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Theresa Perez

MUED 380 - Introduction to Elementary Methods

14 December 2018

Gender Influences in Music Education

Women in music are severely underrepresented, whether that be composers, conductors,

or performers. Although they were present throughout history, they were somehow forgotten and

neglected in what was preserved. All students need positive role models in all these fields, and

women need more representation than currently available in order to work toward equality in

music. Throughout music history, there have been a myriad of female composers, conductors,

and performers that have been overlooked simply because they were born female. Many have

been forced to resort to using an alias to even sell their music. It is so important to implement

equal representation for men and women in music education because it will help even out the

distribution in the gender demographics in musicians.

When thinking about popular composers taught in music— whether that be general

elementary music, or university music history—it is surprisingly difficult to recall more than one

or two female composers that receive regular recognition. This lack of awareness and

representation needs to change; it contributes to the idea that there are not any prominent female

composers and conductors. This can then deter current and future female students from

attempting a career in music for worry that they will make enough to support themselves without

resorting to teaching. It can also create a negative association with women who want to perform

different instruments. There are many gender norms that women are expected to conform to that

men never even have to think about, and it starts at a very young age.

A great role-model for young students is their teachers. Many students start to solidify

who they are at ages as young as elementary school. It is so important to remember equal

representation that starting in elementary schools teachers should bring in visitors of the opposite

gender and of different backgrounds so all students understand music as something anyone can

connect through. In a study called “​Music Education in Historical Perspective: Status,

Non-Musicians, and the role of women​” they discussed how women are ranked in the education

system as something primarily present in the lower levels. As the level increases in teaching,

women as teachers get less frequent.

University professors are predominantly male and elementary are female, which means

that as young female students are getting closer to deciding what they want to do as a profession,

they are seeing less and less representation in their field. This also means that when little kids see

older role-models who were successful and who are teaching, the female students as they get

older might not have as much confidence in their ability to succeed. This is why it is so

important to try and have equal representation when kids are young so they can look back for


In one study by Anna Harrison and Susan O’Neill (2000), “​Children’s Gender-typed

Preferences for Musical Instruments: An Intervention Study​”, ​they discovered a relationship

between opposite gender role-models and a decrease in desire to pursue a specific instrument.

The main finding of this study suggested that there was a strong correlation between a performer

of the opposite gender playing the instrument and less interest in the stereotyped gender. For

example, the stereotype is a woman playing a flute, so mostly females wanted to play the flute

and the usually men did not. However, the group that was presented with a male flute player in

the performance, the trend was that some of the female students lost interest compared to before

they saw the performance. I was mostly curious on whether or not this meant that the role models

with the same gender as the observer would inspire the role model to try it. This study said that

although there are other studies that say yes, this study showed mostly the relationship between

people seeing the opposite gender role model performing, and having less of a desire to try it.

This puts into perspective the need for equal representation on every instrument and the

need to discourage what society puts into the “male” and “female” instrument boxes. When

students do not see themselves in what they want to do, opinions of what they can do often

change. Those students would not have lost interest if they didn’t already have their

preconceived notion about what is normal. When teaching young children, teachers have to be

conscious about showing both male and female examples for instruments so that students don’t

feel like it would be inappropriate to play something based on stereotype. Children should be

encouraged to explore or experiment freely and figure out which instruments they enjoy for

themselves without society imposing unwelcome perspectives.

This also becomes relevant to the self esteem of young musicians. In an article by James

Austin (1990), they discuss the correlation between ​student’s confidence in their musical abilities

and how willing they are to participate in music events both in and outside of academia. It for the

most part found that when children felt more willing to participate when they felt more engaged

and competent. This confidence and willingness for some can be drawn from seeing themselves

in their elementary school teacher. As mentioned in the previous resource they asserted that

opposite gender role models have the opposite effect, meaning that they should bring in diverse

visitors and examples as musicians so that all students can see themselves.

This could then potentially influence later in life when people are electing to take music

classes in higher level schools like high school or university. Students usually only participate in

music if when in elementary music they felt enough self-esteem within music to make it

something they wanted to participate in. It should be noted that students might generally feel

more competent and confident in music when they have a role-model in the same gender guiding


As mentioned previously, most elementary positions are female dominant. I discovered

an interesting and unexpected relationship here because most elementary schools focus on

singing as a method of learning music. If one takes time to observe most choir programs there is

a strong trend in them being mostly female. This is in stark contrast to band and orchestras where

most directors are male. When band and orchestra begin at the end of elementary school more

men get involved in music. Then as they get closer to university, since they are considered more

viable musicians as instrumentalists, they are more likely to pursue university degrees in music.

This could be leading to the disproportionate number of men in university music programs for

topics like conducting and composition.

This would also be an interesting starting point for further research on the impact of the

gender of elementary school music teachers on the male to female ratio in the high school that

the different elementary schools feed into. There might be a reasonable hypothesis that this ratio

in choirs could have a positive correlation to the gender of their elementary school teachers. For

example, there might be significantly less males in a choir program where all the elementary

teachers are female. There might also be a valid way to take into account the high school’s

director as well, but all these things would be something good to look into. If someone were to

track progress over many years, they could also do research on the effect of regularly bringing in

diverse visitors from the field and seeing if that had an impact on the demographics. Perhaps

more should also be researched on the impact of elementary school teachers age and if gender

biases are less prominent in younger teachers.

Although simple corrections for gender biases can be addressed in early education, there

are also many things that can be done to correct this in different education levels. Duchen (2015)

discussed a program at ​Morley College where in 2014 they hosted a program that gave young

female music students, ages ranging from 16-19, an opportunity to conduct a university

ensemble. This was in response to anger at under-representation of women in the field, and came

after a series of degrading commentary on female conductors and composers from large

organizations in the UK. It was a valuable experience for the young women who recognized that

anyone has the ability to conduct.

The article then addresses that although there are not many female composers through

history, there were some and even those aren’t shown in education. It also points out that there

were many very talented female musicians that simply weren’t allowed to develop their trades

into composers as adult because it was not the norm for women. The article concludes with the

over-sexualization of women who are able to make it as musicians or conductors in their field.

Many have the unspoken requirement of being beautiful, and the article ends for a call to action

on equal representation in music for women.


There is also severe difficulty for women who composers and conductors go gain

reputation and respect in the professional music field. In an academic journal called “​Creating a

career as a woman composer: Implications for music in higher education” (Bennett, Macarthur,

Hope, Goh, & Hennekam, 2018) they discuss what it takes for a female composer to succeed in

modern music industry. This article include statistics in performances by higher education

institutions noting that music performed by female composers is relatively uncommon. The

majority of the sample of female composers they pulled were college educated, 94% with an

undergrad degree, 79% with a postgraduate degree. The sample was asked how universities

should improve and of 6 common themes, 2 that stood out were representing the exclusion of

women composers in history, and including more diverse repertoire by women and culturally

diverse composers. This then went on to commentary about female composers having a harder

time succeeding because of a lack of female role-models and examples. This ties in with the

earlier discussion on the lack of female representation in higher education and the lack of

powerful female examples.

The other important thing is that respondents reported an unintentional bias that female

conductors and groups were more likely to purchase music from female composers. Some even

said that they moved their marketing more toward that direction to compensate for lack of

interest from male conductors or ensembles. This is interesting because it shows that if more

women held more positions of power like conducting large, high-profile ensembles they could

bring more attention to female composers and help to inspire young female musicians as well.

The article ends with a recommendation to higher education to strive for a more equal

representation for each gender, especially by hiring more women for positions of leadership in

fields like music technology and composition since both have a lack of female educators. They

also recommend adding music by women and other marginalized groups be added as examples

in history, and be utilized in performance programming. They might also invite successful

female composers for lectures or as residents. This would expose students to more positive

female role models, and would expose students who has worked in the field.

On the note of women in music history, beginning in elementary school we are taught of

glorious composers and conductors of the past. The trend in that, as expected, is that many of

these people that we teach young students about are men. A good article feminist theory and how

it plays into music curriculum (Morton, 1994) talked about how different theories play into

recognizing and ​and incorporating important female figures into music education and music


The article starts with the parallel theory in music history education. This is essentially

done by creating a timeline of revolutionary female musicians and composers that runs parallel

to the white male timeline that already exists in mainstream education. This also applies to

recognizing these “lost” women and minority composers by including them in repertoire and in

history lessons. When teaching this in elementary school this can be done by simply including

women when teaching history lessons. Spend a day on Clara Schumann or Amy Beach, and do

not try and make it about them being women. Simply include it as the big part of history that it


The third theory then mentions taking these people that were left out of history and using

them to confront the nature of the patriarchy or cultural hierarchies that excluded them in the first

place. This is a little harder to address with younger children because most will not comprehend

the concept of sexism on a deep level yet. However, it can be done by telling them something

along the lines of how at one point in history women weren’t allowed to be professional

musicians or composers. They were more expected to get married and have a family. This led to

many women that could have been amazing composers, conductors, performers, or directors to

only be able to perform in small settings where they could not pursue further formal education in

music. Teachers can then explain how times have changed, and while this is no longer the case,

women still face adversities in the music field.

The source then diverges into a theory on how different social philosophers attribute

gender biases and their strong influence into the very core of social theory and what music is as a

whole. Women are generally expected to be more of entertainment, performers, and workers,

while the expectation to create things and lead fall to the males, even as early as in elementary

education. This is then reflected in the difference between male and female teachers and how

they respond to students gender in the classroom. The societal expectations that it imposes on

students can then be a main contributing factor toward how they perceive music and how

successful they could be with it in the future. Since this impacts self esteem, and when they are

older, student efficacy perceptions for their future, it is something that should be taken into

consideration when teaching. Many people can’t perceive their own biases, but it is important as

educators that we acknowledge that we could have them and be open to change.

As educators we have a big responsibility to our students to make sure to support them in

their musical exploration. Although there is a history of gender bias in music, that does not mean

it cannot be corrected through simple techniques that can be implemented in any music class

whether it is elementary, university, or anywhere in between. It should be acknowledged that it


will take time for music education to change, and will be a gradual, but using ideas like parallel

timelines, equal representation, bringing in guests, and discouraging gender bias, we can work to

diversify music education and make it hospitable to both men and women of all backgrounds.

By doing this, we can hope to someday obtain more accurate distribution of gender

demographics in musicians, and we can hope our students know that music is something meant

to unify everyone. In order to do this effectively, teachers at all levels must turn to self-reflection

and modification to make a viable change. We must begin to reassess our own biases, and work

to better our teaching methods for the the sake of our students.


Austin, J. (1990). The Relationship of Music Self-Esteem to Degree of Participation in School

and Out-of-school Music Activities Among Upper-Elementary Students. ​Contributions
to Music Education, No. 17​. Retrieved from

Bennett, D., Macarthur, S., Hope, C., Goh, T., & Hennekam, S. (2018). Creating a career as a

woman composer: Implications for music in higher education. ​British Journal of Music

Education,​ ​35​(3), 237-253. ​ Retrieved from




Duchen, J. (2015). Why the male domination of classical music might be coming to an end. ​The
Guardian​. Retrieved from

Gould, E. S. (1992) ​Music Education in Historical Perspective: Status, Non-Musicians, and the
role of women. ​Missoula, Montana. College Music Society.

Harrison, A., & O’Neill, S. (2000). ​Children’s Gender-typed Preferences for Musical
Instruments: An Intervention Study. ​Retrieved from

Morton, C. (1994)​ Feminist Theory and the Displaced Music Curriculum: Beyond the “Add and
Stir” Projects. ​Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.