Infants tune up again

More children are learning musical instruments now in a reversal of a steady decline, reports Sarah Cassidy

A DRAMATIC decline in the number of children learning musical instruments has been halted, with more infants taking lessons, research shows.

New government investment appears to have stopped the decline in the numbers of children taking instrument lessons, a report by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music found.

But the erosion of local authority instrumental music services in the early Nineties has left lasting damage, it discovered.

Nearly 300,000 of young people lost the opportunity of ever playing a musical instrument because of cuts in the past, Making Music 2000, says. Only 41 per cent of children now learn an instrument, compared to 45 per cent in 1993. This has had a knock-on effect on the number of teenagers now learning instruments.

Richard Morris, the board's chief executive, said the findings should be a warning to ministers about the long-term effects of neglecting music education. He said: "The earlier weakness in the numbers of players at the primary level is inexorably working up."

More than one in three infants and nearly half of all juniors now learn to play an instrument, the survey of 926 children found.

But fewer 11 to 14-year-olds pupils are taking music lessons, down to 40 per cent this year. This is an 8 per cent decline since 1996

Social class has less impact than ever on whether a child learns to play a musical instrument. The children of unskilled manual workers are now only slightly less likely to learn to play an instrument than those of professionals, the report found.

The recorder is still the most popular instrument - 46 per cent of children learning a musical instrument play it. The electronic keyboard is the second most popular, followed by the piano played by nearly one in five musicians.

Children said their main reasons for starting lessons was enjoying the sound of the instrument and wanting to play with their friends.

Instruments such as the bassoon, double bass, oboe, trombone and viola are less popular, because children are unlikely to hear these instruments being played at an early age, the report said.

More than three-quarters of children who play an instrument have their lessons at school. Only 10 per cent had a private tutor and no lessons at school. Nearly 30 per cent said their teacher was the most important influence in making the decision, 16 per cent said it was their parents.

Surprisingly, only 12 per cent said they had decided to learn an instrument because of a famous musician who they considered a role model. Boredom was cited by a third of children as the main reason for giving up.

The report is available by contacting 020 7467 8253 or at

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