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Germans stop learning to play music
Photo: DPA

Germans stop learning to play music

Published: 07 Dec 2012 07:59 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Dec 2012 07:59 GMT+01:00

Few countries have produced more acclaimed classical composers than Germany. But there are discordant signs that the home of Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Handel could be squandering its musical heritage.

The number of households where musical instruments are played has declined by nearly 30 percent over the past four years, according to a new survey which suggest instruments are falling silent or disappearing altogether.

Just 17.7 percent of households now make any of their own acoustic music, according to a study "Music-making and musical instruments in Germany", published on Wednesday.

The survey, commissioned by the Union of the Musical Instrument and Musical Equipment Industry (SOMM) and carried out by the independent Society for Consumer Research (GfK), was based on a representative poll of 11,000 Germans.

The rate of decline which it revealed should certainly set alarm bells ringing - as recently as 2008, 25.6 of households percent were still playing, meaning that the number of musical homes has declined by almost 30 percent in just four years.

"It´s terrifying how far these numbers have fallen," said Daniel Knöll, head of the instrument-maker´s union. "Instruments are just lying around in seven million households."

But it´s not only those with a financial interest in the musical trade who should be concerned. These figures cast some doubt on where the next generation of musicians will come from.

Although half of all children aged between six and eleven begin learning an instrument, less than half of those are still playing by the time they leave school. They often cite time pressures and rival interests as the reason for their abandonment.

A marked generation gap is opening up between the Mix-tape and the Facebook generations: a clear majority of those actively making music are now aged between 30 and 59.

Wider benefits from playing an instrument could also be lost. Picking up a violin or tinkering around with a keyboard are not only of a source of pleasure to many, but scientists now believe that regular practice could support a range of cognitive functions, from encouraging language development to helping overcome learning difficulties.

Of particular interest for a rapidly ageing society is the observation that making music appears to slow - or even prevent - mental deterioration in old age.

The solution, according to Knöll, starts in Germany´s schools.

"We need to bring music-making back into the schools," he said.

And perhaps the internet itself could provide part of the solution to young people´s lack of musical knowledge. According to Knöll, "video-tutorials are springing up all over the place."

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Your comments about this article

10:41 December 7, 2012 by freechoice
we have to give thanks to our vocal german neighbor who complain that my piano playing was too loud and terrible!!
13:08 December 7, 2012 by blackboot11
Thats a shocking surprise!

Just as in the USA, the arts have been cropped from the school bugets and these %s and numbers are the direct result....

It doesn't take a number cruncher with a Phd. to figure that one out, now dos it?
13:25 December 7, 2012 by yalefox
Very sad but the results from the survey are not entirely shocking. It's easy to see that Germany, as a US colony of sorts, has been increasingly assimilated by American pop culture in recent decades, like much of the western world. Indeed, German society seems to have almost outdone that of America in the adoration of vapid music, requiring near-zero technical skill and the attention span of a goldfish.

Clearly, most Germans prefer to abandon their rich heritage and win a race to the cultural bottom. In the long run, it will be their downfall. For further thoughts on the same general issue, there is Chris Hedges' "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle".
13:42 December 7, 2012 by Bumps
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
15:27 December 7, 2012 by IchBinKönig
Here is the thing folks, Music is in a state of rapid change. Gone are the days of acoustic guitars and tubas. Kids nowadays are making music on their Computers and a whole new and evolving set of electronic instruments. Music isn't dying. The use of traditional instruments is dying.

Boys today don't really think playing a guitar is even that cool, Guitar Hero maybe. Girls today don't want to be on stage playing a solo in a skirt, white stockings and a Clarinet. Kids want to be on stage playing a laptop and a drum machine. And they are.

There is also no lack of kids studying art, either. But just like their musical contemporaries, it is more likely that is not taught in schools, and increasingly more digital. Almost every young person is a photographer today. Just look at all the original content on the Internet created by young people. Music and Art evolve.
16:34 December 7, 2012 by catjones
yalefox..Bumps

Grow up, stop blaming Americans for your failings and put on your own pants. You certainly have no problem claiming sole responsibility for your successes.
19:28 December 7, 2012 by tychonaut
Sorry IchBinKonig but I disagree..

Music *is* still being made.. but I really dispute the quality. I'm talking as a 40 year old guy who studied music 20 years ago, later audio production, and have worked as a professional musician (when I could) *as well* as having been fascinated by modern and electronic music.

There are some creative musicians around, but a few MAJOR aspects have been lost from music.

1. The actual performance aspect ie - being able to produce a sound without going in and somehow doctoring it after the fact.

2. The desire to be "virtuosic" at all on whatever you play. To really have put in serious practice time and really be able to do something special vocally or instrumentally. That is considered "wanking" since the nineties.

3. The necessity to have a band i gone so many musicians create in a little "bubble", and the experienced ears of an external producer is no longer needed to make an release .. so many musicians are missing out on what has traditionally been a very valuable aspect of the music making process.

4. Much electronic music is largely music of accident. You may argue, but if you have made music "in the box" you know how much of it is selecting random loops and seeing how they sound, or tweaking random knobs to see what they do, or going through random presets until one sounds good.. in that aspect a certain amount of "intentionality" has been lost. Traditional playing (mostly) involves having a sound in your head and then trying to play that, as opposed to simply interacting with a device long enough until something not-bad sounding comes out.

Don't even get me started on how so much of "pro" design today looks like stuff my half-skilled friends were scratching into their school desks when I was a kid.

I'm just saying that the over-accessibility of music and other media creation devices may have positive sides, but it has many negative. We will never see greats like we once had. The musical ecosystem has changed too drastically.

rant off.
22:33 December 7, 2012 by Clarissa Smith
Bumps said: "The dumbing down of society is the direct result of a lack of education and the infusion of large amounts of immigration of a very poor quality for cheap labor with tastes to suit."

Happy to be able to agree. Here you seem to share my American liberal ideas, like education and just wages. One must not necessarily play classical music on traditional instruments. Whitney Houston's repertoire, for example, is on an extremely high level.

IchBinKönig said: "Gone are the days of acoustic guitars and tubas. Kids nowadays are making music on their Computers and a whole new and evolving set of electronic instruments."

Yes, but history is repeating from time to time. Not really imitating the past, just going back to older values. I've been a traditional jazz amateur (piano, winds, vocals) since my high school days. Later I got interested in soul and synthesizers and became sort of home-recording freak. Partly I even got into hip-hop and rap.

Today I'm done with electricity in music. Soul actually helped me to finally find into bebop too. But I prefer unplugged and I speak for it. Even the most expensive PA system pains my ears. I can record my clarinet sound in CD quality, and I do. But just playing my clarinet in the kitchen sounds way nicer, better, warmer. In sessions I prefer trumpet, because today people are used to a terrible sound level and a clarinet can't do without amplification then. I hate to use mics and rather use brass.

Actually, instruments like clarinet and pianos don't necessarily need amplification. As brass player I am ready to hold my horses. I can always use a mute, if I feel like playing more aggressive. Under these reasonable conditions, even a skilled singer doesn't need a mic. Today I love to be totally independent from electricity. No crackles, noises, overdriving squeaks. Just me, my instrument and my fellow musicians. Much better.

If the Germans are unlearning music, maybe I should volunteer as musical development worker....
23:10 December 7, 2012 by Englishted
Strange how cost has not been sighted as a issue ?.
01:30 December 8, 2012 by mitanni
"Clearly, most Germans prefer to abandon their rich heritage and win a race to the cultural bottom. In the long run, it will be their downfall."

Downfall from what? Classical music was first entertainment for the nobility, then an escape mechanism for an oppressed upper middle class (along with German literature). And during the entire period, many Germans were living in abject poverty, which is why so many emigrated to the US.

"It's easy to see that Germany, as a US colony of sorts, has been increasingly assimilated by American pop culture in recent decades, like much of the western world."

If only. US "pop culture" is extremely creative and innovative. Germany has nothing of even remotely comparable quality.
02:21 December 8, 2012 by Clarissa Smith
"Pop culture" isn't very creative and has never been. Pop culture of the past was for example Mozart's "Kleine Nachtmusik". But there are enough works in classical music which were designed and meant the nonconformist way.

Today, there's nothing as creative as jazz. But even a jazz band gets on the anti-creative pop-culture path, if they make commercial concessions. Add a pretty girl and you get yourself an audience which won't appreciate good improvisations anymore. She pretty much sings all the time and the instrumentalist perhaps get a bridge for a solo. 'Sexy' will be more important than creativity.

People are too text-oriented these days. It's easy to listen to lyrics, but to analyze chords and scales you need a skilled ear. So the average audience is dumber today indeed. I don't tolerate any singers within my band projects, if they cannot play an instrument as well. I want skilled musicians. Those who only sing, dumb jazz down to pop-culture level and that's what I don't want. Why not add a Whitney Houston title to my program? I might, but won't sing so much like Whitney did. No, I'd present it the creative, jazzy way.

By the way, extremely creative were the 1600s and early 1700s, when they also improvised a lot. The generations after that then changed from creativity to vanity, which is always bad.
03:11 December 8, 2012 by Eric1
It's another product of socialism. Dumb, lazy, self center people.
10:47 December 8, 2012 by Englishted
@Eric1

Get a life .or end it whatever.
11:47 December 8, 2012 by mitanni
"By the way, extremely creative were the 1600s and early 1700s, when they also improvised a lot."

In the 1600s and 1700s, Germany was a collection of fiefdoms, wrecked by hunger, war, and religious strife. This was not an "extremely creative" time. There were a few brilliant people whose works managed to survive despite all the disaster around them, but overall, it was a dreadful time for creativity.

"But even a jazz band gets on the anti-creative pop-culture path, if they make commercial concessions."

I see you have fully absorbed the German belief that if it's popular it can't be any good. No doubt that's a consequence of the fact that art and music used to be something only the nobility could afford and people used it as a mark of wealth and status.

"People are too text-oriented these days. It's easy to listen to lyrics, but to analyze chords and scales you need a skilled ear."

The focus on music over text in Germany was also a consequence of political escapism: the only topics that were reasonably safe for lyrics were the beauty of the fatherland, procreatively oriented love, and glorification of God. Anything else could land you in hot water with church or prince or both.
12:58 December 8, 2012 by Clarissa Smith
@mitanni If you try to live on jazz, you probably have to adjust to many commercial projects. And it's taking away creativity. Most people have no idea what jazz is. If a bunch of true jazz musicians back Doris Day and she's singing almost all the time, it's rather pop. Good jazz musicians are always a good choice for this kinda pop. I do like the way Doris Day sings and this is NOT the actual problem. The problem begins, if the dolled-up star gets so much appreciation, that the band is entirely in the background. That's bad for jazz, and American jazz musicians mostly think the same way, mitanni.

Now, let's revolve the stage and start with a new scene: Jam session in a club, Doris Day comes in as private guest. The musicians decide to play "Sentimental Journey" for her. She's singing the second chorus, then she leaves the stage, so everybody can see the musicians. And you hear and see them improvise a lot of interesting, beautiful choruses. Now, if I'm pop-culture-stupid, I probably feel like I rather wanna see pretty, sexy Doris all the time. I probably wanted it all like I know it on her famous records. But maybe Doris won't agree and tell me, this jazz thing actually was better. Because she really was experienced in many ways.

Commercialization is bad for music and very bad for creativity. I guess you just don't appreciate the musical standard I love and need. If so, you cannot judge. So what? What you say about ancient music sounds very ignorant. I wouldn't like to live in the Constantinople of the year 1700 and know quite a bit about this history and it scares me. Nonetheless, Jordi Savall's CD projects, with music of that old Ottoman culture are very fascinating. The same Jordi Savall recorded lots of Marin Marais "pièces de viole". I don't reject that music because of the sun king. The German baroque is perhaps even more interesting, because the kind of gallantry there was very open-minded and the state rulers did a lot for music. I know composers you've never heard about. If I challenge you on musical skills and knowledge, it soon comes to light you have no clue.

What I hate is Merkel's Berliner conservative-libertarian coalition. The sun king or the sultan in Constantinople cannot bite us anymore, but she can harm a lot. And all those banksters in the background make it even more dangerous. I'm not totally rejecting commerce, but it can be a threat in many ways. And I say this as an American liberal, as all my fellow liberals in the U.S. say all the time.
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