There is not enough music in many school music lessons, inspectors have warned.
In a damning report, Ofsted said pupils often spent too much time on activities such as writing rather than music making.
In some lessons, teachers did not play or sing a single note, it said.
And one secondary school music class visited by inspectors spent time copying information about musicians such as Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash rather than taking part in a musical activity.
The report is based on evidence from inspections of 90 primary, 90 secondary and four special schools in England between 2008 and 2011.
It reveals stark differences in the quality of music education, with many lessons found to be barely satisfactory at best.
"Too much music teaching continued to be dominated by the spoken or written word, rather than by musical sounds," it said.
The report warned: "Put simply, in too many cases there was not enough music in music lessons."
Out of the 180 primary and secondary schools visited, 68 were found to have good or outstanding music education. In 41 schools, it was "inadequate".
Inspectors also said that many youngsters were missing out on extra-curricular music activities.
In primary schools, one in three girls took part in extra-curricular music, compared to one in seven boys.
In secondary schools, 6% of students with disabilities or special educational needs (SEN) had extra musical instrument or singing lessons, compared to 14% of students without these needs.
The report said that in one class seen by inspectors, pupils spent the first 20 minutes of a one-hour lesson - the only music lesson of the week for many students - completing "written tasks about the life and work of Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash, using printed 'factsheets' from which they had to extract and copy information".
In another lesson, inspectors saw pupils singing a piece of music while also attempting to play violins and cellos.
"Learning was not secure because there was too much for pupils to learn at once - notation, violin hold, bowing, names of the strings, and singing. Most pupils appeared to enjoy the activity, but the sound was dreadful," it said.
Many were holding their instruments incorrectly, it revealed, some were miming and others were "completely lost".
The teacher and teaching assistants were also struggling to master the music, it added.
Ofsted recommends that schools give over regular time to developing pupils' musical understanding, and to help groups of pupils such as boys and those with SEN take part in music activities, and make achievements in them.
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "Inspectors looking at music teaching in nearly 200 schools saw quality ranging from outstandingly good to extremely poor.
"Too often, inspectors simply did not see enough music in music lessons.
"Too much use was made of non-musical activities such as writing without any reference to musical sound.
"Too much time was spent talking about tasks without teachers actually demonstrating what was required musically, or allowing the pupils to get on with their music making.
"Assessment was often inaccurate, over-complex or unmusical, particularly in secondary schools.
"All this limited time for practical music, detracting from pupils' musical improvement and enjoyment.
"School leaders need to monitor and challenge robustly the quality of music teaching and curriculum planning."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We published the first ever National Music Plan in November last year. It addresses many of the issues raised by Ofsted and ensures that in future every child has the chance to experience a high quality music education and the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and sing."