RTRL.52: Children’s Perceptions of Gender Stereotypes in Musical Instruments (Pickering & Repacholi, 2002)


Pickering, S., & Repacholi, B. (2002). Modifying children’s gender-typed musical instrument preferences: The effects of gender and age. Sex Roles, 45(9-10), 623-643.

What did the researchers want to know?

Do older students perceive stronger gender stereotypes among musical instruments than younger students? Can exposure to counter-stereotyped musicians affect students’ instrument preferences?

What did the researchers do?

Pickering and Repacholi conducted a study involving 156 kindergarten students and 158 fourth-grade students. They showed the students videos of high-school musicians playing one of eight instruments that had previously been identified as either feminine (flute, violin, clarinet, cello) or masculine (drum, saxophone, trumpet, trombone) by Australian adults. The musicians wore school uniforms and all played the same musical excerpt. Participants were divided into three groups: one who viewed videos that aligned with gender stereotypes (e.g., females playing “feminine” instruments and males playing “masculine” instruments), one who viewed “counter-stereotyped” musicians (e.g., males playing “feminine” instruments and females playing “masculine” instruments), and one who simply viewed a static image of the instrument (with no musician visible).

Pickering and Repacholi had each student view their assigned videos individually (in a room separate from their classroom) and then asked them which instrument they would most like to play.

What did the researchers find?

Students in the control group (who saw static images rather than musicians) were significantly more likely to select instruments consistent with gender stereotypes than those inconsistent with gender stereotypes. There were, however, no significant differences in stereotyping by gender or age.

When all three groups were compared, Pickering and Repacholi found that students in the control group and the gender-consistent group were equally likely to prefer gender-consistent instruments. However, students exposed to the counter-examples were significantly less likely to choose gender-consistent instruments. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (This study found that women are much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.

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