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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


School of Music


In observing bands or orchestras at all levels of performance proficiency, very often it becomes apparent to the onlooker that certain sections of instruments tend to be made up of a greater number of either male or female performers. For instance, the percussion and trumpet sections of ensembles often tend to be predominately male (Steinberg, 2001). This begs the question as to what implications there may be for those who have chosen an instrument that is not considered a “typical” instrument for their gender to play? What challenges might these musicians face, and what biases, if any, might they have to overcome in their pursuit of performing on their chosen instrument? Females who play instruments deemed to be “masculine” by societal expectations (and males playing “feminine” instruments) have been known to face discrimination (Sinsabaugh, 2005). Female percussionists may also encounter challenges related to their gender as part of their musical journey, in addition to the inherent challenges of learning to play all of the many instruments that are considered part of the percussion section of a band or orchestra. In addition, there are many other non-musical factors that may also prove challenging to individuals wanting to learn to play percussion, such as dealing with bulky instruments and the issue of time-intensive set up. The purpose of this study was to investigate the experiences of male and female percussionists specific to their own musical journeys, with an emphasis on highlighting biases perceived by both genders toward either sex, but more specifically toward females. A survey was created and made available to percussion students at three major universities within the state of Virginia. The survey asked questions about the respondents’ (n=20) experiences and preferences as percussionists. The responses of the 17 male participants tended to be in agreement that percussionists were simply percussionists. In other words, the male percussionists were not aware of the existence of a male/female divide among the percussion sections with which they had been involved, while the three female respondents stated that they had each felt discriminated against at some point during their musical journey. It was also found that of the males surveyed, the majority of them tended to play drum-type percussion instruments more often than the other percussion instruments. In contrast, the female percussionists most often played the keyboard instruments. The results of this study suggest that perhaps some form of gender bias may exist within percussion sections that places female percussionists at a disadvantage to their male counterparts, and certainly provide a reason to further investigate this important topic in future research.

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