Is learning the piano in decline? Part 2

 

How long have you been teaching the piano? If it is three or more years you’ve probably got a good sense of how fluid or stable your pupil numbers are. I wonder if you have noted any changes or trends in the number of adults starting lessons for example?

piano teaching resources

Last week I looked at the results of a survey that I carried in November 2018 when piano teachers across the world were asked about their number of beginner pupils. If you haven’t yet read this I suggest you catch up with it before going further.

THE PIANO SURVEY 2010

The Piano Survey 2010 was a far larger survey than that carried out in 2018 and covered an extensive range of questions. In total there were 30 questions exploring teachers’ attitudes, values and common approaches to teaching. Pupil numbers and levels was just one of these questions.

Four hundred and seventy-four teachers left information regarding their pupil numbers. Between them the teachers had 2018 beginner pupils.
It is worth noting that this was a complex question to answer as it covered student ages and levels. So teachers left details of pupil ages and standard. Furthermore, a slightly different approach was taken to the age bands in the two surveys. Finally, it is useful to remember that both surveys are only a snapshot in time and further surveys will need to be carried out in future years for any real trends to emerge. For these reasons there are no real conclusions at this time.

THE SIMILARITIES

As can be seen in Figure 1 below the trend of student numbers does follow a similar path to 2018 (Figure 2) with the main bulk of beginners found in the 7-9 age bracket (614). A further 413 pupils were aged between 5-6 years old. This represents 50% of the total numbers of beginner piano pupils in 2010.

Although the age bands used were slightly different both surveys had similar results in the 11-13 ages. In 2010 10% of pupils (203) were between 11-13 whilst in 2018 10% of pupils (124) were aged 10-11.

 

FIGURE 1

FIGURE 2

THE DIFFERENCES

So what might have changed?

The first apparently interesting difference is in the average number of pupils taught by each teacher. In 2010 the average number of beginner pupils was 4.25 whilst in 2018 this had risen to 7. The 2010 figure however cannot be compared like for like as it includes all teachers who answered the question, whether or not they taught beginners. In 2018 the teachers were all self-selecting teachers of beginner piano pupils.

One thing that does appear to have changed though is the number of beginner adults having piano lessons. In 2010 beginner adult students accounted for 17% of the total [figure 3]. In 2018 beginner adult students accounted for 10% [FIGURE4].

FIGURE 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIGURE 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This possible shift is highlighted further when the numbers of primary school aged students and adults are directly compared between the two years.

In 2010 there were 1911 beginner piano pupils in total in the two categories. Eighty-two percent of these [1566] were primary aged students and 345 {18%] adults students [FIGURE 5].

In 2018 there were 1142 beginners in total. Eighty-nine percent of this number [1020] were of primary age and just 11% [122] were adult [FIGURE 6]. The charts below highlight this:

FIGURE 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIGURE 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHANGING TRENDS

Drawing any firm conclusions from the data presented is not possible at this stage. Comparing the two surveys does lead me though to ask two particular questions:

  • Is the number of primary aged children starting the piano on the increase?
  • Is the numbers of adults starting the piano declining?

If there is a decline in adult beginners then there could be several contributing factors. For example, the downturn in the economy in the last eight years means that for some there is a lack of disposable income. At the same time there has been a proliferation in free online piano lesson tutorials. A quick search for ‘learn to play piano’ brought up 400,000 results. Then of course, it is important to highlight that I have been discussing just the beginner stages of learning the piano. It could be that more adults are returning to piano playing who are already at intermediate level or above.

It is interesting that at primary school level there appears to be more children starting to learn the piano. If this proves to be the case it will be encouraging and bucking the declining trend of music education provision. A recent report (State of the Nation) highlighted a drop in the numbers of graded music exams being taken and a significant decrease in GCSE and A level music in schools.

SURVEY 2019

The plan is to carry out the same survey each year for the foreseeable future. This will then alert the piano teaching profession to any changes and shifts to our pupil numbers and the demographic make up of our pupils. Look out for your invitation popping into your inbox – next November!

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers

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