6 things parents & teachers need to know about music lessons for girls.

Close-up picture of a violin.

Some aspects of music education and instrumental music learning in particular, have gendered ideals. Prior research has uncovered differences between boys and girls in many facets of instrumental music education. How and why these differences occur goes long and deep, and not the main focus of this post, but they exist none-the-less. 

To surmise these gendered differences, here is what we know so far. These differences are from research surveying instrumental music students ranging in age from 7 years to late teens.

  • More girls tend to play instruments than boys. 
  • Girls tend to play the higher pitched, smaller instruments.
  • A tendency of music to be thought of as a feminine subject.
  • Boys repots higher levels of enjoyment in instrumental music learning.
  • Technology in music is an important motivator for boys.
  • Girls tend to attribute their music success to effort.
  • Boys and girls approach musical tasks in different ways:
    • Girls are more compliant in music lessons while boys are more serious.
    • Lessons of female students tend to focus more on expression; males focus more in their lessons on structure.
    • Girls value attitudes surrounding practice by their teachers and parents; boys value the attitudes and are more influenced by their friends.

Despite all this, we still don’t know how motivation of boys and girls differs with their level of expertise.

Is there a difference between motivation and gender and to what extent will gender and expertise interact?

Hallam et al (2020) conducted a large scale survey study of instrumental music students in the UK. Over 3,000 music students ranging in age from 6-19 years were surveyed regarding their level of expertise and motivation for instrumental learning. The results showed some interesting findings in relation to age, expertise, and gender.

There was a significant relationship between age and expertise, which would be as expected with older students attaining higher levels of expertise (measured by instrumental exam grade levels). Both genders was found to have an upward trend in age and expertise.

A deeper analysis of the survey data found six factors emerged surrounding elements of motivation, gender differences, and level of expertise. The six factors identified were:

  1. Support and affirmation.
  2. Social life and enjoyment of music activities.
  3. Enjoyment of performing.
  4. Self-beliefs.
  5. Enjoyment of lessons, playing, and practise.
  6. Disliking practise.

Factor 1: Support and affirmation. 

No gender differences were found in levels of expertise. However, a significant finding was as lee’s of expertise increased, support and affirmation decreased. This may suggest that as children increase their musical expertise, there is less reliance on others for support to progress.

Factor 2: Social life and enjoyment of musical success.

There was an important finding of the relationship between social life and the value of playing an instrument and level of expertise. This factor revolved around having lots of friends who played a musical instrument as an important motivating factor for instrumental music students. 

Factor 3: Enjoyment of performing.

Students at higher levels of expertise report greater enjoyment of performing. No differences between gender.

Factor 4: Self-belief in musical ability.

There was a statistically significant relationship between self-belief and level of expertise. Students at higher levels of expertise reported greater self-belief in musical ability. Additionally, there was a finding of gender differences in self-belief in musical ability in which boys had higher levels of self-belief in musical ability than girls. Furthermore, boys reported that they had higher beliefs in their potential to be a good musician than girls and that they were usually successful in what they attempted to do on their instrument.

Factor 5: Enjoyment of playing, lessons, and practise.

There was a finding of a relationship between enjoying instrumental lessons and expertise. More enjoyment was experienced at higher grades.

Factor 6: Disliking practise.

As expertise increased, enjoyment of practise decreased. In more detail, there was great enjoyment to practise at the beginner level. During middle grades (3-6) this enjoyment fell, but increased again in the higher grades (7-8).

So what does all this tell us?

There are very few differences in gender and motivation relating to learning a music instrument. There is, however, one difference between girls and boys, and that is the self-beliefs of girls. Girls reported lower self-efficacy in relation to being successful on their instrument than boys. Moreover, girls believed that they had less potential to be a good musician than boys. 

For teachers, parents, and significant role models in the lives of female music students, this is valuable information. You may struggle to understand how to motivate girls in their instrumental music lessons and practise. It can be worthwhile to understand girls’ self-beliefs and provide positive support in terms of their ability to be a good musician and reach higher levels of expertise.

This research did not uncover where these self-beliefs come from or why they exist differently between boys and girls. All that we do know thus far is that these differences exist. 

© iteachpiano 2020

Hallam, S., Creech, A., Varvarigou, M., & Papageorgi, I. (2020). Gender differences in musical motivation at different levels of expertise. Psychology of Music, 48(5), 675-673.

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