Why it’s time to make music lessons accessible for every single child

There aren’t many people who would argue against the idea that education is important for not only developing a child’s brain academically, but also helping them understand social situations, express themselves in different ways and much, much more.

While we can all agree that it’s important to read and write, understand the science of the world around us, and perform basic arithmetic, it appears to be harder to convince the government why creative subjects are vital to children’s wellbeing in the UK.

Music, art and drama can often be seen as “a bit of fun”, or an easy lesson to break up the core subjects at school.

Whether it’s ISM’s call for a reformed EBacc, education budget cuts, or just trying to highlight the benefits of learning an instrument, there has been a vast amount of reports, surveys and industry opinion over the past couple of years highlighting the fantastic opportunities and experiences learning an instrument gives school children, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and poorer parts of the country.

Numerous scientific studies have found that listening to, and playing, music has a significant effect on the brain, and learning an instrument from a young age helps improve IQ and positively affects mental health.

It seems a lot of adults do understand and/or agree with the positive impact music can have.

In fact, a survey by Yamaha Music London found that 85% of adults believe that children benefit from playing a musical instrument. Yet, despite this, a staggering 77% believe that there is a shocking lack of encouragement for children to learn to play.

So, while research and public opinion agrees on the importance of learning an instrument, why do we still have to fight to give more children the opportunity to do so?

Research from the Royal Albert Hall in 2017 shed some light on how inaccessible learning an instrument can be for some children.

“Seven in 10 parents believe the cost of music lessons is prohibitively expensive and – as a result – children’s creative development is being impeded,” warned the report.

The statistics show that 85% of parents think access to musical instruments enhances their children’s education, yet only 5% believe that there is enough funding to ensure children who would be interested in getting involved in music have the opportunity to do so.

In spite of the costs, a third of parents say they have paid for their child to have music lessons at some point in their education, but the majority still rely on schools to fund lessons. And the problem with having to rely on schools to fund lessons is that creative subjects are currently under threat in the UK.

“Making cuts to balance budgets is having an impact on the provision of music in our schools.”

Deborah Annetts, ISM

In her keynote speech from the 2017 Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar: The future of music education in England, ISM CEO Deborah Annetts said: “Unfortunately, local authority funding has all but disappeared for music education hubs making it even more difficult for them to deliver the National Plan for Music Education Plan.

“And since 2014 school funding has also come under pressure with schools facing an 8% cut in real terms. As a result, 71% of head teachers in a recent NAHT survey said they had to make cuts to balance their budget. And this in turn is having an impact on the provision of music in our schools.”

We have already started to see the real-life impact the protection of core subjects coupled with tight school budgets is starting to have on the future of music lessons in UK schools, as Essex’s Joyce Frankland Academy announced in June that it has removed weekly music lessons for pupils aged between 11 and 13.

Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director at the Royal Albert Hall says that introducing children to music and instruments at a young age is beneficial for children’s development.

“Access to music from a young age has undeniable benefits for developing young minds. It opens up the mind to being creative and playful. We’ve seen that children become more confident once they start playing instruments and learn to express themselves in different ways,” she said.

To encourage children to get involved in music from a young age, the Royal Albert Hall developed a Children and Families series, which saw the return of ‘My Great Orchestral Adventure’.

The event took children on a ‘magical musical adventure’ and was designed to introduce them to orchestral music through a diverse, kid-friendly programme, including music from Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurassic Park, pieces by Benjamin Britten and Richard Wagner, and ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’.

“Accessibility is key when introducing children to classical music, which is why during this event the conductor actively encouraged the children to join in the fun by singing and dancing,” explained Noble.

“We believe that learning to play an instrument should be part of children’s education and not just a privilege for the minority.”

Lucy Noble, Royal Albert Hall

“Access to the arts is a cornerstone of the Royal Albert Hall’s charitable mission, which is why providing children with free music lessons plays such a significant part of our Education and Outreach programme.

“At the Royal Albert Hall, we believe that learning to play an instrument should be part of children’s education and not just a privilege for the minority. We support children from all walks of life by funding musical instrument lessons in order to open opportunities and inspire children to follow their musical interests.”

With all of this information and the abundance of surveys showing how learning an instrument positively impacts children’s lives, to me, it is quite simply astonishing that we are faced with a situation where music lessons are under threat from being reduced, or even removed from school curriculums altogether.

If anything, we should be moving in the opposite direction to make learning an instrument accessible for every child in the UK.

About Laura Barnes 231 Articles
Founder/Publisher of UK musical instrument industry publication MI Focus.