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Gender differences in musical instrument choice

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  • Education
  • Musicology


Historically, there have been differences in the musical instruments played by boys and girls with girls preferring smaller, higher pitched instruments. This paper explores whether these gender preferences have continued at a time when there is greater gender equality in most aspects of life in the United Kingdom. Data were collected from the 150 Music Services in England as part of a larger survey. Some provided data regarding the sex of pupils playing each instrument directly. In other cases, the pupils’ names and instruments were matched with data in the national Common Basic Data Set to establish gender. The findings showed distinctive patterns for different instruments. Girls predominated in harp, flute, voice, fife/piccolo, clarinet, oboe, and violin and boys in electric guitar, bass guitar, tuba, kit drums, tabla and trombone. The least gendered instruments were African drums, cornet, French horn, saxophone and tenor horn. The gendered pattern of learning was relatively consistent across education phases with a few exceptions. A model was developed which sets out the various influences which may explain the continuation of historical trends in instrument choice given the increased gender equity in UK society.

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