Musonix Publishing

Buying musical instruments for schools and music trusts

Drums  |  Strings  | Keys  |  Singing  |  Blowing    ...are new pages for music practice software, with a section about buying instruments at the bottom of each page secondhand here:

Drums  |  Strings  | Keys  |  Singing  |  Blowing

Buying instruments for schools & UK music hubs is left here: how can a school or a music trust supply more instruments to 5-18 year olds? A management consultant wrote a check-list for the ministry. There are two unexpected results.

  • Music Hubs could swap more than they do. They could send each other google spreadsheets, or any spreadsheets of instruments surplus or wanted.
  • Buyers could ask a factory to design plastic woodwind with tougher keys, or club together to do it, if the size or the market justified the work.

This introduction is a jumble of notes-to-self and musings
You'll probably need a big screen to skim-read bits of this, or some quiet and patience, or just skip to the next bit. Also, some of the points on this page are made more than once for no reason. That's what happens if the person who writes the web site also writes this sort of content - it doesn't come from the authors!

In the UK, taxpayers and government would like to fund music education and instruments without taking the final step of paying enough. Instead they pay for a network of music hubs, which, by the time they've re-invented the wheel in each of 120 council areas, don't have subsidy left for teachers' salaries or instruments. Each one charges schools for classroom teachers, with or without thirty instruments for a class, and charges pupils for one-to-one lessons. Schools have the option of paying a music hub to lend staff and instruments, and there's a national curriculum that says they have to teach something to do with music, somehow, or get bad inspection reports.

The funding formula is described, roughly, here:
https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2021/05/06/four-things-you-may-not-know-about-music-and-arts-education/

£79 million is the headline figure last time I looked. I don't quite get the hang. If about 600,000 people are born a year in England there are something close to seventy-nine million with a naught taken-off people who are aged 5-18; the funding for music hubs looks like a tenner each per year, unless I have got a naught wrong. Hubs that are now companies or charities have their accounts easy-to-find online and, looking at my nearest one, I see that the guess was about right.

The Department for Education, in England, pays tax money to the Arts Council to supervise and fund these organisations, with a top-up from the National Lottery.

For one-to-one music lessons, some kind of national voucher scheme would make more sense. If the scheme were cheap to taxpayers, it would have to suit pupils who use online practice software and see a teacher maybe once a month to talk about where they are going wrong. Maybe government could fund free open source music practice software where the private sector has not done it. The scheme would have to control fraud in a cheap way too.

(The fraud is:

I am a teacher. I will offer you cashback if you attend less classes than I charge for, up to 100% for none.
At one extreme, a teacher lets a pupil pay for the odd lesson after doing less than the hour claimed-for.
At the other extreme, the pupil and teacher have no intention of learning or teaching but fill-in the form together to claim the maximum allowed.

The civil service may find a way to stop the second extreme, unless it is done by an organisation, like a charity that has the confidence of the minister and is very very good at filling-in benefit forms. In the 20-teens I had a short term memory problem after an accident, which made it harder for me to keep learning about web site software. I needed specific help with one particular kind of ecommerce software, or maybe I could adapt to what help was available.

The Greater London Authority funded one charity, Leonardcheshire.org, to provide this, so I applied. I was offered one-to-one consultations with a very helpful man who could advise on business in general and specialised on African farm grant applications, but we met in a cafe that had no wifi and he had no knowledge of any e-commerce software of any kind. He was one of a chosen few who the organisation could treat as though ordered to do unpaid work like attending events run by Leanardcheshire.org. They only problem was that they could not help me do what the charity was claiming for, and when I complained there was was either a puzzled reply, or blatant lie about the terms of their grant, or no reply because I was trouble. Then the funders did an inspection and closed them down anyway. That's how it works in the management offices of organisations that claim government grants. It's as bad if you work for them as if you try to use their services. The way it works is that you get a management job to help people who you are interested in, but you don't, have the experience or qualifications that anyone would want because the wages aren't great for the responsibility of the job. For the sharks in the office, it's convenient to presume that their clients are very needy people who can be treated as pets by the organisation in order to get money off taxpayers, and that they have no right to ask for qualified or relevant services. I guess that most users of the scheme were people known to Leanardcheschire.org and on the mailing list, willing to go-along with some scheme and not make a fuss. Oddly enough, before this disability which with luck is temporary, I worked for another group of grant artists just down the road with directors and trustees who claimed to do some kind of social service thing, so I was quite used to the fraud. When I complained to Leonardcheshire.org, the replies suggested that they had no idea that anything they had done was wrong and that nobody had complained of done freedom of information requests about their grant before.

The civil service has to find a way to cope with grant artists cheaply.
Attendance Allowance works cheaply; you can claim it and spend it on what you like but you have to be ill to claim so it's controlled that way. Child benefit works just on age; the mother can spend it on anything.
This could be a benefit for being videoed in a room with certain music teachers, and videos available to view online by anyone who logs-on to have a look. That's the start of an idea.)

There are problem for music hubs providing 1:1 lessons or anything like that. If payment is made to the hub, the hub trades above the VAT threshold so unless I have missed a trick it is 20% more expensive than paying the tutor. Then, there's the risk of adding management costs. For example in the private sector there are websites charging music teachers for each lead to a prospective customer, which is a terrible system. Charging for management of each lesson by a music hub is also a bad system unless it is very automated and management is provided without much mark-up.

Even if a music hub can manage cheaply, there is pressure from above to make the lessons more expensive in order to cross-subsidise other lessons, so the people who aren't cross-subsidised opt-out, rather cross that they have paid taxes just to subsidise. The same happens if a council tries to run adult education classes. Years ago I looked-up my local adult education class for anything including drumming. It was a distraction. The price for a class of several pupils was more than the price with a private freelancer teaching one pupil, and teaching one pupil was the better system for beginners.

Looking at my local music hub, I see that that some of their pupils enter Register of Guitar Tutors exams which can be done online for London College of Music. Looking online for the exam, pupils will see the register. This looks like a good system.

Thinking aloud what a national voucher system would look like, I don't know. If a teacher could record video of themselves in a room with a paying pupil and an instrument for a certain time, and if that teacher had a record of helping nine out of ten pupils take exams and get some kind of score, and half of them to get a respectable score, then that could be a cheap and fraud-resistant system. Teachers would report a problem: some pupils would be sent for child-minding, or counselling, or help with homework, or chat without clear need for 1:1 attention, or boxing or some other thing more than music. This could be a good way of finding-out what pupils need from a system to fund one-to-one time.

Where were we? Oh: buying several instruments, maybe for a school or a UK music hub or something like that, without enough money to buy enough. We could shoplift some. No, that wouldn't look good on the CV. So the Arts Council asked a consultant to suggest something.

Music Education Hubs: Instrument storage, purchasing and maintenance guidance Key findings and recommendations from research commissioned by the Arts Council (https://archive.is/wip/y0jHG) sounds more technical than it is. It's a set of discussion points from a consultant. The last page of the report lists what some hubs are doing already, and they are spending a lot on buying and fixing instruments, but maybe not enough to keep-up. There are 120 hubs. 12 are surveyed on the report and ten or eleven gave rough figures for instrument spending, totalling £2-300,000 on each. Most spend most on new instruments; one or two on repairs. The report links each heading to a section of the pdf

1. A dedicated Instrument Manager with administrative support: someone for the inspector to inspect.

A consultant visited some music hub staff and asked what they'd like, and this is what they said, but nobody says who is going to pay the wages. The only way this recommendation makes sense is for music hubs not to have general management titles like "chief executive", and "development manager", without more specific things like "instrument manager" in the job description too. They should not delegate it to the little people, who aren't allowed to choose software, and then blame someone at the bottom of the management chain if it goes wrong, next time an inspector from the Arts Council comes-round, sack the culprit and make the same mistake again. That's not a good system Directors have to learn the job, decide how they'd do it, and then probably let someone do it quite differently if it's delegated but take the blame if everything goes wrong. An alternative - the Lambeth Council system - is to assume that all underlings are stupid and write a long "Procededure" document. This patronizes staff, saps their will to live, and usually involves a long pompous document with un-followable detail that takes too long for the time available.

2. A clear view of what instrument stock exists and how it is being used: something for the inspector to inspect.

The consultants asked what had happened to ten year-old stock from a scheme ten years ago: what proportion of stock was that age? Over half of respondents didn't know. "Given the age and deterioration rates of these instruments they will clearly face difficulties in planning their future instrument purchasing plans."

An advantage of a music hub, I think, is that it can offer a kind of public sector ration of instruments very cheaply that a private organisation cannot because of the taxpayer subsidy and because it doesn't have the costs of running market; of running shops and keeping stock and charging at each stage. If the job could be done a ministry, better still. I can imagine a kind of ration of so many instrument units per pupil per year, and the instruments being bought in the most economic-sized batches and delivered in the most economic wayI suppose that this still leaves the problem of how long instruments last.

Two problems.

  • The hub can't be treated as one organisation; it is a thing that supplies schools which are the spokes. The cheapest way to supply a school might be to give them a ration of instruments each year, or sell at cost prices, or effectively give then under a free hire agreement. Some schools might go-along with a more elaborate kind of library service, well or badly, and others not. If someone is going to monitor each school and find out how many recorders they still have, there's a danger of having to charge a hire fee to pay the wages of the person who counts the recorders, or the school would have to count them and find it easier to buy from a shop.

  • Instruments don't have a shelf life of so-many years. The consultants know this and acknowledge it in other paragraphs. Maybe there is a tracker tag with a battery that lasts a year or two, A music trust could tag the more valuable instruments and ask for a photo of them each year as a condition of supplying more. I expect that hubs have a system already, like visiting schools once a year.


The consultants are more in their element when they write about software. They find that 103 of hubs use specialist software from Parator.com, 7 use Speedadmin. Both programs have sections for stock. You can see the opening page for Essex Council's music hub here:
https://ukessex.speedadmin.dk/registration#/

Twenty hubs do not use specialist software. There's no mention of cheap or free specialised software, probably because none exists. I checked on Osalt.com for open source alternatives and https://alternativeto.net/software/ . No luck, but hubs can do the same search for any other software they use and maybe find a free alternative to Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat or some piece of music technology software. This last point is useful to pupils. If you teach pupils to use an expensive piece of software, you might help one of them get a job with an employer that uses it. If you also teach an open source alternative or something cheap or free, then one or two other pupils can carry on teaching themselves at home on a near zero budget.

The report suggests what to do with this stock information later-on, under "joined up thinking", or stock control, point five, and a bit on the end: "a key opportunity: sharing your current instrument stock", which suggests copying a hub's stock list, or surpluses and shortfalls at least, to google sheets and contacting other hubs that might want to swap. 

3. A dedicated instrument repair team/solution: something for the inspector to inspect.

There's a slight suggestion to say that a deal should be done to get a good price off a local repairer, but nothing to say what the deal should be. Maybe repairers should be asked what they want and don't want from regular customers. Would the deal be that if they get ten repair jobs they give a 10% discount on the lot, as a credit, subject to the jobs being typical?

Some music hubs have full time repairers who are happy on the payroll and do a good job, but for the rest, in-house repairs are done as a sideline.

Obviously, the ideal is for everyone in an organisation to be able to do all the jobs and split the work without managers, and of course life is not like that; people specialise.

Plenty of hub employees do more than one job without a problem; hubs often ask teachers to do the first steps of checking and repair - "triage" as the consultant calls it. It's hard to know what more to say because, when interviewed, hub staff say that it would be good to have an expert on-hand, but not how to pay for that or why they don't  become expert themselves, finding paid time and tools and taking the risks of failure. So the consultant implies that every hub should have a dedicated repair manager. In practice I suppose this would be combined into another job like director or development manager. MusicMark, the trade association, is also a job agency and might suggest to one hub what kind of job description has worked to recruit staff for another.

4. A commercial plan that generates funds for future stock. Something for the inspector to inspect.

The consultant sounds a bit puzzled by music hubs that provide instruments for free to schools and trust the school to put them to good use without any great admin work. This sounds like the ideal system to me. If they could supply through public libraries, better still. Larger, more expensive instruments could be given to a library and offered for free, individually or in sets, when needed.

It would be good if the minister and ministry could allocate part of taxpayers' money, paid to music hubs, to be used only for instruments. That would help a rather military kind of scheme to build-up in which music hubs might work together to get the most economic batch size of instruments made and the most economic logistics to deliver according to known demand. The politicians who write this stuff are quite ignorant, like the rest of us, about how to do any such thing because our Uni courses are based on what does not offend people in all the countries that buy the same textbooks. so the more we study, the more ignorant we become.

If the gist of the report is that instruments can't be dumped for free at schools, then it ought to explain how to pay for the extra administration. Is the point of a hire fee just to pay the wages of the person who monitors hire fees? If it's that and a bit more for buying instruments and a bit for management, is it worth a school using the scheme?

5. Joined up thinking between instrument stock and all tuition needs (stock control, as shopkeepers call it). Something for the inspector to inspect.

This is a task for whoever gets "instrument manager" added to their job description; someone who might also be a development manager or a chief executive or whatever.

"Some Hubs only allow “traditional” orchestral instruments therefore excluding guitars, ukuleles, recorders." says the report

This is silly. Schools and music hubs should buy what pupils want, not what their head teachers want or the minister mentions in a plan (The National Youth Orchestra  and the National Youth Brass Band got a mention) or the parents want so that they can see a school orchestra on parents' day and think "this is a good school". It isn't. It's a school that tries to push pupils into something for parents' day. It's sometimes the kind of orchestral set-up that leads pupils into bad ways. They might be tempted to take low-paid jobs in orchestras which, themselves, are often subsidised by the taxpayer. They might pick-up some idea of high culture being wonderful that upsets their judgement for life.

Other schools and music trusts sound more spartan.

"We have sold rare instruments off to buy whole class stock - new purchases ukes & plastic."

I suppose that anyone attempting to match stock and tuition needs would think of buying and selling on ebay. I did. The problem is paid time and postage. It might be better for selling than for buying because most things are sold with a quote for postage on ebay so more buyers look at it. I suppose a tracking system like for-sale.co.uk could find some of the instruments for sale near music hub offices at below the usual price. For example if a music hub or a school owns a lot of Yamaha saxophones, it could have a search on for-sale.co.uk for Yamaha saxophones at below a certain price, within a short drive of anywhere staff operate. If a bargain crops-up; snatch it and maybe retrieve a bit of stolen property as well.

Secondhand buying links are at the bottoms of these pages - links go straight to the point.

Drums  |  Stings  |  Keys |  Singing  |  Blowing


Bit on the end. The report returns to the same point at the end, headed "key opportunities"


The report mentions another solution: keep a stock list on google spreadsheets or https://www.instrumentsinthecloud.org/ and do some swaps with other hubs that compare notes.  I suppose the swappers would want to meet face-to-face to check the instruments they swap.


6. Investment in quality instruments rather than always the cheapest solution - overlapping point 7 below

Westminster Council used to have a policy that buyers must always buy the cheapest. They paid a buying department to do it. Any hub that's part of a council like Westminster will need point six spelt-out, so it is. What follows is dropped-in from some other notes.

  • This is a surprise result. It might be possible to get longer-lasting instruments made.

    I didn't expect a clear result when I started typing this - it just happened. 

    The surprise is that there is a factory mass-producing plastic woodwind in the Netherlands, and there are ways, I expect, or making longer-lasting woodwind. A large enough order, direct to the factory, might not make the woodwind much cheaper but it could justify the cost of tooling and design for a longer-lasting product. A problem is usually that factories are hard to find, but both Saunders Recorders and https://www.dolmetsch.com/ publish a lot of background detail of designers, repair workshops, defunct brands, and the factory itself. This Music Hub report also has headings for design improvement. Woodwind keys are damaged by beginners, it says. Saunders recorders website says that they're damaged by attempts to clean. Either way, the problem is fiddly springs and hinges.

  • Recorders do not last longer than 5 years before they need replacing".
    Presumably this is because pupils chew the mouthpiece, in which case the job is to order more mouthpieces. Also, it's a rule of thumb to save someone being paid to monitor recorder whereabouts rather than let the school do it.

    Time does not make a recorder rot; there are plenty of old plastic ones on ebay that are still in tune and can go through the dishwasher.
    The problem could be that users don't like them; they are too shrill. Larger recorders than the descant might be more popular and better looked-after. 

  • "Woodwind instruments have high repair costs due to damage to the keys when used by beginners."
    This requires someone technically-minded to replace the keys and find out if anyone can make replacement keys cheaply. If the instrument maker can do it cheaply, that's fine. If not, music hubs and anyone else with a stock of instruments to maintain might use a message board to contact each other and put an order together or demonstrate a demand to people like 3D printers or workshops who can make this stuff. Part of the need for a message board is to find out how the industry works. If the keys are made of metal and the instrument is made of plastic or wood, then the instrument maker probably buys-in the metalwork. Where from? Who else could do the same job?

  • "Brass instruments corrode and are the most likely to need replacing"
    This is above my head, and badly described by people who ought to know what the problem is.

    At the moment, secondhand instruments on ebay are still brass-plate-and-varnish, or brass, rather than plastic, with the odd cheap exception.
    Advice pages from music shops or https://www.rhinegold.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/IBG-2014-Colour.pdf suggest that varnish and appearance are important. If that were true, we would still be buying varnished brass door handles, which we don't, obviously, because they chip and scratch and then someone has to take all the varnish off and get to like dull brass with bright rubbed bits, which is good to do, or else polish it which is not. I think the problem is that importers do not know a lot about what is in the boxes. Someone has to write a description, which tends to be about appearance. The job of a buyer is to get information about whether the instrument is made of steel, and then plated before varnish, and how thick the plating is, and so-on. If buyers keep asking, maybe sellers will put the information on their web pages.

    One review says that plastic mouthpieces are the worst parts of plastic brassy instruments and should be replaced with metal ones from the start. Another page I found was about cleaning brassy instruments. Their three layers of steel, thin plate, and varnish respond to wear rain and spittle in different ways and the page suggested a bucket of water as a first step. I do know something to add here. A bath would fit larger brass instruments that are too big for a bucket. 

    Warwickmusicgroup, who design and import things like the pTrombone, offer a buy-back scheme via their dealers in order to give the instruments some value. This suggests that the things aren't yet ready to pass-on as heirlooms, but there might be a way of getting a buy-back offer.

    On a tangent, Warwickmuusicgroip's PBuzz is made in the UK and so worth encouraging, whatever it is, along with anything they might make in future in democratic welfare states like the UK. Their other instruments like the pBone are made in China.

    Dawkes Music still do a little manufacturing of saxophones  in the UK but don't try to compete down-market; they're more interesting in repair and training repairers. A firm like Dawkes or any repairer  might be interested in batch remedials or aftermarket retro-fit device, rather than repairing one instrument at a time. Suppose someone found a way to make a common instrument tougher. A repairer might be interested in converting ten of these at a time, new or used, if someone would pay the costs of design and tooling.

  • "String and Percussion instruments are the most likely to last with repair."
    I wonder: could any school teach how to repair string and percussion instruments, using the music hub as a supplier of broken instruments? It seems daft to learn to play an instrument without learning how to repair it, but that is what well-heeled parents pay for their children to do.

7. Driving value in the instrument procurement process

One part of the report looks as though it's cut-and-pasted from somewhere else. It urges a series of "Get" lines.

Get smarter: ... Negotiating formal relationships with specific suppliers could drive value in the procurement process, including:

  • Trade discount % on all purchases

    I guess that music hubs do this already; google finds instrument suppliers that offer "educational discounts", but I doubt they're big. The instruments might be worse value than something from ebay or a cheaper shop that doesn't offer the discount.

  • Get commercial offering recommended suppliers for individual student sales with a % kickback on sales generated

    The problem is that the firm offering an affiliate link or referral fee is unlikely to be the cheapest, so the hub or the school is hindering pupils rather than helping them; they need impartial advice. The same problem applies when school-related music teachers try to push pupils towards learning instruments they wouldn't choose, just to suit the school orchestra, with paid tuition they don't need, because teachers tend not to mention practice apps, and if you pay for tuition you probably pay another kickback to fund management costs. The whole thing is worse than suggesting practice apps, and getting those who practice into a room together for shared teacher feedback once a month.

  • Get commercial offering recommended suppliers starter instrument packages for new students (with % kickback)


Get together:

  • Hubs across neighbouring / regional areas could collaborate on instrument procurement through a joint tendering process with instrument suppliers. They would need to consolidate the timing of purchases together, to ensure they ‘bulk buy’, and therefore increasing their buying power.

    If this means bulk-buying, then it is an opposite point to number five, having the right stock.

    "Increasing their buying power" only helps if the seller has a large margin that they can cut, at least for larger purchases which might be cheaper for them or might not. In practice, public sector buyers already reduce the margin by being hard to deal with, and the cost of supplying five or ten instruments might be no lower per instrument then supplying one or two. There might be different addresses to send them to. There might be some kind of purchase order system or bidding-for-tender system which takes a lot of paid time to deal with.

Wholesalers and retailers

No examples of bulk buying are given. People who buy from school suppliers are bound to have more experience, at best, than the consultant who wrote this report so the problem is how to spread that experience.

Should a music hub look-up music wholesalers that supply retail-only shops, and apply for a account? Would they get one? Or try to haggle with the big box-shifting companies that do their own importing and warehousing? Are there any manufacturers left within cheap postal distance? It would be good to know what works. Bulk buying can only be cheaper if sellers have a large margin that they can cut, or if their costs fall for larger orders. Otherwise it's just a theory that doesn't apply.
 
When I buy slippers from wholesalers, I guess that this is what they want.
(a) don't upset the other customers; undercutting other shopkeepers on ebay is discouraged.
(b) minimum order to justify admin; awkward payment systems will scare them off while payment before delivery by debit card or bank transfer will re-assure them. Payment by a music teacher's credit card is not so bad. When I took payment for music textbooks a few years ago, Camden, Liverpool, and some Northern Ireland councils still used local authority purchase orders, which just isn't adult. I think I turned the orders down. My Glsed.co.uk, one of the instrument suppliers, has re-written its website to try to cope with complex ordering systems, which they call "smart flow", and explain how ecommerce saves the buyer time as well as the seller.
(c) minimum order to justify free delivery, which will be higher than (b). If two music hubs or sites are buying together, they will want delivery to the two different sites which takes-away the purpose of this discount. Apart from two courier costs, the pick-and-pack costs at the warehouse will be more complicated.

There is a buying group - Stagg buying group - that includes a slipper wholesaler. I don't know if anything like that exists for instruments.

A wholesaler will want to send whole cartons as they can be ordered, which which  is worth asking. If you want a discount from a firm that imports Aulos recorders, will Aulos post a customers' choice of recorders in a carton for the same price; do they send a 30kg carton, or twelve-packs, or what?

Unexpected discovery: there are factories that might make stronger plastic woodwind. This could be under point 6, buying better instruments, or point 7, buying together.

An unexpected discovery - not in the report - is that hubs might club together to commission plastic woo bdwind with better keys that don't wear-out with rough use. There is a factory in the Netherlands called Aulos.nl which makes the plastic Dolmetsch brand, and there's Aulos in Japan. Both look small enough to think about making a stronger design in exchange for some stream of orders from a group of music hubs, and write a reply. Yamaha, being so much larger, might not reply; their UK rep might reply but not the person who makes design decisions.

Factories are different from import wholesalers and retailers. They have a batch size which justifies set-up of the tools as well as admin. Delivery costs are probably from outside the UK and cheap delivery from Asia can take months. Factories are probably booked-up a month or two in advance. The good thing about dealing with a factory is that it might find a way to make indestructible instruments, like woodwind with strong keys, or adaptions to existing instruments in exchange for a large order to justify some of the tooling costs. Otherwise the European factories will be rather upmarket and not sure why they're being approached, they'll probably just refer you to a dealer in your country.

There are also UK-based saxophone and trumpet workshops which might be able to make indestructible saxophones and trumpets, but they don't look as though they're used to cheaper mass production. SmithWatkins.com make trumpets.  They are obviously more expensive than rivals in China, so they are rather coy about price and I guess they'd only quote if in with a chance - maybe if qualify of material was specified, such as unvarnished solid stainless steel or maybe unvarnished steel with thick nickel plate, and extra points given for making in a country with a better human rights record or democracy or a welfare state or all three. They're used to selling to the military, so they should be good at making tough instruments.


https://www.recorderhomepage.net is a list of recorder factories, probably including Aafab.nl in the Netherlands.


8. Robust hire agreements with schools.... [same as point 4 above] ... and individuals:

Renting-out to the public is encouraged by the report and some music hubs do it, although they can't be as cheap as an individual with no costs who does it as a hobby and hopes to rent-out on Fat Lama.  Fat Lama, by the way is very slow to attract customers. It tends to work best for people who are well-placed to rent-out already to a network, such as freelance teachers who just want a platform to do it and organise basic insurance for new customers. Most of the objects hired are for photographers rather than musicians. A lot are offered cheaply for a while, get no customers, and so are withdrawn. Nevertheless the site has the potential to attract more renters and rentees, gradually, over time. It helps anyone who talks about the high price of instrument hire to do something about it and offer what they have in the cupboard. All the teachers, trustees, civil servants and parents who are interested in instrument hire can do it. Anyone who has bought an instrument for practice and is short of cash can offer it for rent as well, but there are not a lot of takers.

That's an example of the smallest-scale operation being cheapest; I think the largest-scale could be cheap as well. A ration of instruments to each school, with minimum administration. Here is a rule of thumb. If choice is important, the private market is good for distribution despite the costs of the market. If everybody knows what they want, a public ration system paid from taxes is cheaper.

Music exam software - a short digression on a favourite point.

Gigajam software can run cheap music exams up to grade 5 for some instruments, without an examiner meeting the pupil. It would be good for every hub and every school to be asked why they don't recommend this. The software also has ready lesson plans for classes of 30 to do exercises towards a graded music exam. It's not so good for people outside the school system; there isn't anything to download and print to get you going and nothing on screen to play-along to, so maybe the current version of this program is a lot of work, but this kind of system could be the answer.

Unexpected discovery that the consultants add at the end:
A key opportunity: sharing your current instrument stock

Hubs can post want lists and shortage lists to each other on google sheets, ask about swapping, and might get a result that's a lot quicker and cheaper to manage than buying and selling on Ebay. In the south of England:

"Hubs 5 and 6 had a shortfall in clarinets whilst Hubs 1,2,4 and 7 had a significant surplus. Three out of the 7 Hubs at the time of the research had instruments they were ready to gift or share to other Hubs or schools but did not have any formal processes in place."


Donating and donated instruments

The consultants have a similar suggestion to swapping stock: Instrumentsinthecloud.org, a free instrument database system that can also be set to list shortage instruments to anyone who might want to donate, and mark the request on a map. You can search for anyone who wants trombones, brass or unspecified, within so-many miles. There is no option to donate Flugelhorns. A brass band in New York State for example wanted clarinets, two types of flutes, and euphoniums in early 2021. Someone in the trade might know lots more about this. Suppose you are teaching to a class. You have 29 plastic Ukeleles and 1 wooden one. Is this a distraction from your class? What else can be done with the wooden Ukelele except sell it?


A UK equivalent, Musicforall has an FAQ page beginning "For the time being, Music for All is not accepting instrument donations due to lack of storage space." 
It doesn't have a scheme for donating instruments alone to individuals.

The Nucleo Project operates UK-wide but its storage is in North Kensington. It accepts and distribute donated instruments in the UK. The cost of postage sounds high.
https://www.thenucleoproject.org/give-an-instrument

  • We accept any age of instrument. All we ask is that they are in full playable condition, and/or have a value exceeding the cost of any necessary repairs.

  • If you are a music teacher or organiser at a school or a community music programme, we may be able to help you find the instruments you need! Please get in touch with us.


Footnote

Music Practice software. Why isn't it better known? Sites like Wikipedia don't list it



drumming  |  fretboards and stings  |  keyboards  |  singing |  blowing 

... are other pages in the same series and this general one has nothing to add but distractions

Distraction: Music Hubs, schools, education

UK government had a consultation about English music education in about 2020: https://bit.ly/DFEmusicconsultation
I wrote-in to say that taxpayers need a shallower learning-curve when we look for music practice software, and that it would be good if taxpayer-funded music education organisations could provide some information about that if they're going to be funded at all. This would benefit anyone, including 5-18 year-olds they're funded to help. The consultation results are now published and don't mention that point of view, but do record what 5-18 year-olds and their carers or parents wrote-in about music teaching. It looks like what I remember from the 70s. A lot of schools can arrange private lessons. They push pupils towards the school's enthusiasm and display for parents' day like a school orchestra or a cadets marching band rather than what individual pupils want. Other teenagers, in the 70s, bought a copy of Bert Weedon (http://www.bertweedon.com/playinaday.htm) and learned the guitar without help.

The review of responses does say that music can help all sorts of people, not just 5-18 year-olds, for all sorts of reasons. It didn't mention that some save money for taxpayers. For example the army ambulance corps are often trained to play music to improve morale between ambulance calls. They more they know already, the shorter the course. People who are very old or in need of some kind of rehabilitation or support often benefit from music. And as taxpayers, it would be good to have some help to overcome a market failure: the market does not pay anyone to tell us about free music apps.

In England there are Music Hubs set-up to fill the gap left by low education budgets and closed county music libraries.
The consultation asked anyone under 18:

"Has anything stopped you taking up musical activities? 

Tick any of the following that apply.
We received 194 responses from young people to this question." 
Half weren't interested or didn't have time or "other".
124 It’s too expensive (parents: 554)
 38 I’m not good enough (parents: 49)
 37 The activities offered are not what I want 
7 My parents / carers don’t think I should

This is no surprise because councils can't fund social care, so they shouldn't fund music hubs. it would be good value for money, I think, if these hubs were required to find a good list of cheap and free music practice software and mention it to pupils.

Maybe there should be a grant for people to write more free an open source music practice software, or whatever fills gaps in what's offered. For example there are plenty of youtube videos showing you how to play, but very few midi files of the same thing, so you can see how to play but you can't test yourself and see where you missed a note.

Maybe I should look for Arts Council consultations and see if there is a way of putting this point to them. I've made a Freedom of Information request to ask if their contracts require recipients to promote music practice software, and the answer is no.


I tried to prove myself wrong, by looking at things I remember online (because I was borne in 1964 so I remember old things) and typing "Learning an instrument at home - a guide to music practice software" into Bing.co.uk. After all, the market provides most things including Google Play. If there's a market failure, maybe someone from government or a charitable trust can work-out why.


Abandoned: MusicMoz

When DMOZ closed, a few musicians kept-up the Music part of it as MusicMoz which is still online, but the format is harder for them to keep-up than wiki software, and the "this category needs an editor" links usually still point to DMOZ. It's also harder to read; there isn't a table of how one bit of music education software is different from the next.

Abandoned nearly: Wikiversity

That reminded me of Wikiversity, which is never quite abandoned despite about zero budget. They have a new "jamming" section, written during COVID lockdowns, to help people practice together if that's possible. They don't have an easy-to-edit wiki where people can through in 2-minute's worth of information about the latest app, and emphasise that one course is for background information about music, maybe to learn after learning to play a musical instrument. "That's what makes this a course, rather than simply 'A How to Play the Ukulele' handbook", it says, even though it's hard to learn the Ukulele and, thanks to sites like Wikiversity, easy to find background stuff about music online which is good but takes-away the animal spirits of music unless you are playing already.

Annoying: Wikipedia

Wikipedia's founders don't like "original research" in on their pages. They don't stop it but in theory they are against it. So if everyone was borne knowing everything it would be easy to find a volunteer ready to post just the best information according to the little known wikipedia rules. So you try your best to write something about something interesting, and a pedant deletes it because it does not reflect the full range of what is available or it breaks some obscure rule. Often the pedants have no interest in your subject or why your work is interesting to readers or how much work it has taken to get is far as you have got. This is what their last slave died of:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Comparison_of_Music_Education_Software : a volunteer began a list of music education software available, but instead of thanks or polite suggestions got this:

This article is totally unreferenced. There is no inclusion criteria. By choosing to compare some software, and not the other, author makes advertisement, contrary to WP:SPAM. Article is also contrary to WP:IINFO as the article contains "long and sprawling lists of statistics, but does not contain sufficient explanatory text to put statistics within the article in their proper context for a general reader". Vanjagenije (talk) 10:14, 15 August 2014 (UTC)

The pedant is not a rogue troll, but a member of Wikipedia's monitoring group, then and now
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Vanjagenije
The volunteer had to explain to a back-seat driver that unpaid research takes time, just like paid research:

I'm still researching all these products in detail, which takes time. I'm adding them as I go. I plan to include ALL music education software. Just will take some time.

- something that should be obvious.

The volunteer gave-up soon after, in 2014 and nobody else volunteered in the next seven years till I wrote this. Who would? 


Why do taxpayers give a grant to this?: Musicmark.org.uk

Musicmark.org.uk is a neatly-designed information site listing "music education for all children and young people". The assumption is that readers are music teachers of pupils under 18. They don't do the work of listing music practice software. If you "submit a resource" you are asked "how it benefits music teachers", even though "all children and young people" includes people on apprenticeships or at schools that do very little music

There's a lot of the stuff on the site that people only write-about when other people pay for their time, such as policies and procedures for not groping children over the internet and words like "excellence" and "good quality" or "showcase" instead of "show". They haven't spent this time finding free home study software despite direct arts council funding of £7,637 in 2020 and £18,006 in 2019. A big chunk of that is "unrestricted", meaning that it could be restricted in future, and of course member organisations often get arts council funding too, which could be more restricted. Musicmark earn 20 times as much from membership fees as Arts Council Grants. I've asked the Arts council something about this here.

Adding an afterthought: Musicmark are also a job agency. If you want to advertise for an admin worker who can mend instruments, maybe they are worth the fee.

Distraction: reviews with affiliate links

Looking back to the search results on Bing, the next few are commercial-looking blog posts about the top few teach-yourself-piano apps or the top few Udemy courses. The results a a bit better with "Teach Yourself" at the beginning of the search such as "Teach yourself guitar apps". These pages often write "some of our links pay us commission"; they tend to cover the apps that make money from monthly subscriptions or a higher price and can afford an affiliate scheme. My Roland DT-1 doesn't get a mention, with its one-off £45 cost, but Drumeo and Melodics with their monthly charges are mentioned all over the place.

Good Distraction: The Music History Handbook from Paul Terry

Musonix Publishing sells 

The Music History Handbook  and a booklet on rehearsing together called

Rehearse, Direct and Play  as well as some vintage sequencing books

Music in Sequence and

Classics in Sequence 

(do you remember when DAWs were called Sequencers?) these last two vintage books are still good at their reduced price. They have very good graphics and explanations. They are in a different style to this web site - more expert and fact-checked, carefully type-set and researched.