conservatory, the first thing they imagined was you playing the violin in a Rococo hall. Possibly wearing a wig. And while classical music is nothing to snub at and there are many people pursuing this type of studies, jazz, pop and other modern classes have entered the curricula of Western universities. The same cannot really be said about music institutions in the East, however. The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, for example, has departments for Composition, Conducting and Theory of Music, Piano, Harpsichord and Organ, Instrumental Studies, Vocal and Acting Studies, Choir Conducting, Music Education, Church Music, Rhythmics and Dance, Sound Engineering, Instrumental and Educational Studies in Białystok. There are classical music departments. By contrast, at the Western music universities, there is more focus on the modern applications.

And sure, you can study the classics, get the technique right and then use your knowledge in a novel approach. However, it is always better when even the application is studied in class and guided toward the best it can become.


Students talking

Students talking

Studying abroad will always raise the issue of getting by with the foreign languages you know. Therefore, if you are proficient in English, a good idea would be to apply to any of the numerous UK based music schools. There are at least 6 in the top of the best music institutions in the world. So, when it comes to prestige, you cannot go wrong. However, if you are looking to study anywhere else, no matter how welcoming the academic environment is, there will always be the question of living in a foreign city for three years.

No doubt the languages in the West are more accessible as you have better chances of having studied them in school already. French, German, Dutch, and even some of the Northern languages will come in handy in the future as well. Things are a bit more complicated when it comes to Eastern Europe. You will have to learn Russian to get by in Russia. This is a must. But it will also be a great asset. Plus, it is not a difficult language to learn. The same goes for Poland and the Czech Republic, to follow the lines of the examples we have given so far.

As exciting as it might be, studying abroad is more than being away from your family, getting to reinvent yourself and to do what you absolutely love most in this world: music. It means having to adapt to whole new setting, having to learn a new language and the customs of a new country. And you will have to do all this while focusing as hard as you can on achieving academic performance, because, isn’t this the main reason why we all try to get into some of the most prestigious institutions in the first place?