Two Thirds Of British Students Make Music

A new poll by Youth Music shows a massive rise in music-making among young people – especially among those from lower-income backgrounds.

New research has found that more than two-thirds of young people are active musicians.

What did the study show?

The study by music charity and TVMS partner Youth Music polled more than 1000 Britsih children aged from seven to seventeen about their music habits. Unsurprisingly, 97% of them had listened to music in the previous week – but 67% had also engaged in “some form of music-making activity”. It’s a huge rise from 39% in 2006, when Youth Music conducted their previous survey.

Among those who said they made music, singing was the most popular means, with 44% saying they did compared with 17% in 2006. Thirty percent of surveyed children played an instrument – 39% of whom are somewhat self-taught – with the piano proving most popular. Eleven per cent made music on a computer while fewer than 10% rapped or DJ’d.

Children singing with singing teacher

What was the cause of this increase?

It’s been over 10 years since Youth Music conducted the same study which looked at the levels of engagement children have with music education. One explanation as to what could have caused such a sharp increase in music education was the implementation of music hubs across the country. In 2012, to combat the erosion of music in public schools, Arts Council England established Music Education Hubs to provide access, opportunities and excellence in music education for all children and young people.

The shift from provision being delivered by schools to external providers delivering the National Plan for Music has certainly contributed to an increase in engagement with young people.

Another possible reason interest in music has increased is the popularity of musical figures and specific instruments that dominate the mainstream. Nowadays, the likes of Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande are role models for young people and watching Ed Sheeran’s skills on the guitar or listening to Ariana Grande latest album affirms to children that learning to play an instrument can be modern and worthwhile.

Ed Sheeran is one of the UK’s biggest pop stars.

What did the study show?

Not everything in the report was positive however, as additional evidence has found that music-making tends to fall off as children get older – 79% of all children aged 7 to 10 made music versus 53% of those aged 16 and 17.

Income affected the findings: 76% of children entitled to free school meals described themselves as musical, versus 60% of those not entitled. Activities including rapping, DJing, writing music and making music digitally were all markedly higher among children following lower-income backgrounds.

The research comes as enrollment in music qualifications is in decline, with the number of schools offering A-level music falling by 15% in the last two years, and 60% of schools reporting that the introduction of the English baccalaureate (Ebacc) was negatively impacting music education.

The report’s authors argue it is vital “to make music an indispensable part of school life”. But they also acknowledge the potential in mobile video apps like TikTok, saying: “While there may be a lot of music involved, the app encourages young people to be creative, autonomous and hone their performance skills, often in highly humorous ways.”

Writing in the introduction of the report, Youth Music CEO, Matt Griffiths outlines some of the problems around access to music for young people: “While we might have online access to more music than ever before, we still can’t afford to go to that festival, be a regular gig-goer, rehearse with a band or afford to buy that instrument we’ve always wanted. And if we’re at a school, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to access music in the curriculum where its importance is in many cases being downgraded.”

The report’s authors recommend that “public music education funds should be targeted towards those who face greatest barriers to access” and “those involved in supporting young people’s well-being should give greater consideration to the role that music can play, and how young people’s passion for listening to music and their everyday creative lives can be interwoven with wider strategies to support good mental health.”

Youth Music and other organisations continue to work with young people throughout the UK on musical projects to enhance their lives and provides the facilities to make great art which benefits the wider community and has an impact on everyone’s lives.

Read more about Youth Music are the work that they do here.