Will policy changes make music education more elitist?


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A few months ago I was asked to look at the cost of music examination and the audition processes in the UK and how transparent the charges were for an article in a newsletter for the National Association of Percussion Teachers.  The research showed that most of the examination boards have a very clear pricing and assessment policy in place but the specialist music institution audition policy was, in many cases, not as plain. 

The initial findings led me to consider what is the cost of learning an instrument or having vocal training.  Local authority controlled music services have gradually moved from the utopia of free lessons for all to a fee paying business model.  This change has not just started to take effect, I remember the start of the most recent moves about twenty years ago.  Music education has rarely been valued as an important part of the whole education offer, and many Councils in the country have relied on community groups (choirs, brass bands, wind bands, amateur orchestras…) to supply some general provision.  If a music student wants to progress to a decent standard then in most cases they will have to find the money to fund private lessons as well as have the urge to dedicate time to their studies.  Time – another part of young peoples lives that seems to be at a premium these days with the pressures from school to pass the other examinations that schools are measured against. 

Some of the findings from the research (which was completed a few months ago) are itemised below. 

What price an instrumental lesson? 

The ISM (http://www.ism.org/advice/article/fees-self-employed-visiting-music-teachers) in their most recent survey show that the average fee charged by a self-employed music tutor in school is £30 per hour, the private music tuition survey had a similar figure although the rates for Greater London (£34 per hour) and Central London (£40 per hour) were higher.  Many other comments I have seen do suggest that setting up a teaching practice needs some market research in the local area before fixing a rate per hour, many tutors in my local area (Yorkshire) charge much less than these average figures. 

What price a music examination? 

An instrumental (or vocal) examination increases from a range of £35 to £40 at grade 1 up to a range between £72 and £84 at grade 8.  These figures have been gathered from the examination board websites. 

What price an audition? 

For those students wishing to study at a specialist institution once they have completed their school education the audition costs range from nothing (typically a University music department) to £90 at some conservatoires and a few have started to advertise what to expect at the audition (one example is 20-30 minute audition, £90 at the Royal Academy of Music). 

What price an instrument? 

Difficult to even start with this but thousands rather than hundreds is the norm, my investment in percussion instruments was about £25,000 (at today’s values) when I started as a professional and I added to this most years as well. 

Some ideas of a grand total. 

Pupil starting at the age of 10 with an average of 40 lessons per year, going through the examination system (but missing the odd one out along the way), auditioning for a conservatoire but not including Higher Education study costs and the price of an instrument (or instruments). 

Average for 8(years) X 40(lessons per year) X £34 (average plus a little for inflation), instrumental lessons = £10,880

Seven examinations (with a little for inflation) = £500

Audition (with a little for inflation in eight year’s time) = £130 

Total is £11,510 (not including the instrument). 

I hope this doesn’t put anyone off but I am concerned that it could.  There is very little financial assistance available with the lessons but there are some instrument hire schemes available and for promising students instrument loans as well.  The music hub concept could be good for community/communal music making but what about those that are going to be the performers, composers and producers of the future?  How do they learn their craft if price is the dominant factor?  Will the opportunities be dictated by family income?  

The analysis was not influenced by a “grumpy old man” viewpoint or is a pessimistic exposition but I am apprehensive for future musicians due to their prospects being dependant on ability to pay.  I hope we can all lobby, persuade, create ideas and come up with strategies for music to be an integral part of any education system that evolves in the future and does not have to exist because of financial worth alone.

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About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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