Musical participation

Research highlights


A productive conference tea break conversation with staff from Making Music has led to a new project now underway, aiming to explore the impact of amateur music-making on its local communities. We began in December 2016 with an online survey, receiving an overwhelming 550+ responses.


Following our collaboration on the Arts Enterprise-funded project researching the impact of Music in the Community, Stephanie Pitts and Polly Ives worked together again on a Youth Music project exploring the links between music and language learning in children at risk of developmental delay. This exciting project brought a new collaboration with Sheffield City Council’s inclusion team and the ‘Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate’ (ESCAL) programme. This project allowed us to track the children’s language development across a year of music workshops, and to consider whether and how musical activities have contributed to social interaction and language confidence.

Arts Enterprise at the University of Sheffield provided some extra funding so that we could start the research straight away, so Stephanie Pitts and Katy Robinson visited four nursery settings in Sheffield throughout May and June 2014, and Kate Thompson took over research assistant duties for the remainder of the year.

We observed workshops, talking to practitioners and parents, and expanding our research skills to understand the perspective of three year olds armed with percussion instruments!

Publications from the project are now available, including an online article in International Journal of Education and the Arts.


The Cultural Value project is now complete and the report (Word, 199KB) was submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This also forms part of the Cultural Value overview report written by Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszynska.

Headline findings from our ‘Dropping in and dropping out’ studies included the strong relationship between social fit and musical satisfaction in ensemble participation, and the uncertainty felt by new audience members about their readiness to experience art forms in the same way as regular attenders.

Further publications from the project are also available, including an article in the International Journal of Community Music.


Stephanie Pitts was awarded an AHRC Cultural Value grant to explore themes of ‘Dropping in and dropping out: investigating partial and lapsed arts engagement’. This work built on Stephanie’s book, Valuing Musical Participation (Ashgate, 2005), by asking challenging questions about why people stop attending concerts or belonging to amateur ensembles, and whether there is a potential crossover of audience loyalty from one art form to another.

The project included several linked studies: ‘The violin in the attic’ which aimed to explore how the benefits and costs of musical participation are articulated by those who no longer actively participate, and ‘Loyalty and its limitations – exploring cultural value across art forms’, where the ‘audience exchange’ used in some of our later projects first took shape. Katy Robinson was appointed as research assistant to the project in October 2013.


Investigating the audiences of the future became a new venture for SPARC with a project supported by University of Sheffield Arts Enterprise funding: Stephanie Pitts researched the impact of the Music in the Community workshops run in three Sheffield primary schools by Polly Ives and musicians from Ensemble 360 at Music in the Round.

Research assistant support has come mainly from Katy Robinson, then an MA Psychology of Music student and later research assistant on the Cultural Value project, who observed and participated in workshops throughout the year; Fraser Wilson, MA graduate of the music department, and Michael Bonshor, PhD student, also contributed, with Michael bravely taking on the challenge of transcribing focus group interviews with seven year olds and questionnaires including some brilliant drawings of musicians!