Gender bias and music education

Gathen, Kelly
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University of Delaware
Choosing an instrument is one of the most important decisions a young musician makes. This choice influences musical opportunities and experiences throughout one's musical career. While researchers suggest that instrument choice should be based on timbre and personal preference, gender stereotypes and biases play a more prominent role. These stereotypes and biases intensify with age, leading to a disproportionately small percentage of female high school music educators. Over time, females experience more exclusion than inclusion in instrumental music education culminating in less than 20% of female music educators pursuing careers as high school instrumental educators. With the intent of improving instrumental music instruction, the purpose of this study was to explore influences on instrument selection and gain personal insight into musical experiences of female instrumental music educators. Research questions guiding this study were: 1. What reasons do female music educators give for their choice of primary instrument? 2. How do female musicians describe their relationships and social experiences in relation to their instrument selection? In Fall 2013, I interviewed two current female high school band directors each three times over a three-month period. Each interview lasted approximately one hour. Participants were asked questions regarding their (a) K-12 music education memories; (b) college experiences and teacher training; and (c) current teaching careers. The participants' stories, while not generalizable to other populations, are consistent with extant literature pointing to three reasons female high school instrumental music teachers are underrepresented (a) gender biases during the instrument selection process, (b) the exclusionary nature of jazz bands in music education, and (c) the lack of female role models at the high school and collegiate level. Recommendations for future research include (a) replication in different contexts such as age, teaching experience, or primary instrument; (b)exploring the relationship between jazz participation in grade school and jazz pedagogy in teacher training, and (c) continued examination of gender biases at the elementary, middle, and high school level.