Apart from a brief period of study with Selim Palmgren while at the Sibelius Academy, Kokkonen was essentially self-taught as a composer. Aside from the inescapable Sibelius, his most significant influences—in other words, the composers that Kokkonen studied most extensively—were J. S. Bach, Bartók, Hindemith, Mozart and Shostakovich. Eager to come to terms with the growing wave of interest in twelve-tone composition that began to appear in Finland during the 1950s, Kokkonen also studied numerous scores by Schoenberg—in particular, his piano music.