In 2010, the city of Essen and the Ruhr region joined Pécs and Istanbul as Europe's Capital of Culture. The German Federal Cultural Foundation participated in the German programme of Europe's Capital of Culture with a major project to support cultural education. Cultural education is one of the key areas which requires pan-European efforts to develop new projectsin order to improve the chances of coming generations and reveal common perspectives. The Federal Cultural Foundation has made a conscious decision to initiate a "Capital of Culture project" that addresses what the Capital of Culture will need in the future, to what extent art can make a contribution toward that goal, and how the project can take topics of European significance into account.

To achieve these goals, the Foundation initiated a dialogue with artists, cultural policymakers, sociologists, theatre directors, teachers, city government officials, social workers and mayors in the Ruhr region to develop a project that could support the local culture on a wide scale in the long term.

All primary school children in the Ruhr region were given the opportunity to receive qualified instrumental instruction once or twice a week. Each child were given an instrument of his/her choosing for the duration of the project.

With this project, the Federal Cultural Foundation were expanding on an idea developed for children in Bochum, giving school-age children in the entire Ruhr region the same opportunity to learn an instrument. The project combines the competence of music schools with the resources of primary schools, thereby promoting long-term cultural education. The Foundation hoped to create a visible example of how cultural education can be realized as a basic provision for society.

The programme was carried out jointly by the Federal Cultural Foundation, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, local communities and the GLS Treuhand Foundations for the Future (Zukunftsstiftung Bildung in der GLS Treuhand). Furthermore, its funding was supplemented by donations from corporate and private sponsors. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia began funding the programme on its own in 2011 with 8.1 million euros annually. 

The concept

An Instrument for Every Child is intended to supplement regular musical instruction and works together with existing music schools on location in order to ensure qualified instrumental instruction. The parents of all the children involved in the programme - even the youngest entering first grade - will be informed about the project which will provide every child an instrument of his/her choice. The students receive the instruments on loan and are encouraged to take them home to practice.

Children in the first grade spend their instruction time being introduced to rhythm and musical notation through games, as well as learn about a variety of instruments. The joint instruction by both primary school teachers and music school teachers enable the instructors to work intensively with the children. It is also important to the Federal Cultural Foundation that the professional standards of the instrumental instruction be guaranteed.

In the second grade, instrumental instruction will be given to smaller groups of 4 to 6 children per teacher. Each child will be allowed to choose an instrument. The strings will be placed together in one group; the woodwind and brass players will likewise be divided into groups of their own. In this way, the children will become familiar with the characteristic ensemble sound and learn how to make music together at a very young age.

From the third grade up, the instrumental instruction will be supplemented by ensemble performance in an orchestral situation. All the upper-grade children will perform together in a school orchestra once a week. Of course, the social aspect of this activity is just as important for the children as the experience of musical performance. And naturally, the rehearsals must culminate in a public performance as an orchestra. At the end of each school year, the students will perform a large final concert in their city's philharmonic orchestra or concert hall. This will not only familiarize the children with the backstage area of concert halls, but also let them feel the butterflies in their stomach before going on stage, experience the limelight and revel in the applause.


The cultural-political background


In recent years, many have emphasized the importance of early musical training for childhood development, relentlessly criticized antiquated teaching methods in school, and pointed out the problem of socially integrating children from all classes of society. The initiators of this programme hope to create new impulses for aesthetic education which will influence other areas beyond the musical field. Fostering cultural heritage should not merely focus on preserving and securing material goods, but also create new experience and competence in order to awaken people's interest in culture.

The Federal Cultural Foundation hopes that this programme will produce far-reaching consequences for the entire country. On the occasion of the European Capital of Culture 2010, the Ruhr region will demonstrate how aesthetic education, the most important resource for conveying our cultural heritage to future generations and strengthening cultural involvement, can be systematically expanded and intensified.

In 2005, the results of a youth culture study showed that young people between the ages of 14 and 25 were clearly interested in participating in artistic activity and attending cultural events. However, there was a distinct discrepancy between children and young people in culturally-minded families and those from less educated classes. Seventeen percent of 14 to 25-year-olds admitted to never having gone to a theatre, museum or concert. The programme An Instrument for Every Child hopes to defuse this problem which is especially prevalent in the Ruhr region with its large immigrant population. It goes without saying that the Ruhr region is not the only place in Germany struggling to culturally integrate its young people.

With this in mind, the programme takes aim at an issue which extends beyond the borders of the Ruhr region and could serve as a model for other European Capitals of Culture. The longer this EU programme (established in 1985) continues, the more evident it becomes that the massive financial transfers connected to the "Capital of Culture" title should be invested in long-term cultural measures. In the wake of the alarming PISA studies, more and more people are beginning to pay increasing attention to the field of cultural education. Germany has much to do to reverse this situation which stands in stark contrast to its wealth of cultural institutions.

The Federal Cultural Foundation has allocated 10 million euros for its project An Instrument for Every Child from 2007 to 2010.

Partners for the programme "For every child an instrument" are the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the GLS Treuhand Foundations for the Future (Zukunftsstiftung Bildung in der GLS Treuhand). The German Federal President Christian Wulff is the patron of the programme.


“An Instrument for Every Child” is based on a very simple, but radical idea. Starting in the first grade, every child is introduced to a diverse selection of instruments, after which they may choose the one they would like to learn. In the second grade, the children are divided into small groups and attend regular classes to learn the instrument of their choice. The result is that each class becomes a small orchestra which rehearses together and mutually improves their skills every year. To learn more about this exciting programme, view our short info film or a clip from the full-length documentary “An Instrument for Every Child – A Year with Four Notes” by Oliver Rauch:

Short info film

Documentary "A Year with Four Notes"

In the following essay, Hortensia Völckers, the Artistic Director of the Federal Cultural Foundation, describes how a visit to the Bochum “AIFEC” project inspired her to develop the idea of launching “An Instrument for Every Child” throughout an entire region. The programme has been so successful that similar projects have been implemented in Hesse, Weimar, Hamburg and even Canada.

Hortensia Völckers: "An Instrument for Every Child"

In­stru­ment for Every Child Found­a­tion

The administrator of the programme is the Instrument for Every Child Foundation, which is happy to provide you with more information regarding standards, facts and figures and answers to frequently asked questions. The Foundation provides on-site support to music schools throughout the Ruhr region, carries out tasks at the state and national level, ensures the transfer of knowledge among the region’s music schools, and supports the research endeavours that accompany the programme.

Funded Projects


Antonia Lahmé
Kulturstiftung des Bundes

Franckeplatz 1
06110 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: +49 (0)345 2997 117
Fax.: +49 (0)345 2997 333