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Tips from the top for novice musicians

Primary 6 pupils in Falkirk are getting instrumental tuition from experts and stars, including a pop band drummer, reports Katrina Tweedie

By night they play to audiences far and wide; by day they tutor Falkirk's cohort of 776 Primary 6 pupils in instruments as diverse as penny whistles and drums.

Two in particular of the 10 music instructors recruited by Falkirk Council have achieved fame and fortune. They are Marc Duff, co-founder of Capercaillie, who teaches penny whistle, recorder and bodhran, and Paul Quinn, the drummer with pop group Teenage Fanclub, who is teaching percussion.

All bar one of the tutors recruited by Falkirk to deliver its Youth Music Initiative commitment are professional musicians. The odd one out is a sixth year pupil at Grangemouth High, Lawrence Denholm, who is working as a guitar tutor as well as being given the chance to shadow other YMI tutors.

The 10 instructors teach nine instruments, delivering 81 workshops a week throughout the year as part of the Scottish Executive's pound;17.5 million initiative to increase primary pupils' access to music instuction. The council has bought 36 penny whistles, 24 guitars, 15 bodhran, eight keyboards, six recorders, four percussion sets, two drum kits, a set of world drums and music books for the initiative.

"We sent letters out to all P6 pupils across the Falkirk area to gauge how many pupils would be interested in taking up free music tuition," says Tom Coleman, convener of the council's education and leisure committee. "We expected a few hundred to respond but we were bowled over by the number wanting to take up the opportunity."

With pound;247,000 of secured funding over the next two years from the Scottish Executive, Falkirk is providing each P6 pupil with 15 lessons after school over a 30-week period. The tutors start from the basics and build towards a performance at the end of the year.

Gayle Martin, the council's cultural co-ordinator, says: "The target of the initiative was that it should cover all children up to Primary 6 and we decided to roll it out to this age group specifically. It is a good age to grasp how to play an instrument to allow them to continue to play when they go to secondary school."

Keyboards and guitar are the most popular instruments children have opted to learn, she says, which also helps their chances of developing their skills further. "As soon as they go into S1, the main instruments they will get will be keyboards and guitar.

"Some of the kids are getting lessons already outside the school, though not necessarily in the same instrument," she says. "But the majority have never held an instrument, apart from perhaps small percussion instruments."

Limited funds will not allow the council to sustain instrument lessons in P7 but it is trying to forge links with local voluntary and private organisations to enable some youngsters to continue learning.

"We will approach a local music shop for discounted guitar lessons, for instance, and build up links in that way," says Ms Martin.

Percussion tutor Martin Douglas, a former member of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, says: "The response from pupils has been extremely enthusiastic. Primary 6 is a nice age to work with because the kids are very trusting and open. Also, learning a musical instrument requires an amount of dexterity and their motor skills are developed enough to maintain their interest.

"Of all the instruments, percussion is probably the one with which anyone can make a sound without having any prior teaching or technique, so in that sense it is very immediate."

The Scottish Executive's funding package was awarded after the publication of What's Going On, a national audit of youth music, by the Scottish Arts Council. It highlighted that the barriers to participation included access to instruments, fees for instruction, tutor availability and perceived gender or cultural obstacles.

The Scottish Executive's target is that by 2006 all children should have had access to one year's free music tuition by the time they reach Primary 6.

Each local authority is tailoring the funding to its own circumstances. For example, Clackmannanshire's new singing teacher will work across all primary schools in the area. Highland is providing traditional music tuition to pupils who currently have no access to it. Edinburgh has plans for Saturday classes in recorder and strings, as well as a programme of singing and choral activities. West Lothian is introducing a comprehensive strings programme as well as singing workshops; and Glasgow is providing hand percussion and singing instruction, delivered to all children within class.

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