Music has been in existence for a long time and has been part of human civilization. Certain trends have been both noticed and others have gone unnoticed when it comes to music and gender.

In the past, there seemed to be a universally accepted standard of who should play which instrument. For instance, there were some instruments that were considered feminine while others were considered masculine. Surprisingly, there are still some places where this gender divide is strongly felt. However, let us first take a look at what was happening in the past.

The Acceptable Instrument for Women

Historically, the piano was usually played by women. The following post describes this in more detail:

Piano instruments were considered the feminine musical instrument “par excellence” in the nineteenth century.

So much so, in fact, that during the century it became a norm for all women belonging to the bourgeoisie and upper classes to have a decent command of the piano. This was not just the case in England, from which most of Meling’s sources are collected, but also in Norway.

“No cultured house should be without a pianoforte… No Lady, who wishes to be a Lady, can admit to not being able to play the pianoforte, and no Gentleman can allow its disregard,” the Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote in 1855. Via Science Nordic

The Rest

There seemed to be a general feeling that some instruments were not meant for the female body as they would cause the player to look “immodest”, as explained below:

Mike Oliver
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

The flute, the violin, and the oboe are “highly unbecoming to the fair sex”, the music theorist John Essex wrote in 1721.

The oboe was particularly masculine; it would look indecent in the mouth of a woman. And the flute would take away “many of the juices better suited to whet one’s appetite and advance digestion.” Via Science Nordic

The debate rages

Not only was this mentality prevalent in the 18th century within England, even in places like Germany, we see that other people disqualified other instruments as improper for women.

“Horn and cello unsuited for the female body”

The German Carl Ludwig Junker was also plain on which instruments women were wise to stay clear of in his book on women and music from 1783: the horn, the cello, the double bass, the bassoon, and the trumpet were all highly unsuitable for the female body, female fashion, and the female character. Via Science Nordic

female guitarist
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

The reasons

If you listen to the reasons behind these beliefs, you will see that at the time, these may have been genuine concerns that were being considered in that social setting. Some of them were:

Making large bodily movements when playing string and wing instruments – not very lady-like. A too strong and powerful sound did not agree with a woman’s modest and mild character.

Drums and trumpets, Junker reminds us, are used in the military, and the horn is used for hunting, and are thus not to be considered feminine.

Besides, some playing positions were directly immoral, such as distorting ones face in order to play a wind instrument, pressing ones lips together and supporting the sound with the stomach muscles. This might give the impression of an indecent woman. . Via Science Nordic

man playing the harp
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

The Current Situation

People in this generation may hear the remarks made in the 18th century and wonder what was going on in those days. Currently, we see people of both genders playing all instruments without discrimination. Ladies are playing drums and bass guitars while men are playing the piano and harp without much of a problem. However, the “stereotypes” may not have completely let us free, as the post below describes:

Every fall, music teacher Alex Mueller watches fifth graders at Riderwood and Warren elementary schools in Maryland choose an instrument they’ll focus on.

And almost every year — without fail — fifth-grade boys want to play trumpet and fifth-grade girls choose the flute.

“Obviously there is something going on,” Mueller said. Via BSO Music

There probably remains a lot to be done in this area of music and gender, and efforts are being made to ensure that this issue is addressed as the post below explains:

Gender Equality in Music: The Beginnings of a New Movement Involving Men and Women

At this year’s Liverpool Sound City conference, I chaired a panel of music industry representatives who are each, in different ways, taking positive action that will help women to sustain a career in the music industry. Unlike most discussions about women in music, 50% of our panellists – and our audience – were men; something that’s unusual but essential if we want to change things from within, with input from those who currently hold the most power. Via Huffington Post

Although there is still much to be done, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way in terms of non-discriminatory music.

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