The number of pupils learning musical instruments in one council area plummeted by more than two thirds after fees were introduced, it has emerged.

West Lothian Council brought in charges for the first time this year – with pupils asked to pay £354 annually.

But bosses revealed they are already rethinking the decision following a massive fall in participation.

David Dodds, executive councillor for education, said music tuition was facing “huge problems” due to a lack of funding for local authorities.

He said: “It was certainly not a choice we made lightly, and not a choice we were keen to make. It was something we were very reluctantly forced to do.”

He said estimated figures show the number of primary school pupils receiving tuition dropped from 1,128 last November to 234 this month.

For secondary schools, it fell from 1,042 to 514 in the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of school bands and ensembles plummeted from 13 to five.

Mr Dodds, who was giving evidence to Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, said poorer areas had been particularly affected.

He said: "Although we have introduced a standard charge, it may be an equal charge but it is not an equitable charge.

"In some cases that charge will be met by families who have a reasonable amount of disposable income and who are able to meet that charge.

"In other cases I think the families who are facing that charge are looking to find money after they have paid for the basics, key things such as food and clothing, and for anything else they have left, every penny is accounted for.

"When we set our level of charging we had assumed a maximum level of dropping off of 30 per cent but in fact our retention level is closer to 30%.

"So based on that, what we're now offering doesn't achieve what we set out to achieve, so we would need to look at that and that would need to include looking at returning to some kind of form of free provision."

He added: “I think given the levels of drop-off, we will have to address that. We are now at the margins of being able to provide a viable music tuition service".

Mr Dodds said a 50% discount is available for siblings, while those receiving free schools meals or sitting an SQA music exam do not pay.

However he said some pupils may be opting to study music simply so they can afford to continue with the additional tuition.

Councillor Willie Wilson, of Perth and Kinross Council, said it introduced a 20% hike in fees last year after a six-year freeze – the equivalent of around £50 extra annually.

Glasgow brought in charges around a decade ago but quickly reversed the decision amid declining numbers.

MSPs were previously told the introduction of fees for music tuition in Scottish schools had led to more than 1,200 fewer pupils learning an instrument in just one year.

Ten councils currently charge for tuition, with fees ranging from a few pounds a week to more than £500 a year in Clackmannanshire.

Holyrood's ongoing inquiry into the issue was sparked after a petition calling for free musical instrument tuition to be made a statutory right was signed by nearly 10,000 people.