Although studying music at school can be an enriching and enjoyable experience, it is an unpopular choice for many Hong Kong senior secondary students. The purpose of this study was to examine the rationale behind the low enrolment of music as a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) subject. A questionnaire was conducted among senior secondary school students (N = 121) studying music at the HKDSE level, collecting information about their learning experiences and their perceptions of the curriculum. The results provided evidence supporting the difficulties and struggles faced by the students, including degrees of familiarity with, and confidence about, subject matters of different musical cultures, which subjects were prioritised when it came to studying, and the amount of prior specialist knowledge needed as part of the decision-making process. Tensions were revealed between the driving forces behind curriculum change and the readiness of students to cope with these changes, along with perceptions of music as an elitist subject with low utilitarian value. Socio-cultural interventions, such as making music education more accessible for all, while simultaneously ensuring that stakeholders' voices are heard as part of the decolonisation process, remain fundamental challenges facing the curriculum. Copyright © 2022 Sage Publications.