Open letter: The case for free musical instrument tuition in schools for every child

Making music as a hobby has a long tradition in the UK where there are an estimated 40,000 choirs and at least 20,000 instrumental groups including brass bands, amateur orchestras, sitar societies, folk groups, drumming circles, jazz bands, ukulele groups, and more, with over 3.3 million individuals involved.

Every community has such groups that bring people from all walks of life together to practise and perform music in their leisure-time on a regular basis.

This is the music that accompanies local, civic, religious and family events: gala days, fundraisers, prize-givings, charity nights, coffee mornings, birthday parties, fêtes, school assemblies and church services. For many, the sound of a brass band signals the start of Christmas.

These sociable groups strengthen communities. Generations work together, honing their listening and practical skills. Teamwork. Balance. Solving problems in groups. Taking responsibility. Discipline. 

There are countless stories of music helping children turn away from troubled paths, of older people escaping loneliness in a choir, of adults volunteering to lead groups and growing personally from doing so. These benefits save money elsewhere in the system, particularly in terms of public health. 

This was part of the reason why the two post-war periods and the difficult decade of the '70s saw the greatest growth in schools offering free, specialist musical instrument tuition, recognising it as a force for good in individual children’s lives, in schools as a whole, and in communities.

A return to it now would be timely, and wise, as we move into a new automation revolution. Machines are replacing many jobs, but machines cannot empathise. They cannot have original thoughts, and their ability to mimic human creativity is poor. It is these skills that will equip children for the workplace of the future. 

And at the same time we would, once again, be strengthening communities with a supply of musicians. 

It is regrettable that any subject in state schools should have to be paid for at the point of delivery.

Find out more about our campaign to save musical instrument tuition in schools and what you can do to support it.