Stop playing to stereotypes

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Gender stereotypes still play a big part in determining which musical instruments children choose to play

Gender stereotypes still play a big part in determining which musical instruments children choose to play.

An article published in the International Journal of Music Education 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.

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 and guitar. Of those studing the harp, 90 per cent are girls, while 81 per cent of electric and bass guitar students are boys.

Some of the pressure to conform to gender stereotypes comes from parents, who direct girls to study smaller, higher-pitched instruments. But lead researcher Susan Hallam, of London University's Institute of Education, also believes that children may make gender-stereotyped choices themselves, for fear of being bullied.

Teachers should make it clear to children that all instruments are appropriate for girls and boys, she said. They should also be careful not to portray different instruments in a gender-stereotyped manner, and she suggested setting up all-male or all-female musical ensembles, which would require boys and girls to play the full range of instruments.

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

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