Music Education


British orchestras lead the world in their approach to creative music making and participatory projects and are pioneers of innovative approaches. They are using new techniques and technologies to engage more people in more ways; making music relevant and moving well beyond traditional schools concerts and workshops.ABO members work within a broad definition of music education which incorporates formal and informal learning.

In the formal education sector, orchestral musicians find themselves working in nurseries, in schools, with Music Education Hubs and music services, and in Higher Education institutions.

Informal learning involves orchestral musicians working with people of all ages and backgrounds in a variety of settings including hospitals and other health settings, community centres, supermarkets, prisons.  

Where talent is identified, orchestras are there to nurture and develop it. ABO orchestras ensure future players are inspired by the very best musicians and develop their musical skill by working with professional orchestral players.

A survey of orchestras in 2015 demonstrates the range and variety of orchestras work in education and the community.

29 out of 57 orchestras responded and out of the 29:
•    93% work with primary schools
•    93% work with secondary schools
•    80% work with children and young people with special educational needs
•    79% work with Higher Education
•    79% work with youth ensembles
•    69% work in early years
•    65% work with people living with dementia
•    55% work with Further Education
•    38% work in hospitals or hospices
•    34% work with amateur orchestras
•    31% work in mental health settings
•    14% work in adult prisons
•    7% work in youth justice settings

A table of activity can be downloaded here

Work with adults

Orchestras and opera companies also work with adults in day centres, in care homes, in adult health (stroke patient care),with adults with learning difficulties, with adults who have additional support needs and with adult music enthusiasts (talks and study days). 

Work with young people

This ranges from work with young carers, young adults, young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), to out of school programmes of creative workshops, youth orchestras, youth choirs and young talent groups

None of this work is possible without the huge range of partnerships and collaborations forged to make high quality music education a reality.  Orchestras work with local authorities, local businesses, other arts organisations and government bodies to deliver programmes that excite and have a lasting impact.

BBC Ten Pieces

The ABO is a stakeholder in BBC Ten Pieces, which is an initiative, led by BBC Music, BBC Learning and the BBC Orchestras and Choirs, which focuses on classical music and creativity. The programme has engaged thousands of primary and secondary schools across the UK through providing free resources online and offering unique opportunities throughout the year. In 2017, the project has launched a brand new set of Ten Pieces with resources for 7-14 years olds including short introductory videos, full orchestral performances, instrumental and vocal arrangements, and 6-weeks’ of lesson plans. Each year the project invites schools and youth organisations to submit creative responses to the music to be featured on the BBC website. Ten Pieces also collaborates with more than 260 Ten Pieces Champions across the UK, including music education hubs, music services, various youth and arts organisations, and ABO member orchestras. 

The ABO's role in education and community work

The ABO has been involved in music education for over 25 years, managing centrally coordinated education projects, participating in research, Government consultations on the National Curriculum, reviews and professional development. As an Association it champions its member orchestras’ and opera companies’ education and community work, highlighting the work through publications, briefings, and conferences.

Since 1992, the ABO has been supported in its work by a number of funders – private and public, most of whom continue to support orchestras and opera companies, helping to shape and develop this work and to bring the work to as many participants as possible. In the last 25 years some of the major education projects we have undertaken have included:

The Turn of the Tide (1992-93): The ABO commissioned Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to write a piece of music for orchestra and children on the theme of the environment. 16 orchestras participated in the project which was aimed at helping primary school teachers who were not confident in teaching music, to encourage them in their own creativity, backed up with a Teachers’ Pack as a written resource.

National Education Programme (1997): Aas part of its 50th anniversary celebrations the ABO ran a National Education Programme involving 45 orchestras and opera companies.

Orchestras in Education (1998-2002): a programme of work aimed at primary school teachers enabling them to find out more about the work of orchestras in schools and for them to work creatively alongside professional musicians at Teachers Days.

Early Years Cluster Programme (2004-06): enabling professional musicians and early years practitioners to build their confidence in working with music in early years.

Make the Difference: Evaluating Education Projects (June 2009): Annabel Jackson was commissioned to carry out a review of ABO orchestras’ evaluation material and to produce guidance on evaluating education projects. A one-day training course was held, using the guidance as the basis for the day.

Unlocking Potential: Education and the Orchestra (2010): this report showcased the wide range of ABO members’ education and community work.

Live the Experience (England, 2009) and Live the Experience Scotland (2011) These reports mapped the provision of professional orchestral concerts for school children and young people in England and Scotland.

Copies of our education reports and publications can be downloaded from our publications pages.