This subject is treated separately from general music education to fit in with the section on school orchestras in the Orchestras section of the knowledge base.

Two recent reports have broadened the knowledge of music education, including performance of school orchestras, bands and ensembles. The MCA in cooperation with the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME)1 and the Australian Music Association (AMA)2 commissioned a study headed by Professor Robin Stevens3, attempting to answer eleven questions relating to music education. It was followed by a National Review of Music Education in Australia4 for the Federal Minister of Education, Science and Training, published in 2005.

Despite these major research efforts, the general knowledge of the extent of instrumental music performance in schools remains patchy, mainly because of the diverse nature of school education systems with different rules in the eight States and Territories and among the three main sectors: Government, Independent and Catholic schools. This compounds the difficulties already existing in capturing changes in music teaching as students progress from pre-school to final year; different schools respond in different ways to these changing needs. The lack of training facilities through local community music schools has also been debated, as briefly summarised at the end of this section.

Question 9 of the Stevens report5 concerns “extra-curricular” activities, including instrumental music whether or not school-based (co-curricular). The best that could be done in most States was to report on the range of extra-curricular school music activities, without any indication of time involved or trends over time. Some examples are given below; refer Question 9 for full detail relating to each State and Territory.

Extra-curricular activities involving instrumental music vary widely from State to State. In NSW, for example, activities undertaken in secondary schools include school-based ensembles ranging from symphony orchestras to choral groups, and regular musical events such as annual school concerts or musicals, and music performances associated with the religious calendar. In Victoria, Melbourne Youth Music (MYM)6 provides an Extension Education Service. It administers the Saturday Music School that caters for over 450 students aged 7-23 years in eleven different ensembles, and also the January Music Camp, a non-residential summer school for instrumentalists and vocalists.

Schools across Australia with a specialist music teacher on staff take on a variety of extra-curricular musical activities, including choir and band rehearsals in public primary schools, music camps, school musicals, school ensembles, annual school concerts and other official events. Some States have special programs to promote musical excellence among young people, such as Queensland’s MOST (Musically Outstanding Students)7 program, which provides a biennial two-week residential program for 77 students who participate in a variety of musical ensembles. Another Queensland program, FANFARE,8 is a biennial festival of State school bands. In Western Australia, the Department of Education, through the School of Instrumental Music (SIM),9 supports a number of music festivals and showcase events, and special concerts promote and involve young musicians. The principal extra-curricular activity in Tasmanian schools is the Primary Schools Band Program that involves 550 students learning brass and woodwind instruments and 160 students learning string instruments.

National Review of Music Education

The National Review of Music Education in Australia10 is too complex a document to deal with comprehensively here. The executive summary and associated recommendations should be read in full to just begin understanding the issues involved. The following quotes relating to instrumental music highlight the inequities involved in funding these activities and providing teaching resources, and therefore in developing school orchestras and ensembles (pp xi-xii):

Support for instrumental and vocal music is provided centrally for government schools in four of the States and Territories: Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. These services include low cost instrument hire schemes and music libraries. In the other States and in the independent schools sector, instrumental and vocal tuition is most often provided at an individual school level and on a user pays basis. This again highlights that those who play music are those who can pay for music.

  • The costs of providing these services are also cited as reasons for inequitable access to music programmes particularly instrumental and vocal programmes. Associated with these costs are shortages of suitably qualified instrumental and vocal teachers aligned with contemporary curriculum.
  • Only a small proportion of schools have designated programmes for gifted and talented students as opposed to activities catering for talented students. Similarly, only a small proportion of schools have designated instrumental or vocal programmes.

The key message of the National Review (page v) is that:

  • Music education is valuable and essential for all Australian school students. International and national research shows that music education uniquely contributes to the emotional, physical, social and cognitive growth of all students. Music in schools contributes to both instrumental and aesthetic learning outcomes; transmission of cultural heritage and values; and, students’ creativity, identity and capacity for self-expression and satisfaction.
  • Students miss out on effective music education. While there are examples of excellent music education in schools, many Australian students miss out on effective music education because of the lack of equity of access; lack of quality of provision; and the poor status of music in many schools.

The review therefore identifies a need for immediate priority on improving and sustaining the quality and status of music education. The first three actions listed are (our emphasis):

  • Improve the equity of access, participation and engagement in school music for all students;
  • Improve teacher pre-service and in-service education;
  • Improve curriculum support services (advisory, instrumental music, vocal music and music technology).

The key message does not specify a perennial result of the “tyranny of distance”, the inequities caused by location. However, the review contains numerous references to this problem, for example (p 20):

In asserting the importance of student engagement in multiple musical ensemble activities as a mode for enhancing the development of musical talent, [Felicia Chadwick at the 1999 ASME Conference noted] that ‘residents in rural communities and children from less socio-economically advantaged families do not enjoy equal access to opportunities for development of their musical potential’ (p. 34). Chadwick indicates that State ensembles such as the NSW State Schools’ Performing Ensembles provide complementary opportunities for musically talented students to extend their skills, repertoire and commitment to musical excellence but these have geographical and numerical limitations on their membership. In larger metropolitan and regional centres community-based bands, orchestras and other ensembles may supplement school-based offerings.

The Review goes on to note that State education departments do organise music camps which enable geographically isolated students to join musically gifted peers in instrumental ensemble activities (which would benefit a small number of students only).

Commenting on the large number of submissions received by the Review, the authors noted (p 107):

Of particular note in submissions was the suggestion that geography and the tyranny of distance hinder staffing and teaching of music in many rural and remote schools. Children in cities, larger regional centres and higher socio-economic circumstances are more likely to be able to access music programmes.

Local Community Music Schools

Dick Letts several years ago raised the question: Why doesn’t your town have its own music school?11

If Australia were in Europe, it would have 600 publicly supported music schools offering instruction to all comers. Including the external programs of the conservatoria, it actually has about 25 or 30. Could the community music school be the solution to our endless problem in making music education universally accessible?

Sweden12 is a prime example of a European country benefiting from extra-curricular music schools, set up since the 1960s in almost all municipalities in the country. It is claimed to have transformed musical activity and appreciation, and to have made Sweden one of the very few countries in the world with a positive trade balance in music.

To date, the main community music schools in Australia have been established in New South Wales, where they are known as regional conservatoria. There are currently 15 established centres in NSW country areas13. They were initially established under the umbrella of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with tiny grants from the NSW Government. Five are associated with provincial universities, which provide substantial support. The ten others depend crucially on local community support, plus public funding.

Jane Robertson, head of Tamworth Regional Conservatorium of Music and chair of the Association of Regional Music Conservatoria in NSW, noted in a Music Forum article in 200214 that the community-based conservatoria eventually received increased support after their first struggling years. The imbalance with the university-based conservatoria was partially addressed in the 1980s when a base grant was introduced (supplemented with support based on hours taught). However, the conservatoria remained floundering until they were transferred to the NSW Department of Education and Training in 1997. Robertson commented on this move:

Since it has always been my understanding that regional conservatoriums in NSW were established to provide instrumental and vocal tuition not available in NSW state schools, one can only wonder why it took so long!

She also noted that even after substantial State government funding increases in 2001-02, the conservatoria would remain dependent on active and substantial local support, including Friends’ organisations:

Given the conservatoriums’ history … it would come as no surprise that the increased funds will, in the short term anyway, serve only to lift them above the poverty line. There is much catching up to do.

The general aim, as expressed by Orange Regional Conservatorium,15 is “to provide musical education and performance opportunities for all members of our region.” This particular conservatorium stages about 40 public concerts in which over 300 amateur, student and professional musicians play. Fourteen weekly in-house ensembles range from the Orange Symphony Orchestra and the Orange Youth Orchestra to an Adult Concert Band, Junior String Ensembles, Conservatorium Brass Ensembles, the Orange Beat Percussion Ensemble, and Orange Conservatorium Flute and Wind Ensembles.

In and around the centres where regional conservatoria are located, their existence has a significant impact on local musical life and appreciation. There is still a great gap to fill (including metropolitan suburbs), even in NSW where they are mainly located.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Last updated 30 May 2006.



Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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