A new report into music in schools has found the recorder is giving way in terms of popularity to an instrument with a great deal more pluck

Which is?

The ukulele. According to a survey conducted by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), an exam board and registered charity based in London, there has been a 47% decline in the number of people playing the recorder since 2014. Over the same period, the use of ukuleles in the classroom has risen from one per cent to 15%.

George Formby would be pleased ...

He would indeed. The much-loved singer-songwriter was a proud exponent of the ukulele and as a result became one of the most popular entertainers of his day. The Beatles’ George Harrison was a huge fan and the band referenced Formby both in their music and their lyrics. Other famous players of the ‘uke’, as it’s known, include country legend Jimmie Rodgers and 1960s musician Tiny Tim.

But why?

The survey, titled Learning, Playing And Teaching In The UK: ABRSM Making Music 2021, states that the growth in popularity of the ukelele is down in part to changes in the methods used to teach music, especially with whole-class groups. It adds: “Now children are likely to play ukulele in class, for example, and preferences have steadily grown for instruments that allow young people to follow their musical interests and emulate their role models, such as drums and electric guitar.”

Is it a taste thing?

It could be that too. Nobody would ever describe the sound of an S1 class strumming poorly-tuned ukuleles as heavenly – but many may think it better than the fingers-down-the-blackboard screech of 30 descant recorders going full blast. But don’t write the recorder’s obituary just yet: it is still the fourth most popular instrument in schools after piano, keyboard and classical guitar.

What else?

Loads. Although since 2014 there has been an overall decline in the number of children and adults playing a musical instrument, as well as an 11% drop in children taking instrumental lessons, 86% of children and 43% of adults surveyed say they are actively making music. Interestingly, the ABRSM survey also finds that 13% of adults report making music through digital means and 34% of young people are also making music on their own, with just under half of them using either a phone or a tablet. “Another change, perhaps stimulated through social media and availability of rich media resources, is for increasing numbers of young people to self-learn and make music informally with friends and small groups rather than through formal teaching,” says Chris Cobb, Chief Executive of ABRSM.