The musical habits of young and old are revealed in the first big survey of music teaching and learning in the United Kingdom.
While 12.5 per cent of adults play the piano only 8.1 per cent of children do and many of them will not continue to play when they grow up.
The research, by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, took 18 months and involved interviews with nearly 3,000 adults and children and nearly 1,900 questionnaires.
Lynne Butler, the board's marketing director, said that though keyboards were frowned on by purists, they allowed children to make music imaginatively.
"But we are concerned that children who play the keyboard are those who are least likely to be having music lessons. They seem to be experimenting on their own so their experience is very different from the traditional one of a child going down the road for piano lessons with Mrs Jones."
Piano-playing may be losing its appeal but 3.1 million children (45 per cent) and 11.8 million adults (26 per cent) play musical instruments.
Among adults who play, the three most popular instruments are piano, guitar and recorder.
For children, the recorder comes top followed by the electronic keyboard, played by 30 per cent and the piano (18 per cent.)
Percussion comes fourth followed by the violin and guitar, then the flute and clarinet.
Music exams are out of fashion. Only 13 per cent have taken exams compared with more than one-third of adults.
Interest in playing an instrument peaks around the age of nine and then declines quickly.