Free music tuition can transform young lives

Guitar teacher Alan Coady gives 11-year-old Daniel Simpson lessons at Musselburghs Campie Primary School, where instrumental music tuition is free. Picture: Neil Hanna

Guitar teacher Alan Coady gives 11-year-old Daniel Simpson lessons at Musselburghs Campie Primary School, where instrumental music tuition is free. Picture: Neil Hanna


IN A LARGE second-floor music room, ten-year-old Rachel ­Stevenson is attempting to master I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside on the tenor horn.

Brass teacher Simon Reeves crouches patiently beside her as she finds the right notes on an instrument almost as big as she is. “You see!” exclaims Reeves when she gets to the end. “You do know it! Well done.” Rachel smiles. “Now, let’s go back and do this bit again. One-two, one-two...”

This is Campie Primary school, a Victorian building in a quiet backstreet of the East Lothian town of Musselburgh. There are 396 pupils here, about 10 per cent of whom receive music lessons in either guitar or a brass instrument. Unlike the majority of Scottish schoolchildren, their instrumental music tuition is free.

East Lothian council is one of just eight local authorities in Scotland that does not charge for instrumental music lessons. In Aberdeen, children pay £340 a year for lessons, while children in Stirling are charged £309, in a postcode lottery system that discriminates against children across Scotland who want to learn an instrument. East Lothian meanwhile, alongside West ­Lothian, Glasgow, Edinburgh and a handful of others, has never charged for tuition.

“It comes up as an option every time we’re hard up, which is frequently,” says Margaret O’Connor, cultural service manager for East Lothian Council. “It has been addressed by a number of different administrations and councils but the support we have for it is traditionally cross-party. Every time it’s been raised as an option it’s been rejected.”

For Gaynor Allen, a mother of four, three of whom are receiving free music lessons in Musselburgh, one at Campie Primary and two who started their lessons at Campie before going on to Musselburgh Grammar, the fact that there is no cost involved means the difference between having the lessons and not.

“The standard of the free lessons is very high and I feel very lucky that my kids are receiving them,” says Allen, who is also chair of Campie Parent Council. “If these free lessons stopped, we would try and keep them going but this would be very hard. Finding money for three sets of lessons a month would be a sacrifice.”

For Rachel, the benefits are easy to see. “I really like doing something different,” she says. “I’ve played in some concerts and I get nervous going on stage but I feel great after it, and I love practising at home.”

The instrumental lessons spill over into other parts of school life. Campie’s Got Talent, an annual show featuring singing, dancing and music organised by the Parent Council, is so popular that this year it had to be held in Portobello town hall. The school’s musical evening, meanwhile, which showcases those children who are learning an instrument as well as the school’s choir and recorder group, regularly draws more than 200 parents.

For 11-year-old P7 pupil ­Daniel Simpson, who has been learning the guitar for three years, the musical evening was rewarding. “I got to see people playing other instruments which was really interesting,” he says. “I was nervous before but I was really proud of myself after the concert.”

Not every child here gets the opportunity to learn an instrument. At Campie, as in many schools across the country, the children are tested in Primary 5 for their musical aptitude through a series of tests. Those who score the highest get to try out instruments, choose their preferred ones, and are assigned a teacher. Across the three years there are currently 36 children at Campie Primary receiving instrumental music tuition. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small amount.

Yet it’s a common system - even among local authorities who have charges. In Fife, for example, as few as four children in a year can be chosen to receive instrumental tuition, and then find their parents are charged £125 for the privilege. In Edinburgh, where tuition is also free, instrumental lessons are available in only in a certain number of schools, often on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, meaning some children are too far away to attend, or find the lessons clash with sporting activities.

In Campie’s Art Room, four P5 pupils are receiving their second guitar lesson. Alan Coady, who also teaches guitar in Musselburgh Grammar, says: “Often the children you see having lessons at this age are the ones who will a few years down the line be sitting their SQA Music exams. You see them become more sociable as the year goes on. Their confidence increases. Sometimes you can scarcely believe it’s the same child from the start of one year to the end.”




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