Born into a musical family - both his father and a maternal uncle were singing teachers - he entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of nine. He had a brilliant academic career, studying the piano with J. F. Marmontel and composition with Pierre Zimmermann, J. F. F. Halévy,Halevy, and Charles Gounod, and winning many prizes.
Bizet was admitted to the Conservatoire on 9 October 1848, two weeks before his 10th birthday. He made an early impression; within six months he had won first prize in solfège, a feat that impressed Pierre-Joseph-Guillaume Zimmermann, the Conservatoire's former professor of piano. Zimmermann gave Bizet private lessons in counterpoint and fugue, which continued until the old man's death in 1853. Through these classes Bizet met Zimmermann's son-in-law, the composer Charles Gounod, who became a lasting influence on the young pupil's musical style—although their relationship was often strained in later years.