The statistics: part 2

Shifts in instrumental trends4

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Since ABRSM undertook its previous survey, the percentage of children claiming to know how to play an instrument has increased significantly, climbing from 41% in 1999 to 76% today. This is a cause for celebration, particularly in England where successive government initiatives such as Wider Opportunities and the National Plan for Music Education have clearly had a positive impact. 1999 also saw the formation of Youth Music, through which significant funding was directed to out-of-school music projects and the non-formal sector.

The dominance and visibility of popular music styles also appears to be having an impact on music learning. There has been a measurable increase in the popularity of instruments such as the electric guitar, keyboard and bass guitar. All now appear in the top ten instruments played.

The piano has seen a 15% growth in interest (see Fig 26) but it is much more accessible to learners from AB social backgrounds, where 44% of children have played the piano compared with only 17% of DEs (see Fig 31). Despite its abundant use by classroom music teachers, the number of children playing the recorder has not increased to the same extent as other instruments (see Fig 44).

Since 1999, there has been a 9% increase in the proportion of children taking instrumental lessons both at school and privately, with an increase of 11% in private tuition overall (see Fig 27). As a consequence of this, the proportion of children who only have lessons at school has declined by 13%.


Figure 25 - instrumental playing (tracking)

Figure 26 - instrumental playing (tracking)

Figure 27 - instrumental lessons (tracking)

This year’s survey shows there are identifiable gender divisions, with significantly more boys playing drum kit and twice as many of them playing percussion compared with girls. Simultaneously, many more girls than boys are playing the recorder, violin and flute.

‘I like playing in the orchestra and hearing how my part fits into a piece of music’
– A learner responding to what they enjoy most about making music.

There are also significant differences in the playing of instruments and lesson taking amongst social grades. Figs 30 and 31 illustrate that those playing strings, brass, piano and woodwind instruments are more likely to be from social grades AB and therefore more likely to be taking lessons.


Figure 28 - instrumental playing

Figure 29 - instrumental playing

Figure 30 - instrumental lessons

Figure 31 - instrumental playing


The number of UK children who know how to play an instrument has increased measurably by 35% since 1999, particularly with a growing interest in pop music instruments. Instrument take-up is also differentiated on gender lines, with more boys tending to learn pop music instruments than girls. Whilst there has been a rise in the number of children taking private lessons, there appears to be a social grade divide in certain instrumental families, where most notably string, brass, piano and woodwind players are disproportionately from AB households.

4 In previous Making Music reports, child learners were classified as aged 5-14, with adults being classified as aged 15+. In order to make comparisons with previous reports, the 2014 data for the following tracking questions has been re-filtered and re-weighted on children aged 5-14, with those aged 15+ being classified as adults. This ensures that the age profile we are comparing is consistent, allowing for us to identify changes and trends. Please refer to About this report for more detail about the data in this section.

Next: 4.3. The statistics: part 3

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