Council Cuts Destroy Dreams of Future Musicians

For years now the threat to the instrumental service in Scotland has been looming over the heads of tutors and the young people they work with. Recently, the fear of creating an elitist generation of musicians – with only those who can afford to pay for private tuition receiving an education – was highlighted as a very possible reality with an announcement from Midlothian Council. Their statement, that they were planning to cut instrumental lessons from their schools was met by mass outrage and protest from musicians all over Scotland. Thankfully, due to this outcry which included a wonderful flashmob from the school children themselves, who played their instruments with support from their parents and teachers outside the council’s chambers, the controversial cut was scrapped. The story has encouraged many people to speak, sing, or play out against these cuts in hopes of further success in saving instrumental lessons.

Unfortunately, this triumphant outcome hasn’t been achieved across the entire country. Even if councils aren’t trying to axe lessons completely, the increase in the cost of these lessons makes them inaccessible to many. Moray Council, for example, has raised music tuition fees by 85%, meaning that instrumental lessons will now cost young people £699 a year. In protest, John Mustard, who had been head of the Council’s Music Instruction Service, resigned after 30 years of hard work, which had raised Moray’s Service to be acclaimed all around the country. With regard to his resignation, he stated:

“I cannot agree with the decision by the council to raise the cost of music lessons […] to what will be the highest level in Scotland. In a low-wage economy such as Moray this will have the effect of depriving many young people of a valuable skill and pleasure for life.”

Although the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee recommends that all local authorities should provide free music lessons for its school pupils, only 10 out of 32 Councils currently still provide this, with a real threat of this number decreasing even further as more and more councils try to save their budgets with these cuts.

However, there are councils that are creating hope, proving that it is more than possible to provide free lessons and that investing to improve the benefits students in many aspects of their studies and lives in general. Amid the fears of Midlothian’s potential cuts, Dundee announced that they would be scrapping all costs associated with music lessons (which would include instrument hire fees), acknowledging that music is “about so much more than music” as it teaches discipline and teamwork skills, on top of improving concentration.



 Renfrewshire have had free music lessons for several years now, with the recent budget suppling an investment of a further £200,000 [two-hundred-thousand], allowing for the expansion from orchestral instruments (classical style) to also supply jazz and Scottish traditional music tuition, as well as a course around employment for students to experience what a career in music would be like. The council believes that music lessons play a huge part in helping to close the attainment gap between children from families who are financially better off and those who are struggling, as learning a musical instrument not only teaches musical ability but also enhances literacy and numeracy skills. Councillor John Shaw posted onto his Facebook page:

“Budget time at Renfrewshire Council today and I was particularly pleased to be able to present a proposal to commit £500,000 to keep music tuition-free in schools for the next three years, this very much bucks the trend nationally where some Councils were looking to charge up to £699 a year for the cost of lessons. We in Renfrewshire recognise the power of culture on attainment and positive wellbeing for children and young people and took the opportunity to nail this down through to 2022/23”

So, what about the councils in between? There are several authorities that offer free tuition to pupils sitting SQA exams. The issue with this is that a) it takes longer than a school year to go from being a complete beginner in music theory and performance as a whole, to at an exam standard for an instrument and b) in order to take music as a subject - with the intention of sitting an exam - a student needs to be introduced to music to create an interest in learning and a confidence that they are/will be capable of the subject. Not to mention the fact that pupils are required to play two different instruments to a certain standard to pass all current SQA music examinations.

All of this is highly worrying for high school students, however a major concern that is missed by a lot of the debate and coverage surrounding this issue is that some young people receive no music education in their primary school years, highlighting the issue further, that unless lessons are free to non-exam high school juniors then there will be children that never receive any kind of musical experience or education within school, as by the time they are eligible for free lessons, it will be too late to learn and pass the exams.

By robbing children of primary school age the chance to experience music, councils are potentially robbing them of their futures, their possible careers, and passions. Music and creativity, in general, is part of a balanced, well-rounded education and is vital to childhood development. It helps children with emotional understanding and growth, confidence, concentration, teamwork, perseverance, communication skills, and team-work. All kinds of life-long, transferable skills can be gifted to children through music – especially with their young spongey brains ready to soak up the techniques required, and their excitement and enthusiasm at a peak to put in the practice needed to learn an instrument. Even without access to instruments, children that “don’t sing”, can be taught so many amazing things through singing games that it is often referred to as “kind brainwashing” by practitioners. They can teach beat-keeping, intonation, introduce ideas of rhythm and pitch. All of this has such a positive impact on children and is not difficult to implement at all. In fact, it is being used by teachers across the country – but not in every school. It seems so crushingly unfair that a child may not ever experience something so life-changing simply because there is no music available in their learning environment, based purely on luck: where they are from and what teacher they have.

There is a huge misconception that musically talented kids were born that way. The truth is that every child has the potential to be a musician, it is all down to access. While some people may take more naturally to music, it is nurturing, guidance and lots and lots of practicing that create a musician. It is devastating to think about how many people have missed out on such a wonderful opportunity, something that brings so much joy, creates so many friendships, and leads to so many amazing adventures and experiences, simply because they did not have a chance to explore music, to experiment, and see if it struck passion within them.

Music is my life. It is what I want to do, now and for the rest of my life – regardless of what value Scottish councils may place on the role of musicians – or should I say on future musicians, the young people having their dreams destroyed by their ignorant cuts.

Being a musician is not about being a professional. A musician is every person who sings or plays an instrument, no matter what level they are. We are people who feel music in every inch of our bodies, in our entire beings, who create audible emotions, stories, thoughts. For us as musicians, as well as the people who listen to us, music is essential. Music helps us to communicate what we can’t say. Music can heal, uplift us when we need it most, and helps us to reflect and carry on. It helps us discover ourselves, better ourselves, understand ourselves. I cannot stand the thought of that being stolen away from any child.

The good news is that most other musicians can’t stand that thought either. We care about what we do, we know how valuable it is to society and to individual well-being. We know how music can provide you with purpose and comfort, create life-long friendships, and fill you with wonder. We are fiercely passionate, we will stand up for what we are and for who we are. We will not allow the out-of-touch councils to tear away education and opportunity for the next generations of music makers. We will speak out – sing and play out – until we are not only heard but understood.

We will continue to make noise until EVERYONE has access to musical education.



References: (including clip from BBC’S Politics Scotland programme)