Boys call the tune on the tuba

11th April 2008 at 01:00

Gender stereotypes still play a significant part in determining which musical instruments children choose to play. Nearly nine out of 10 flute players in English schools are girls, while almost four in five tuba players are boys, according to Susan Hallam, of the Institute of Education in London.

In an article published in the International Journal of Music Education, Professor Hallam reveals that factors such as the size or shape of an instrument, and its pitch, determine whether it is seen as appropriate for boys or girls. Thus, drums and trumpets tend to be played by boys, while the clarinet is more commonly studied by girls. The most gender-divided instruments are the harp, studied by 90 per cent females, and the electric and bass guitars, with 81 per cent males.

Some of the pressure to conform came from parents, but Professor Hallam also believes children make stereotyped choices themselves, out of fear of being bullied.

She said teachers should be careful not to portray different instruments in a stereotyped manner. They could even set up all-male or all-female ensembles, which would require boys and girls to play the full range of instruments.

Professor Hallam said: "The world would be a poorer place if James Galway had been discouraged from playing the flute, or Evelyn Glennie had been told that girls shouldn't become percussionists."

`Gender differences in musical-instrument choice', by Susan Hallam, Lynne Rogers and Andrea Creech.

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