Education & Family

Electric guitar overtakes violin in music lesson boom

Boy with violin Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption More children than ever are playing instruments, suggests research

The electric guitar has overtaken the violin in a list of most popular musical instruments for children to play, says a music exam board.

Some 13% of five- to 17-year-olds play the electric guitar, compared with 12% for the violin.

Keyboard is the most popular instrument, played by 30% of the 1,726 children, questioned by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

The figures suggest a music boom - but poorer children may be missing out.

Some 76% of children aged five to 14 told the researchers they knew how to play an instrument compared with 41% in 1999.

Compared with 1999 there has been rise in instrumental learning an across the board, with increasing numbers of children playing a wider variety of instruments and some children playing two or more, suggests the report.

Back in 1999, the recorder was the most popular instrument among this age group, with 19% learning, just 2% of children played the violin and 1%, the electric guitar.

Top instruments

Piano and recorder are played by 28%, classical guitar by 20% and drum kit by 14%, with keyboard coming top at 30%.


Top instruments 2014

  • Keyboard 30%
  • Piano 28%
  • Recorder 28%
  • Classical guitar
  • Drum kit 14%
  • Electric Guitar 13%
  • Violin 12%
  • Percussion 6%
  • Bass Guitar 5%

Source ABRSM


Over a fifth (21%) of young musicians said they had taught themselves rather than having lessons.

Some 40% said they made music with friends, 20% had performed to an audience, 12% wrote and sung their own songs, while 20% made music using a smart phone or tablet.

The researchers found significant gender differences, with more boys "tending to learn pop music instruments than girls".

"More girls than boys are playing the recorder, violin and flute", say the authors.

But the report also reveals a substantial class divide with 15% of five- to 17-year-olds having never played an instrument.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption More children now learn the electric guitar than the violin, say the researchers

Almost three quarters (74%) of children from affluent backgrounds said they had lessons, individually or in classes, compared with 55% of those from poorer groups.

Some 30% of children who had never had lessons said they were too expensive, while 40% of poorer children said they had no opportunity to learn at school.

Children from higher social groups were also twice as likely to do music exams and to dominate string, brass, piano and woodwind instruments.

Affording lessons

Teachers told the researchers they were concerned that whole class music lessons, provided by schools, did not translate into more children taking formal individual lessons.

"The projects in the schools are free of charge for parents and organised by the school. When continuing, parents have to pay for it and have to organise it. Both I found to be factors that prevent continuation", said one teacher.

Another added: "Much of my whole class teaching is in areas of social deprivation, and parents are both unable to afford to fund lessons and also are not familiar themselves with instrumental tuition, so it is not something they consider continuing."

The report calls for funding to be targeted more effectively at disadvantaged learners, with more collaboration between private and state sectors.

Lincoln Abbotts, director of strategic development at ABRSM said it would work with policy makers to "target and align funding to support disadvantaged learners and address regional imbalances".

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