The shape and future of adult music learning

In September, Making Music hosted a symposium with key figures in the music sector that focussed on identifying the barriers and needs of adult music learners of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and how we can improve their access to active engagement with music.

A wide variety of participants from across the music sector came together for the day, with attendees including organisations, businesses, educators, leisure-time music groups and more.

Participants identified the range of adult learners to be wide in terms of age, ability, musical background, disability, and motivations. They also identified some of the common barriers to these adults engaging in music learning as a lack of confidence and time, lack of opportunities or awareness about them, financial constraints and, quite simply, life getting in the way. This chimes with research carried out by Making Music in 2016.

The current shape of adult music learning

Panellists discussed what is currently available and some of those barriers, including Christine Macgregor from the open access Cobweb Orchestra, experienced freelance piano teacher and Trinity examiner Linda Nottingham, Lincoln Abbotts from examining body ABRSM, Derek Harrison, choral conductor and author of Welcome to Choral Singing, and Mary-Alice Stack of Creative United, presenting their recent research Make Some Noise, which reveals a significant lack of information available about access to instruments for the 3.9m disabled people in the UK.

What does the future look like?

What could be solutions to removing some of the barriers for adults to engage in music? Here are some of the ideas that came out of the discussions.

  1. Lobbying and advocacy: policymakers, as well as the general public, were identified as potential audiences. Issues raised included the need for evidence and the resources needed for public campaigning, possibly around the societal benefits of making music.
  2. Teaching resources: Feedback appears necessary from adult learners and exam boards to respond to the needs of adults. Information and support is likely needed for individuals and teachers regarding adaptive instruments and technology, and high quality teaching resources required also for individual self-teaching.
  3. Support for professionals engaged with adult learners: Qualifications for adult music teaching were discussed, as well as networks for individual teachers, and help with practicalities such as managing leisure-time music group committees and volunteers for educators who are leaders of adult leisure-time music groups.
  4. Access (physical, geographical, financial, psychological): The language we use when talking about music and who is ‘allowed’ to be a musician is currently potentially exclusive. On a practical level, it seems information and opportunities need to be made more readily accessible, and provision made for a possible lack of finance and space to practice.

The day marked an important step in the conversation about adult music learning. Making Music will be hosting a follow-up afternoon in January to flesh out more detailed actions and involve more organisations in this discussion. Following this second day a full report, including future plans, will be available.