According to a study mentioned in this article, in England it is much more likely for girls to play the flute or the harp and boys to play instruments like the drums or the guitar. Of course this is also true here in the US and why do musical instruments seem to be split along gender lines? Then answer is easy, it has to do with who society decides should play these instruments. We have decided that boys should play louder, bigger instruments and girls should play quieter, smaller instruments. This goes back to our perceptions of boys and girls. Boys are supposed to be loud and girls are supposed to be quiet. So then, of course, their musical instrument choices should reflect this too. Their is also some comment that maybe the bigger instruments are more difficult for girls to handle as they are bigger, but this seems to make no sense because as the article points out, harps are hug instrument and yet it is Ok for girls to play this. The other interesting point is that while it seems these gender differences are very pronounced in children, as you enter adulthood within professional musicians the differences may not be quite as striking. I am not sure this is totally true, I can think of many female guitarists, but I can probably think of many more who are male. I think there are also cultural implications here at work too, the article talks about Sir James Galway, who I had not heard of till this article, but who apparently is a word famous flutist. Galway says,"My granddad played the flute, my dad played the flute, my uncle played the flute, who learnt from his granddad and taught me. Everyone in the street played the flute." He was part of a society and culture where there were many flute bands and many of these flute bands did not include women. So the culture made it more acceptable for him to play the flute than it might have been in another environment.
So what can we do to encourage more girls to play the guitar and drums and more boys to play the flute and violin? Just that, we can encourage them to learn about and try all kinds of instruments. We can expose them to famous and accomplished musicians that break these gender stereotypes. And we can start these practices at a young age. I know in the preschool center I work at, we have music and the music teacher is amazing with the amount of different instruments that he brings in. We had an electric guitar this week, we have had all kinds of percussion instruments from snare drums to hand drums to singing bowls. We see instruments from around the world and all kinds of instruments the kids may not have seen before. But the most important part is that the kids get to play with all of these instruments. They get to bang on the drums and "play"the singing bowls. And I will tell you what, it is one of the coolest things I have ever seen watching four and five year olds strap on an electric guitar and rock out. He even had an effects pedal so that the kids could make the guitar louder and fuzzier. They had fun and they got to experience another musical instrument. Does this mean that they all will become musicians? Probably not, but what it does mean is that maybe, just maybe when it is time for them to pick an instrument, at least one of those girls will think back on the fun they had playing an electric guitar and decide that they want to learn how to really play one.
NOTE: All of this is coming from someone who has not a musical bone in his body. I played viola and clarinet when I was younger and never really liked it all that much. I just do not have the talent for music, but I want to see every child that does have an interest in music be able to pursue whatever instrument they want and to see the gender stereotypes around everything including musical instruments broken down.
And for good measure two artists that break these stereotypes.
Melissa Etheridge- I'm the only one
James Galway- Lord of the Rings Suite
Turns out I did know James Galway, I just didn't know it. He did the music for the recent Lord of the Rings movies.