Gender differences in instrumental music practice

Music Education Research

Gender differences in instrumental music practice

Are there gender differences in instrumental music practice?

Hallam, et al. (2016) have recently investigated the amount of instrumental practice and practice strategies of boys and girls. Research on instrumental practice has tended to focus on amount of time spent practicing and quality of practice (deliberate practice) (Ericsson, 2008).

Gender differences in instrumental music practice

Gender differences in instrumental music practice

Gender differences in music

Prior research on gender differences in music has revealed the following:

  • Girls tend to perform better in school music examinations
  • There are no measured differences of musical ability between boys and girls
  • Music tended to be regarded as a feminine subject (Green, 1993; Hallam, 2004).
  • Boys tend to report higher levels of enjoyment in music than girls (Hallam, 2013).
  • Boys have higher levels of interest in music when technology is involved than girls.
  • In school music, girls tend to value music higher than boys (McPherson & O’Neill, 2010).
  • Musical self-efficacy results are mixed for girls and boys (Nielsen, 2004; Ritchie & Williamon, 2011).
  • Boys tend to player lower and more ‘male’ instruments whereas girls tend to play higher more ‘female’ instruments (Abeles & Porter, 1978).
  • Instrument choice may be links to musical genre, with girls underrepresented in some popular music areas.
  • Girls tend to be more compliant in instrumental music lessons than boys (Zhukov, 2007).
  • Lessons of female students tend to focus more on expression, and lessons of males, more on structure (Zhukov, 2012).
  • Girls are more influenced in their attitudes towards practice by their teacher and family whereas boys are more influenced in their practice strategies by their friends (Hallam, 2004).


There is little known about the practice strategies between girls and boys. Questions arising from this:

  1. Are their gender differences in the frequency and amount of practice?
  2. Are their gender differences in practicing strategies, concentration, and organization?
  3. Are there gender differences in attitudes towards practicing?
  4. Do gender differences interact with levels of expertise?

In their research on gender differences in instrumental practice, Hallam et al (2016) found boys practiced slightly more days per week than girls and for a few more hours, but overall, this was not a significant difference. There was no significant interaction found between gender and level of expertise, although there were statistically significant differences found between amount of practice time and expertise.

What the research did find were that there are gender differences for:

  • Adoption of systematic practice strategies;
  • Adopting ineffective practice strategies; and
  • Concentration

Girls were more likely to adopt systematic practice strategies such as slowing down of passages, correction of errors, repetitive strategies for difficult sections, and marking scores to facilitate learning. Girls tended to have more effective monitoring of their practice than boys.

Boys were more likely to start with warm up exercises, although this may be related to their instrument choice such as brass and percussion where there seems to exist a culture of warm up exercises. Boys also reported higher levels of concentration than girls.

“while the boys are more effective in their practice when they begin to play an instrument, they may not organise their practice as effectively as girls and may not adopt the most systematic practice strategies as their expertise develops”

Systematic practice increased for both boys and girls from beginner to Grade 1 with a decline through to Grade 3, followed by an increase as grade level increased. However, at higher levels of expertise, a negative change was found for boys.


The findings support the idea that students need to be taught effective practice strategies as well as accounting for differences in practice strategies between boys and girls.


Abeles, H. F., & Porter, S. Y. (1978). The Sex-Stereotyping of Musical Instruments. Journal of Research in Music Education, 26(2), 65-75.

Ericsson, K. A. (2008). Deliberate Practice and Acquisition of Expert Performance: A General Overview. Academic Emergency Medicine, 15(11), 988-994.

Green, L. (1993). Music, Gender and Education. British Journal of Music Education, 10, 219-253.

Hallam, S. (2004). How important is practising as a predictor of learning outcomes in instrumental music? Paper presented at the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Evanston, IL.

Hallam, S. (2013). What predicts level of expertise attained, quality of performance, and future musical aspirations in young instrumental players? Psychology of Music, 41(3), 267-291.

Hallam, S., Varvarigou, M., Creech, A., Papageorgi, I., Gomes, T., Lanipekun, J., et al. (2016). Are there gender differences in instrumental music practice? Psychology of Music.

McPherson, G. E., & O’Neill, S. A. (2010). Students’ motivation to study music as compared to other school subjects: A comparison of eight countries. Research Studies in Music Education, 32(2), 101-137.

Nielsen, S. G. (2004). Strategies and self-efficacy beliefs in instrumental and vocal individual practice: A study of students in higher education. Psychology of Music, 32, 418-431.

Ritchie, L., & Williamon, A. (2011). Primary School Children’s Self-Efficacy for Music Learning. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59(2), 146-161.

Zhukov, K. (2007). Student learning styles in advanced instrumental music lessons. Music Education Research, 9(1), 111-127.

Zhukov, K. (2012). Teaching strategies and gender in higher education instrumental studios. International Journal of Music Education, 30(1), 32-45.


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