The Royal Conservatory of Music, founded in 1896 in Toronto, Canada, has become known as a superb music institution with world class teaching pedigree and alumni. Some of its graduates include legendary pianist and songwriter Glenn Gould, pianist Oscar Peterson, popular recording artist Sarah McLachlan, and jazz great Diana Krall, just to name a few. The conservatory has also added robust online schooling capabilities.
Campus and Distance Education Program
RCM has both a traditional on campus program and a distance element. Essentially, you can receive RCM-approved certificates via two primary paths.
You can study in-person at the original Royal Conservatory in Toronto where you can enroll and attend classes in a traditional academic setting with faculty, administration, and a college campus and concert hall.
Thanks to the school's College of Examiners that maintains a standard of teaching for distance education, students can take lessons from an RCM-approved music teacher who lives near them. You can find these teachers in over 300 communities in North America (including many in the United States). RCM's learning page has a search tool that allows you to enter your zip code and see nearby teacher. These teachers follow the RCM certification path and prepare for the same exams a student would take at the school in Toronto (except you will take them at an approved Examination Center near where you live).
Certifications for Instrument and Vocal Students
The Royal Conservatory Certificate Program offers certificates in both vocal and instrumental performance that include a long list of disciplines as follows:
- Double bass
- French horn
- Speech arts and drama
The RCM Certificate Program uses a sequenced program of study and assessment with stages of progress that have certifications available for each stage you pass. It is divided into three parts:
- Levels 1 through 10
- Diploma level
One thing to keep in mind: the Royal Conservatory is not just a school building and concert hall in Toronto. It's a national (and even international) body that sets a standard for tests in Canada and around the world. So the entire system is less like a traditional university and more like the SAT exams in America.
In other words, the exams are what matter, as Piano TV explains. It's not whether you participated in a required number of course units to earn a degree like the way it works in American colleges. If you pay to take an exam for a level and you pass it, you get that level's certificate. However, when you get to the higher levels, there are some occasional prerequisites required before you can take an exam.
In the preparatory levels, students work on rudimentary performance skills and basic music theory lessons that prepare them for the more rigorous levels 1 through 10. The instructor in Piano TV describes these levels as an equivalent to kindergarten. They're getting you ready for the real thing.
Levels 1 Through 10
These levels are the heart of the program. The exam for each level is meant to be the culmination of one year of intensive study. At each of the ten levels, you can earn a Certificate of Achievement if you successfully pass a practical examination for that level. "Practical" means you show up in-person and perform certain pieces of music and skill exercises at an exam center.
Levels 1 through 4 are basic, and there is not necessarily a prerequisite requirement or corequisite theory exam a student must have completed before they can take one of these exams. However, the RCM certificate program is renowned for its carefully planned, logical sequence of development from level to level, and most students will want to work through the syllabus and take the exams in order at each level to receive the full benefit of the RCM approach.
Levels 5 through 10 become more advanced, and the higher levels require you to pass a corequisite (or even prerequisite) music theory exam before you can test at the higher level.
Note: If you're wondering about what the exams are like, this page of tips for Royal Conservatory of Music exams paints a vivid picture.
Associate Diploma (ARCT)
The ARCT is the crown achievement of the RCM student, and it represents the highest level of excellence and skill the Royal Conservatory offers in its training. It is a prestigious diploma respected by professional music communities worldwide. Students will be playing highly technical, advanced music ranging from the most demanding classical to the most intricate jazz. Students will also have a deep knowledge of theory and music history.
This diploma is the equivalent of an ARCT diploma, but it is designed exclusively for piano students to best fit the needs and requirements of that instrument. For those students wanting to reach the highest professional level of piano performance, this diploma will take them there.
Pros and Cons of the Royal Conservatory Certificate Program
RCM's approach is quite different from the traditional university model that requires a minimum number of courses, units, and grades in each course to pass. As stated above, with RCM it's all about the exams. There are pros and cons to this approach, depending on what you're looking for.
Although you won't have to deal with wracking up a large amount of units (and hours and hours of attending lectures) as you would at, say, a four-year college in the United States, RCM is a big commitment. They design their levels to be intense. Each exam is meant to be the culmination of one year of study. In other words, to get from Preparatory to Level 10, it will take 11 years of your life. If you desperately want to get through the whole program, but you don't have the patience to take years doing it, RCM might not be the best fit.
While the above cons might sound intimidating, many of the early levels are covering basics. In fact, many children will start the program at around age 7 (or earlier) and get to Level 10 by age 17, after which they might embark on a professional career or use their RCM certification to get into a prestigious four-year university. Many adults take levels 1 through 10 at their leisure (or at an accelerated pace) as a passion project or a hobby. In other words, you can come and go into the program as you wish and take each exam for each level when you're ready. It is intense, yes, but it is flexible and meant for all ages and skill levels.
The conservatory cost centers around a charge-per-examination system as you work through the programs. When LoveToKnow reached out to the Royal Conservatory about their costs, the conservatory provided a summary page on their website. As the page shows, the price per examination ranges from about $59 to $875 depending on which program and examination. Some things to keep in mind:
- The model will depend on whether you're enrolled as a student attending their physical school in Toronto or you're following their distance education and studying for exams through a certified teacher in your area. For this reason, costs could vary widely per student. Any numbers provided are only general estimates.
- Besides exam fees, the cost of books is always an important factor. Even at your average American community college, books can cost a few hundred dollars per semester. Even though it is based in Canada, RCM is no different. Expect to pay a similar range for books for each level of study at RCM. (Their bookstore, which has a link on RCM's site, confirms this.)
- In addition, if you study with an RCM teacher or enroll in a course, there are fees for term of instruction, which can also be a few hundred dollars per teaching term depending on the situation.
Although it's difficult to arrive at a specific number because there are so many variables involved, each year of study could potentially cost a few thousand dollars depending on which exams, course materials, tutoring, digital courses, or in-person classes you take.
The certificates of the Royal Conservatory of Music prepare musicians for professional performance in orchestra, jazz, and popular music settings. Alumni include famous classical conductors and popular music icons such as Sarah McLachlan and Diana Krall. In addition, its teaching certificates train students to become superb private music teachers.
Considering that the Royal Conservatory of Music has had its doors open for 131 years, it comes with an automatic pedigree. It's not an online music business started in someone's garage in '90s, in other words. It's a cultural center and historical institution with some of the greatest names in modern music affiliated with it.
That being said, even world class institutions go through phases of ups and downs and in some seasons, its effectiveness might be better than others. Here are a few glimpses of how the public is rating the Royal Conservatory's services in the present day:
- The Conservatory's Facebook business page shows a customer rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 stars out of about 115 reviews.
- The Better Business Bureau has given the conservatory a passing grade.
- Users on Yelp give the conservatory 4.5 stars out of 5. (However, few reviews have been posted.)
Its positive ratings come especially from the conservatory's extraordinary facilities, quality of teaching, and innovative use of online learning.
A Mix of Innovation and Legacy
If you become a student at Royal Conservatory of Music, odds are good you will have an excellent experience and develop highly refined skills in music performance, theory, and education. If you're not able to attend the school in-person, it offers a wide variety of online programs for both music performance and education. Whether you're aspiring to be a teacher or to perform as a professional musician, the Royal Conservatory of Music offers a rare mix of historical legacy and modern innovation.