THE number of music instructors working in Scottish schools has plummeted to an all time low.

There are now just 667 dedicated music tutors serving primary and secondary schools compared to 1,043 in 2007.

The decline, combined with a move by some councils to increase charges, has sparked fears school music is facing “extinction”.

Eleven local authorities increased their music tuition rates last year with average annual fees for group lessons around £212 per pupil. Some councils charge as much as £524.

Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti hit out over the rises in May, signing a joint letter with other musicians calling for all UK primary pupil to be taught an instrument at no cost.

And Mick Cooke, a former member of the indie band Belle & Sebastian, said he and other musicians - including KT Tunstall, Ricky Ross and Eddi Reader - had all benefitted from free lessons.

Kirk Richardson, convener of the instrumental music teachers’ network, described the latest fall in tutors as a “huge concern”.

And he said it would undermine the Scottish Government’s Youth Music Initiative, which gives all pupils experience of playing a musical instrument.

“The numbers are falling so drastically you have to say that music tuition in schools is facing extinction.

“The government scheme gives a taster of music to over 200,000 pupils, but if they want to take up an instrument more seriously then there will be no tutors left.”

The latest decline was revealed as the Scottish Parliament’s education committee prepares to open an inquiry into the future of school music services.

The inquiry was launched after a petition calling for free musical instrument tuition to be made a statutory right was signed by nearly 10,000 people.

Campaigners estimate it would cost about £30 million per year to ensure all children have a right to instrumental lessons, but say the benefits make the investment worthwhile economically and educationally.

The education committee’s inquiry will begin on Wednesday, but campaigners and experts are already raising serious concerns about the long-term future of the service.

Tudor Morris, director of the Edinburgh Music School, said the imposition of charges was likely to hamper talented pupils from poorer backgrounds.

He said: “Talent is not handed out by postcode. The cultural history of Scotland has been permanently enriched by the creative genius of individuals from less advantaged backgrounds.

“The problem with charging ... is not about just a few people affording a relatively small payment. It is the fact up to half of the normal uptake will probably fall away.”

Mr Morris said another another consequence was certain instruments such as the double bass, bassoon, oboe, French horn and viola were “becoming rare or even extinct”.

Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said the squeeze caused by increasing costs would affect other families, but he also warned fees were keeping the service going in some parts of Scotland.

He said: “Although those in low income households will undoubtedly find a

barrier to participation where charges are implemented, the squeezed middle is also impacted.

“It is also worth remembering that, in some cases, it is the ability to charge that saves the music service at all.

“If charging were to be removed in local authorities, staff will be lost, as there is no other source of funding forthcoming.”

St Mary Music School said the committee should seek to achieve consistency across the country, with one solution the removal of music from council control.

A spokesman said: “It is simply unacceptable for children to be excluded from the study of music on grounds of cost due to a postcode lottery.

“It never has been sensible, reasonable or pragmatic to entrust music education to local authorities who have other funding allocations to consider.”

Leading parents’ bodies also called for change with Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, arguing many families were in the dark over what was on offer.

A Connect survey of more than 700 people found around half were not using the music service with 42 per cent of these unaware of the opportunities available.

Ms Prior said: “We recommend national guidance to ensure consistency, inclusion and opportunity for all.”

The National Parent Forum of Scotland, which conducted its own survey, said the impact of having to give up lessons because of increasing fees was upsetting.

A spokeswoman said: “Overwhelmingly, the word parents use to describe their children who can no longer receive tuition is ‘heartbroken’.

“Many children have been forced to give up lessons, often after learning for several years, and are understandably upset, as are their families.

“The laudable aim of our current government is to achieve equity and excellence, but the failure to protect instrumental tuition from a national level cannot possibly sit under this umbrella.”