Music education in Italy is primarily provided by conservatories of music. There are two types of major programs offered by conservatories: corsi tradizionali (Traditional Courses) and corsi accademici (Academic Courses). The traditional programs have been the main form of musician training in Italy until late 1990s when the Bologna Process began. Following certain reforms, the Italian government introduced academic music programs leading to academic degrees comparable in scope and level to the new Bologna-based degrees. At this time, most conservatories still run and offer the traditional programs however some are in the process of phasing them out.
Traditional courses focus mainly on training within the insegnamento principale (principal field instruction), e.g. Piano, Guitar, Composition etc., with a set of required insegnamenti complementari (complementary field instruction subjects), which lead to final ministerial examinations. Complementary courses provide necessary background for musician training in areas such as Theory of Music, Solfege, History of Music etc.
Completion of a traditional program leads to the award of a Diploma, also known as Diploma di Conservatorio, or described as Diploma di Vecchio Ordinamento (Old Regulations Diploma). A grade report that is issued to the student only lists the benchmark examination results for each stage of the program and for the complementary subjects because there is no other coursework involved in these programs. These programs are completed on a part-time basis, concurrently with attendance at other educational institutions (elementary, secondary, tertiary) or work.
There are either three or two (depending on the field) stages for each traditional course of study: inferiore, (medio), and superiore. Promotion from one year to the next is based on successful annual exam in the principal instrument (subject) and any of the complementary subject requirements taken that year. When an entire Complementary Course is finished, the student is required to take the final exam (esame di licenza) in that subject in order to proceed with the program of study.
Traditional diploma program in piano performance (Diploma di Pianoforte) requires 10 years of study beginning at age 9. The course is divided into three stages:
- Five-year Inferiore stage consisting of study of Piano Performance as well as the Solfege instruction in the first three years.
- Three-year Medio stage consisting of further study of Piano Perfomance as well as instruction in Harmony and History of Music in the final two years.
- Two-year Superiore (diploma) stage consisting of further study of Piano Performance.