Music and Gender

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Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor
Music and Gender

Hi teachers and students.

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations on music and gender with friends and colleagues, and thought it would be cool to get a discussion going here.   My aim is not so much to present well-researched, concrete information, but rather, to share some perspectives and experiences and to reach out for more input from anyone who has something to say.  

Musicians who have first-hand experience as both male and female

A good friend and guitarist who used to be female and now prefers to go by ‘they’ started taking male hormones about 6 months ago.  We talked about the obvious changes such as their singing voice.  But they also described some cognitive changes: ‘One really interesting thing is that as soon as I started hormones, the way I visualize things in my mind’s eye changed. The best way I can describe it is that when I visualize images, it’s less abstract/conceptual and more like seeing  a discrete physical object.  It has changed how it feels to play guitar. I’m not sure what I was doing before, but now it’s like I see where to play on my mental fretboard a moment before I do it physically.’  We talked further about this change, they said it’s hard to say whether the change is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ -- just different.  

Do men and women think about music differently?  Are there inherent differences in our wiring and chemistry that affect how we hear and play?  

Differences due to culture/upbringing

This may be a stereotype, and it’s not the case with everyone.  But it’s said that girls tend to be more timid learners.  More likely to be conscientious (to the point of unproductive perfectionism) and less willing to learn by making mistakes (especially publicly).  As a teacher, I do feel that I see this much more in females than in males, both with young students and adults.  Along those lines, though it could be just as much due to personality rather than gender, discomfort with messing up publicly is something that I’ve had to fight quite a bit to grow artistically myself.  

There are a lot of things about music (any instrument, any style) that are impossible to teach in a classroom setting.  Even if you’ve taken tons of classes and lessons, eventually you just have to put yourself out there and learn by doing (and you’re not going to be good at it at first).  The more comfortable you are with trying new things and learning from mistakes, the more you grow.    

Do other teachers see a difference in how men and women approach learning music, and in details like willingness to try new things and mess up?  Do students see these traits in themselves?

Concrete, ‘scientific’ differences between males and females - are these also defined by polarized perspectives of gender?   

In the athletic world, science has defined clear differences between males and female (in the most binary senses of the words) and their physical capabilities.  We use that reasoning to justify having two distinct gender categories in recreational, olympic, and professional sports.  Physical abilities and strength can come into play in music, too.  How much so depends a lot on the instrument.  

How much do physical capabilities - particularly those associated with gender such as strength and speed - affect our playing abilities and potential as musicians?  How much of it depends on the instrument?  

On the other hand, there has been a lot of debate in recent years regarding gender issues in high-profile sporting events, and where to draw the line between male and female.  The whole concept of needing to draw a line in the first place is seeming more and more antiquated and artificial.  To what extent are these so-called ‘scientific and unarguable’ differences dependent on the way we define the questions rather than on the answers the scientific method gives? 

Warner Iveris
Instructor

Hi Leah,

I’ve had some friends, tell me that they think women tend to believe that their self-worth is based more on innate attributes like beauty or intelligence, rather than attributes than can be changed as the result of effort. This might explain your experience regarding gender and willingness to make mistakes. If someone believes their value is based on something innate that is out of their control, then failure isn't something they can learn from. They either are or they are not "good enough." However if someone's self-worth is based on things they can control, like how hard they work or how much skill they have attained through work and self-improvement, then failure can be learned from and isn't necessarily a reflection on their value as people.

There is a good amount of data in terms of the types of compliments women receive vs. men that seem to support this argument. This particular study has a nice summary of the literature on this subject if anyone’s curious.

I’ve also had some transgender men tell me how much better they felt not receiving constant comments on their looks. One close friend in particular who was transitioning at the time would tell me how differently he is treated now that his outward appearance matches his gender identity vs. how people treated him when they thought he was a woman.

I’m pretty curious as to other people’s perspectives. Anyone else want to contribute their thoughts?

Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor

That's fascinating, Warner, particularly the study and the perspective from your friend who transitioned.  I hadn't thought about the idea of compliments and self worth, that's a whole different angle.  I hope some other teachers and students weigh in as well, would love to read more thoughts and points of view. 

Sarah Simmons

I used to teach a couple of friends how to play acoustic guitar (just basics)

so, guys were more practice-oriented, while girls looked more for the theory!

Sonnie Sitz
Instructor

Hi Leah,  

I've had an interesting experienceregarding gender and music. I have been teaching for a few years and I found that  in co-ed schools (that have both male and female students) the girls were shy and often had a fear of performing in public, whereas the boys were more confident to perform in public and make mistakes.  However, I spent the past two years teaching in an all girls school and the difference was mind-blowing. None of the students had a fear of performing or making mistakes. The girls eagerly performed in front of audences consisting of their peers, friends, family and guests invited to the school. 

I had an 8 year-old play the piano in front of an audience of close to 300 people! She absolutely loved and told me before the time that she wasn't nervous, but very excited for everyone to be able to hear her. I came to realise that social expectations and how the girls are encouraged plays a huge role. In this girls school, the girls are constantly taught that they can do anything that they believe in and that they are brave and strong and independent. They are continuously encouraged by their teachers, peers and parents to perform and enjoy what they do. In ALL of the performances, the girls were met with applause no matter how good or bad the performance was. 

It really made an impact on me and made me aware of how important society is in shaping our fears and expectations of ourselves, especially as musicians. 
 

Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor

Hi Sonnie, the girls school where you work sounds like an awesome place, both to teach and to be a student. So cool that your 8year-old piano student has so much confidence. I guess I've hear the reasons behind separating boys and girls in schools, but it's interesting to hear from someone who's seen results like that first hand.

Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor

Hi Sonnie, the girls school where you work sounds like an awesome place, both to teach and to be a student. So cool that your 8year-old piano student has so much confidence. I guess I've hear the reasons behind separating boys and girls in schools, but it's interesting to hear from someone who's seen results like that first hand.

Kate Hicks
Instructor

There seems to be gender barriers based on the type of musical instrument played----especially for band kids. The drums, trumpets, saxaphones and tubas are populated mostly with boys. Clarinets are about equal of boys and girls. And the flutes??  MOSTLY girls! It would be interesting to have a discussion about the evolution of this and how the perception of gender-based instruments are changing. I'm a flute teacher, and for years I was waiting for male students. Last year, most of my students were boys, and they were all very talented players :). I hope this will continue!

 

Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor

Hi Katherine, That's so cool that your band last year started to break the typical instrument-gender associations!   And I love the discussion you started on the topic : )  Pasting it here so anyone following this thread can check it out: 

https://www.lessonface.com/forums/general-music/117122-gender-based-instruments-how-change-perceptions

Leah

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