Music Education Research

July 14, 2009

Gender and Instrument Choice

Filed under: Band — Tags: , — Rick Dammers @ 9:50 am

Abeles, H. (2009). Are musical instrument gender associations changing? Journal of Research in Music Education, 57(2), 127-139.

This study collected two sets of data on gender and instruments, and compared it with the data from two previous studies over the past 30 years. The first set of data was on which instruments college students (n=180) viewed as being male or female. The classifications are not surprising (female-flute, violin, clarinet ; male-drums, trombone, trumpet ) The range of scores (indicating the strengths of the gender-instrument association) was lower than 30 years ago, but similar to data from 15 years ago. The second set of data was collected on what instruments middle school students are playing (n=2001). Again, the results demonstrate distinct differences in instrument choice by gender, and that little has changed in these choices over the past 30 years.

For music teachers, it is important to create an environment in which students feel free to choose the instrument they are interested in playing, regardless of gender roles. Freedom of individual choice is the central issue. The lack of change indicated by this study may indicate that this freedom is not being fully realized.

This is only one aspect of gender in music education. I’m also interested in the role of gender in whether students choose to participate in performance ensembles in middle and high school. Of course, in the relatively new area of technology-based music classes, we are aware of serious gender gap (with males being much more likely to participate). Strategies need to be developed to close that gap before stereotypes become as entrenched and intractable as they appear to be with regard to  instrument choice.

Ables’ literature review and discussion are  thorough. For anyone who wants to explore this issue further, his article is a great starting place. It is nice to see an area of research in music education that is being broadly explored and where data can be addressed longitudinally.



  1. Thanks for directing me to this study. Does Ables say anything about when gender typing happens? I remember reading a study once saying that by second grade students were beginning to associate gender with specific instruments. I’m wondering if that has stayed the same as well…

    Comment by Susan Haugland — August 30, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    • Susan,

      I’m glad this was helpful. Ables’ study does not address this directly, but you might find the following study interesting. MacLeod looked at instrument preferences between third and fifth grade students. For the students in her study, the influence of gender on instruments was more prominent among the fifth graders. Here is the reference

      MacLeod, R. B. (2009). A comparison of aural and visual instrument preferences of third and fifth-grade students. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (179) 33-43.

      Best wishes,

      Comment by Rick Dammers — September 5, 2009 @ 8:39 am

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