Archive for the ‘Band’ Category

by Dr. Michael Pratt

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.  – Charles F. Kettering

The Demise of the Quality of Band Programs

Many times over the past thirty-five years of attending and adjudicating band festivals in the State of Michigan (considered by many professionals to be one of the stronger states in the country for school instrumental ensembles) I have found myself asking the question “Why aren’t bands as good as they used to be any more?” To me the simple fact of the matter is that, in general, bands are smaller, not as technically able, not as musical, and not as enjoyable to listen to as they were in the 1970s. I ask myself and others why this is so. There seem to be many answers.

The student’s time seems much more diluted now than it used to be. The average band member of thirty plus years ago was just that, a band member. That was his identity. Rarely was he involved in other activities in his school to the extent that he was involved in band. This was especially true for girls who had many less activities to be a part of, mainly because prior to Title IX the amount of sports activities for girls was negligible. Besides being involved in a plethora of different activities at school, today’s student increasingly has some type of after school job to support his car, his cell phone, and other numerous expenses. Thus the amount of available time a band member can spend on practicing, outside of school rehearsals, private lessons, etc. is severely limited.

Another reason, I speculate, on the demise of the band program over the years is the shockingly poor quality of literature being performed by the bands. More and more bands are spending their time on literature which I often characterize as “cookie cutter” music. In addition they spend the vast majority of their rehearsal time on these pieces to the exclusion of other, more worthwhile pieces of literature, in the hopes of attaining the necessary perfection to achieve a “first division” rating from the judges. The result is a lack of musical understanding and feeling for the aesthetic worth of the music because the literature they perform is so lacking to begin with.

As debilitating to the overall quality of bands as is the lack of preparation time on the part of the students and the lack of quality literature to prepare, by far the largest factor leading to the gradual lowering of the quality of bands over the past thirty-five years, in my opinion, is the increasing rate of band directors who do not have the skills to get the bands to perform at the levels they used to perform at. Several areas of examination arise from this assertion. 1) Are students becoming music majors who are ill prepared at the pre-college level? 2) Are colleges and universities doing an inadequate job of training future music educators? 3) Are music educators on the job keeping up with, and constantly improving on the skills required to perform their job effectively?

 Are students ill prepared at the pre-college level?

Following are some criterion by Louis A. Menchaca, associate professor of music and director of instrumental music at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.[1]

Preparation at the High School Level

The following is a list of recommended experiences that will help students in high school music programs make the transition to college music degree programs.

1. Private Lessons. Students who want to become music majors should begin private study on their instrument or in voice as soon as possible, as experience in a band or choir alone will not be sufficient preparation for a college entrance audition. They must also be proficient in music reading.

2. Aural Skills. Unless a student is blessed with a natural gift, these skills take the longest to develop. Among other skills, students must be able to identify by ear the degrees of a scale being played or sung, the type of triad being played or sung, the interval being played or sung, and the chord factor in the bass or soprano of a chord being played. Students should also be able to tap back rhythms being played or sung and to notate simple tonal melodies being played or sung.

3. Music Fundamentals. Learning the fundamentals of music notation in freshman college theory can be daunting; knowledge is either assumed or is covered very quickly. The material students must know includes meter signatures, rhythmic values, elementary principles of form, written intervals and triads, treble and bass clefs, major and minor scales and key signatures, and key relationships.

4. Vocal Ability. All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, must be able to sing intelligently and in tune. In fact, singing is required for most college entrance auditions. Students must be able to sing back pitches played within and outside their vocal range, sing back notes in a major and minor triad, and sing the major scale with numbers, letters, and solfeggio, and sight-sing simple folk tunes, among other things.

5. Keyboard Skills. All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, must be able to play and read intermediate keyboard literature with ease and fluency. Students should also be able to sight-read one level of difficulty below their performance level and have a beginning knowledge of I, IV, and V harmonization of simple songs.

6. The Right Attitude. If students are passionate about and dedicated to music – as well as being aware of its rigors – then they belong in a college music program.

Private lessons cannot be stressed too much. If a person is going to be a good music educator he must first be a good musician. There is an old saying to the effect that those who can, perform, and those who cannot, teach. There is, unfortunately, much truth to this axiom. However, the future music educator must be as firmly grounded in personal musical skills as he possibly can be. This is not to say he must be a virtuoso performer, but he must understand what it means and how it feels to be a musician and to play musically. If he cannot do this how can he be expected to train and develop students to become good musicians, to play musically and, more importantly, to develop an aesthetic feeling for music?

Ear training (aural skills) is not normally associated with participation in a high school band, choir, or orchestra; or even, for that matter, with private lessons. Fortunately for the future music major there are numerous software packages that can be acquired, and internet ear training web sites which are available to pursue this training. The student must avail himself of these resources and become acquainted with, at the least, the rudimentary skills associated with ear training as outlined above.

Many of the necessary skills listed in “Musical Fundamentals” above are pursued from a performance standpoint both in the student’s band classes and in his private lessons. They are, however usually addressed from a performance standpoint and not always from the practical standpoint of “this is how this looks”, or “this is how this is constructed”, or “this is how this works”. This deficiency is the easiest to correct. A simple text on notation or one of numerous online tutorials on the same subject can by assimilated by the student (he probably already knows this material, just not from a technical standpoint).

The last two areas (vocal ability and keyboard skills) are usually the most deficient in the future music major in college, and usually the most critical deficiency and the hardest to correct. Vocal skills can be sharpened again through the use of specialized software and web sites such as http://www.choraltech.org. Insufficient keyboard skills, however, are more difficult to correct (they may even be nonexistent). It is most desirable for a future music major to have many years of piano lessons and have achieved some degree of proficiency at the keyboard. A lack of skill in this area will become readily apparent to the person who suddenly finds himself with a choir as well as a band to teach and no accompanist. The lack will also be felt at solo and ensemble time when there simply are not enough pianists to go around. Even simple things like score study are much more difficult without keyboard skills. If a person suddenly finds himself in high school with no piano training whatsoever and knows he is headed for music school it is absolutely vital that he acquire a piano teacher and catch up as much as humanly possible or he will surely regret it over and over.

These are simply basic areas of preparation and background. They are a bare minimum. If they are utterly lacking in a student then the student should be dissuaded from pursuing a degree in music because he is ill prepared and will ultimately either fail or produce substandard students as a result. Beyond these areas the student is advised to soak up as much as he possibly can in the areas of music theory, music history, music appreciation and secondary instruments. Anything he can gain will place him ahead of the rest of the class.

Besides gaining all the background in fundamentals that the college bound musician can acquire, it is essential that he not neglect to develop a sense of the musical and the aesthetic. This can be more elusive. The student needs to explore every venue of music that he has access to and soak up as much as possible. If there is a symphony orchestra nearby, or an opera company, or a college or university giving concerts and recitals, the future music student needs to attend whatever he can and begin to acquire some sophistication, discrimination, musical taste, and sense of the aesthetic in music. He must broaden his horizons, especially beyond the confines of whatever school ensemble(s) he is a part. He must not be afraid to go to a performance of a Beethoven symphony, or an opera like Madame Butterfly, or a choral performance like Messiah. He must expand the narrow confines of how he views the world of music. He could attend student recitals at a local college (they are usually free). Whatever he can do to make himself open to new and broader musical experiences will come back to reward him years later as he becomes not only a more sophisticated musician but a music educator with a much broader background and sense of musicianship than he would otherwise have.

 Are colleges and universities doing an inadequate job?

“The bachelor of music education degree program in most colleges and universities is the result of trade-offs among the three areas in which music teachers are expected to be competent: music, education, and general knowledge. Because of the limitations imposed by the need to keep the program approximately four years in length, faculty members in each of these areas often believe that not enough work in their area is included. Probably no program in the preparation of music teachers can be developed that will satisfy each area without greatly exceeding four years in length. Accommodations are necessary, therefore, so that students can complete the program within a reasonable time and still meet requirements for state certification and university graduation.”[2]

 There is probably more to know than can be squeezed into six or eight years of college, let alone four, so many compromises necessarily take place and the student is left to his own devising to fill in the gaps and acquire the knowledge and skills that he really needs on the job. As a result most music educators feel that their real education begins the first day on the job and that they are woefully unprepared for some of the tasks they must are asked to perform.

By way of comparison let’s take a look at what three colleges require for graduation at the undergraduate level in music education. The first is The University of Toledo, the second is The University of Michigan, and finally Boston University.

The University of Toledo graduation requirements – instrumental music education major.[3]


  • MUS 1610       Theory/SS (fall only
  • MUS 1570       Piano I
  • MUS 2800       Applied 
  • MUS (see list) Large Ensemble 
  • MUS 1000          Recital, Sec. 001 and 003 and 004
  • Core Curriculum Class   Math 1180 or higher
  • Core Curriculum Class  (MUS 2220 or MUS 2250) 
  • Core Curriculum Class


  • MUS 1620           Theory/SS (sp only)                   
  • MUS 1580            Piano II                                             
  • MUS 2800            Applied                                            
  • MUS (see list)      Large Ensemble                            
  • MUS 1000            Recital, Sec. 001 and 003       
  • MUS 2410           Music History I                               
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                  
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                 


  • MUS 2610             Theory/SS (fall only)                              
  • MUS 2570             Piano III                                                          
  • MUS 2800             Applied                                                            
  • MUS (see list)       Large Ensemble                                            
  • MUS 1000             Recital, Sec. 001 and 002 and 003   
  • MUS 3410             Music History II (fall only)                   
  • MUS 1500/1530/1550/2500                                                              
  • (Woodwind/Brass/String/Percussion Classes)
  • MED 3000             Foundations of Music Ed. (fall only)
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                                 


  • MUS 2620               Theory/SS (sp. only)                             
  • MUS 2800               Applied                                                          
  • MUS (see list)         Large Ensemble                                          
  • MUS 1000               Recital, Sec. 001 and 002 and 003 
  • MUS 3420               Mus. Hist. III (sp only)                          
  • MUS 1500/1530/1550/2500                                                             
  • (Woodwind/Brass/String/Percussion Classes)
  • EDP 3200                Applied Psyc                                                
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                                 


  • MUS 1500/1530/1550/2500                                                             
  • (Woodwind/Brass/String/Percussion Classes)
  • MUS 3500              Basic Conducting (fall only) +           
  • MUS 4800              Applied                                                           
  • MUS (see list)        Large Ensemble                                           
  • MUS 1000             Recital, Sec. 001 and 002 and 003   
  • SPED 4020           Students with Disabilities                          
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                                   
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                                 


  • MUS 3510           Instrumental Conducting (sp. only) +  
  • MUS 1500/1530/1550/2500                                                                 
  • (Woodwind/Brass/String/Percussion Classes)
  • MUS 4800               Applied                                                             
  • MUS (see list)         Large Ensemble                                             
  • MUS 1000               Recital, Sec. 001 and 002 and 003    
  • *MED 3300              Elem/Sec. Instr. Meth. (sp only) +   
  • *MED 3310              Music for Children   (sp. Only)                
  • MUS 3630 Instrumentation                                                         


  • MUS 3580              Marching Band Tech.  (fall only)       
  • MUS 4800              Applied (Sr. recital)                                   
  • MUS (see list)        Large Ensemble                                           
  • MUS 1000              Recital, sec. 001 and 002 and 003  
  • *MED 3320            Secondary Voc. Meth. (fall only)+   
  • *TSOC 4000          Socio. Cultural. Analysis                          
  • EDP 3230 Human Development                                               
  • Core Curriculum Class                                                                  


  • *MED 4930                 Student Teaching 
  • *MED 4900                 Seminar                        

The University of Michigan graduation requirements – instrumental music education major.[4]

Fall Term

First Year

  • Private Lessons
  • Music Theory: Aural Skills
  • Music Theory: Written Skills
  • Musicology
  • Piano
  • Band, Choir, or Orchestra
  • Introductory English Composition
    (English writing requirement)

Second Year

  • Private Lessons
  • Music Theory: Aural Skills
  • Music Theory: Written Skills
  • Musicology
  • Band, Choir, or Orchestra
  • Academic Elective

Third Year

  • Private Lessons
  • Upper Level Music Theory
  • Upper Division Writing Course
  • (English writing requirement)
  • 2-3 Music courses as specified in the student’s degree program

Fourth Year

  • Private Lessons
  • 2-3 Music courses as specified in the student’s degree program
  • Academic Elective

Winter Term

First Year

  • Private Lessons
    Music Theory: Aural Skills
    Music Theory: Written Skills
    Band, Choir, or Orchestra
    Academic Elective

Second Year

  • Private Lessons
    Music Theory: Aural Skills
    Music Theory: Written Skills
    Band, Choir, or Orchestra
    Academic Elective

Third Year

  • Private Lessons
    Music Theory/Musicology/Jazz Improvisation Elective
    2-3 Music courses as specified in the student’s degree program
    Academic Elective

Fourth Year

  • Private Lessons
    2-3 Music courses as specified in the student’s degree program
    Academic Elective

 Boston University graduation requirements – instrumental music education major.[5]

First Year 1st 2nd
Orientation, Concert Music 0 0
Applied Music, Level 1,2 3 3
Music Theory I,II 3 3
Ear-Training & Sight-Singing I,II 1 1
Class Instrument / Voice 2
Music Education I 2
Musical Organization 1 1
Freshman Writing 4
Liberal Arts Elective 4 8
Second Year 1st 2nd
Applied Music, Level 3,4 3 3
Music Theory III, IV 3 3
Ear-Training & Sight-Singing III,IV 1 1
Music History I,II 3 3
Class Instrument/Voice 1
Musical Organization 1 1
English Literature 4 4
Group Piano I 1 1
Music Education Elective 2
Third Year 1st 2nd
Music Education II,III 4 4
Music Theory V,VI 2 2
Music History III,IV 3 3
Applied Music, Level 5a,5b 2 2
Conducting (Choral/Instrumental) 2 2
Musical Organization 1 1
Educational Psychology 4
Liberal Arts Elective 4
Fourth Year 1st 2nd
Practicum I and II, or III and IV 8 0
Music Education IV and V 2 2
Applied Music, Level 6a, 6b 2 2
Musical Organization 1 1
Liberal Arts Elective 4
Music Education Elective 2 4

There are many similarities between the three sets of graduation requirements for an instrumental music education major listed above. All three colleges require the music student to take applied lessons and be in a performing ensemble every semester. All three colleges require an abundance of classes in music theory and music history. All three colleges require approximately one year of piano and two years or ear training and sight singing. All three colleges require classes in conducting and secondary instruments. All three colleges require classes in music education and student teaching.

From the perspective of experience on the job several of these areas are severely lacking. Probably the most glaring deficiency is in piano skills. If a person comes to music school with little or no piano skills and graduates from music school with one year of piano training, he is probably not going to have even close to the piano proficiency that he is going to need on the job. As stated earlier, the instrumentalist may very well find himself teaching a choir class or a general music class and will find himself severely handicapped without sufficient piano skills. Even if he is in a situation where he is teaching strictly instrumental classes, he will need to find accompanists for soloists and will be hampered in lessons by not having the ability to play at least simple accompaniments himself. Also score reading and study will be much more of a chore to the instrumentalist who is only used to reading one line at a time or one clef at a time. A music teacher who cannot play the piano is at an extreme disadvantage. Music schools need to do more and either require more keyboard skill initially as an entry requirement or require more lessons and proficiency as a graduation requirement.

Another deficient area is secondary instruments. An instrumental music teacher needs to know every instrument he is going to teach. He needs to know all the fingerings and all the basic techniques for tone production. In addition (and probably much more important) he needs to know how to teach these basic things to the beginning student. Tuba music majors must know how to teach the first day of beginning band class to fifth grade oboe students and explain to them everything they need to know to produce their first “correct” sound on the oboe. Simply reading the method book a day ahead of the students is not enough. This is a very daunting task. There are a large number of instruments for which to acquire this knowledge and skill. Most colleges simply require a semester class in like instruments with emphasis placed on acquiring a very minimal skill at performance on a given instrument. This rudimentary training is not enough. It takes many years of work to acquire the knowledge and skills required on all the various instruments a person will be required to teach. If a person is lucky he will be in a situation where he can team teach with someone else and his skills and their skills will compliment each other. Most people are not so lucky, however.

Another deficient area is marching band. Most colleges do not require an actual class in marching band. Yet the most visible part of the majority of all the instrumental music departments in the public schools in this country is the marching band. Whether you like it or not, whether you take the philosophy that marching band is nothing more than entertainment at a sporting event, or marching band is great, marching band is a fact of instrumental music life. Actually, in most schools, it is a rather large part of the band program’s life. And yet so many colleges either ignore it (from a teaching standpoint – they do not ignore it in their own programs, i.e. at their own football games) or downplay its importance to the extent that they do not prepare the music student to teach it. Many graduating instrumental music majors receive their marching band training from two sources; 1) participation in a marching band (either in high school or in college) and 2) student teaching (if they were fortunate enough to have student taught in the fall). They find themselves on the job (actually before school even starts, since most schools have a summer band camp, marching band more than likely is the very first thing a new teacher will do) and a football game staring them in the face (again, perhaps even before the first day of school). Is the band traditional style marching or corps style marching? Is there a drum line? How do I write a drill routine? What about majorettes or a flag corps? Is there a pit or not (assuming a person even knows what this is)? These are only the most beginning and basic questions to ask and we still haven’t addressed instrumentation or repertoire. Like piano skills, the colleges are not doing enough to prepare the instrumental music education major to face the marching band and know what to do. The first year on the job the new director will revert to whatever he can remember from high school or college marching bands and try to emulate them. He will find himself scrambling to find out the answers to questions like those above. What he will not find, however, is that he can ignore marching band and hope it will go away. He will find it is an important part of his band program and the most visible part at that.

Another deficient area in teacher preparation for the instrumental music educator is the simple “nuts and bolts” of the job. How do I administer an instrumental music program? How do I control an instrument and uniform inventory and distribution system? How do I make minor repairs on the various instruments so I do not need to send an instrument to a repairman for minor issues and have a student sitting for at least a week with no instrument (this one is especially important)? How do I keep track of what the current literature is and where do I purchase it? Where do I purchase instruments from? How do I prepare an adequate budget for an instrumental music program and what does it contain? How do I go about getting what I need for the program? What do I need for the program? How does fundraising work and what’s the best way to go? There are so many questions to be asked, and so many things to know about, it is an almost overwhelming task. Most colleges are not even addressing these issues let alone adequately. Where does the new music teacher start? He has to get help, and quickly. Hopefully there are some local colleagues who can answer some of these questions, perhaps a music store who calls on the school weekly. A state organization can offer workshops and resources. However, the teacher training colleges need to do much more in this area. An MENC article looks at how teachers felt about their own teacher preparation.[6]

Table Two 

Table Five

In the table above from the same MENC article cited on the previous page it is interesting to note how the largest percentage for both “best prepared” and “least prepared” was the same category; methods class. Perhaps this points out a large disparity between colleges in this area. Also note that it was the actual “doing” classes (methods, student teaching, performance classes) which most respondents felt were the most valuable and the theory and history classes which they felt were the least valuable in their training as a teacher (just the opposite of the graduation requirements in these areas as noted earlier by all three of the colleges looked at).

Finally, this same MENC article made several recommendations as to classes which were lacking in college music teacher preparation. Noteworthy on the list (next page) is more class preparation in classroom management. While not strictly a music related issue it still is a skill lacking in most new teachers of most any discipline. You cannot teach anything if you do not have the classroom under control.

 “The field of music education seems bent on requiring everyone to know and be able to do everything. I look back on the music teacher preparation programs I have been involved with, including one that I designed myself, and note that they tried to include everything that a music teacher might be required to teach. As a result, these programs looked on paper to be jammed with all the important concepts and experiences of the day. In reality, the students did not have the time, the energy, or the capability to acquire this huge amount of material. These poor music majors, whose schedules are filled to overflowing, simply cannot be expected to learn and experience at the depth we would hope. This parallels my opening thesis that we are not setting up our future music teachers to reach a high level of quality in their teaching. A large set of diverse information and rudimentary skills, yes; but a high level of quality, no.”[7]

 Perhaps we are expecting the music schools and colleges to take on too much. Perhaps we are expecting too much from our future music educators. With the rise of world music and multiculturalism, not only in our schools but in our music programs, there is so much to know and so much to be skilled at it seems an almost insurmountable task for the future or current music educator.

“The subject matter of school music has changed. The nature of the people that make up the United States has changed. Diversity is the word that reflects this change. Music education has responded with multicultural offerings, especially at the elementary level. Multiculturalism has led to a degradation of quality. It cannot be helped. Most music teachers are products of the dominant Western European-based culture. Now, with a few classes and a few workshops, these individuals are teaching music of cultures with which they have no experience. Certainly, these individuals cannot be expected to teach Ghanaian drumming on the same level as a master drummer from Ghana. Certainly, the singing of Chinese songs is not taught as well by someone from St. Louis as someone from Beijing. In addition, we are asked to teach many cultures. The more cultures, the less quality. We simply cannot expect that we will achieve quality by expanding the number of cultures experienced. The same would be true for the number of styles, genres, etc. The broader the palette, the less quality will be attainable.” [8]

 Still the battle must be fought. Music in the schools has steadily progressed over the years since it was first introduced in 1839 in the Boston Public Schools. We must  continue to strive to expand not only the curricular offerings to include world music and multiculturalism (as is the current trend) but also to continue to improve on teacher preparation, not only at the music school level but after graduation as well with in-service training, workshops, and seminars aimed at advancing the musical horizons of all music teachers.

 Are music educators on the job keeping up with, and constantly improving on the skills required to perform their job effectively?

 After the music educator graduates from school and acquires his first job it seems is the time his true education begins.  Because of the glaring deficiencies in his education the first thing the new teacher has to do is fill in the gaps (maybe starting with figuring out what the gaps are in the first place). This will be an ongoing process driven by events. As noted above this may very well be the marching band and results may very well be expected by a performing ensemble even prior to the first day of classes. Ask the new English teacher if he has to mount a production of Romeo and Juliet in a student performance in front an audience of from several hundred to several thousand persons prior to the first day of classes. This can very well be the scope of what we are talking about.

Besides acquiring the basic skills needed to “fill in the gaps” of his education, the music educator is faced with the ongoing task of keeping his musical senses sharpened. This should involve staying involved as a performer; part of a chamber ensemble which routinely gives performances or part of a community band, orchestra, or chorus which routinely gives performances. A person needs to continue to experience what it means to be a performer. The most effective music educator is the one who can relate from first hand experience how an effective rehearsal is run (from the viewpoint of experiencing a rehearsal, not running a rehearsal) and how a successful performance feels.

As with an educator in any field it is important for the music educator to maintain and increase his professional skills by attending in-service training, seminars, workshops, and conferences as well as continuing his education with advanced degrees. This type of maintenance of acquired skills and the acquiring of new skills is a life-long and never ending process and a process which is a requirement for certification in more and more states.

With the music educator, however, it is not enough. A music educator’s life needs to be an unending cycle of events which feed his musical soul. A musician never stops listening to music. A musician is constantly seeking to plumb the aesthetic depths and to savor the life-enriching experiences of great musical performances. Music is like the strongest addiction imaginable. A good musician simply cannot live without music in his life. The music educator will gradually acquire a large and eclectic collection of recordings. The music educator will be continually attending concerts, not only in his area but in all areas of music as well. His interest will be sophisticated and varied, ranging from band and choir to orchestra and beyond; it will encompass opera and chamber music, jazz and Kodo drumming, ballet and country music, violin concertos and penny-whistle music, marching bands, steel drum bands, and mariachi bands. Music is life and life comes in unending shapes and forms. The musician loves them all.

To other educators it is their job, their vocation; to a musician it is their life-blood. Not only does this make a difference in how the job is approached and the passion brought to the job, but it makes a huge difference in the amount of time and devotion spent in the pursuit of training for the job. For the music educator it is an enormous and daunting task and a task that is not only unending but almost unreachable. The music educator spends his entire lifetime and his every waking hour in pursuit of fulfillment of this goal. No other educator has as much to learn or do, or works as hard, or gives as much of himself to his students as does the music educator.

A person certifying to teach at the age of twenty-two has a potential professional life of at least forty-three years! No teacher education program, regardless of its quality, can sufficiently prepare a teacher for all the music teaching situations that may be encountered during that span of time. Many things will change in forty years. New music will be composed, new technologies will be developed, new attitudes and interests may evolve in students and society, and the teacher will probably change jobs several times. Clearly, all music teachers need to continue their education in some form after graduation from college.[9]

[1] Louis A. Menchacha, “What It Takes to be a Music Major,” Teaching Music (February 1998): .

[2] Charles R. Hoffer, “Tomorrow’s Directions in the Education of Music Educators,” Music Educator’s Journal, no. Preparing to Teach Music in Today’s Schools: The Best of MEJ (1996): .

[3] The University of Toledo, Programs Of Study In Music, http://music.utoledo.edu/musicAtUTPR/index.asp?id=73/ (accessed October 12, 2005).

[4] The University of Michigan, Department Of Music Education Degree Programs, http://www.music.umich.edu/departments/ug_core_curriculum.htm. (accessed October 12, 2005).

[5] Boston University, Musb With A Major In Music Education, http://www.bu.edu/cfa/music/degrees/musb/majors/music_edu.htm. (accessed October 13, 2005).

[6] Timoth S. Brophy, “Teacher Reflections On Undergraduate Music Education,” Menc, http://www.menc.org/mbronly/publication/JMTEfa02features2.html. (accessed October 15, 2005).

[7] Edward P. Asmus, “Commentary – A Search For Quality In Our Musical Culture,” Menc, http://www.menc.org/mbronly/publication/JMTEfa02commentary.html. (accessed October 15, 2005).

[8] Edward P. Asmus, “Commentary -a Search For Quality In Our Musical Culture,” Menc, http://www.menc.org/mbronly/publication/JMTEfa02commentary.html. (accessed October 15, 2005).

[9] Charles H. Hoffer, “Tomorrow’s Directions in the Education of Music Teachers,” Menc, http://www.menc.org/networks/collegiate/bom.htm#art2/ (accessed October 16, 2005).

Copyright © 2010 by Pratt Music Co.


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 by Dr. Michael Pratt

In the preface to An Introduction to America’s Music, Richard Crawford makes a distinction between classical, popular and folk music, which is tied to the use of musical notation.  He says, “The classical sphere is ruled by composers, who tell performers in a musical score precisely what was intended; the popular sphere is ruled by performers, who shape and alter scores to fit the occasion; and the folk (or traditional) sphere is also ruled by performers, who work from oral tradition and memory rather than notation.” [1] Obviously, in any grand generalization like this, there will be some interesting exceptions (for instance, John Cage’s aleatory music might be considered modern classical music, but hardly tells performers precisely what is intended.)

Does it make sense to focus on one of these types of music—classical, folk, and popular—over the others?  What genres of music would be inappropriate to teach?  What kinds of American music might you include in one semester, and do they span classical, folk and popular music?

The musical literature employed in a high school band class will, of necessity, be of divergent types and styles, usually related to the activity for which the music is being prepared and performed. For example, most high school bands will begin the school year with marching band which gives performances at football games, pep rallies, homecoming parades, and so on. The literature usually performed will range more toward the popular genres such as popular song, rock and roll, movie themes, television themes, musical songs and generally music of a more “rousing” nature. With the rise of the “corps” style of marching band there has also been inclusion of more traditional “classical” music (although never in its original form but rather arranged to fit the instrumentation, time restrictions, and other requirements of the milieu). Even though this music is played in a less restrictive manner than perhaps concert music is played, it still would fall into the first category defined above as music performed as the score dictates and not improvised to fit the occasion like popular music or jazz (and certainly not involving the oral tradition of folk music).

The next musical event for the high school band would probably be some sort of holiday concert (what used to be called a Christmas concert). This event has changed considerably over the last few years with the rise of restrictions to the literature which public schools are allowed to perform as a result of the necessities of our “PC” culture and of the perceived limitations arising from the legal separation of Church and State. Many schools are not allowed to even use the word “Christmas” let alone perform any music of a religious nature whatsoever (choirs especially feel the brunt of this prohibition since well over ninety percent of their entire repertoire is religious in nature). So where high school bands used to perform quality arrangements of Silent Night or the Overture to Messiah they are now performing less than quality arrangements of Jingle Bells, et al. Many high school bands are choosing to use this restriction as an impetus to ignore holiday music as a whole and instead pursue their time in preparation of the classic band literature (many are already preparing their festival music for second semester). This has given rise to the audience which decries every year against the lack of holiday spirit being displayed by the school as a whole and the music programs in particular with the “ignoring” of the season in all of the school’s pre-new year’s activities and programs.

Next comes the season of festivals for the high school band: solo and ensemble festival (both district and state) and band festivals (both district and state). The literature requirements for these events are usually more stringent and must be selected from standard repertoire lists or contest lists allowing very little leeway for non-traditional or even non-classical music. The only room for deviation might be for the high school band’s jazz band program (which may or may not be an actual separate class from the regular band itself). It may be simply a performing ensemble or it may also be involved in the festival season. Either way, it will afford the option to explore the second option above (performers who shape and alter scores to fit the occasion, i.e., they improvise). Very little opportunity exists for improvisational skills to be used in the regular band literature.

After festival season the school year usually concludes with a succession of spring concerts, parades, and graduations. These spring concerts can afford the opportunity to play lighter or more popularly oriented types of music, but like the marching band, they are still usually strictly notated even if the music is in the lighter vein. The high school band therefore gets to experience the music of all three spheres (classical, popular, and folk) but usually performed in the classical style as far as notation is concerned (with the exception of a jazz band).

There is another type of music not mentioned which must be considered in this mix and which may cross these categories previously defined: world music. There is an infinite variety of world music available to explore with the high school band and it could very easily cross genres as it will certainly cross cultures. For example, you could be performing one of the staples of the high school band repertoire Variations on a Korean Folk Song by John Barnes Chance. This piece would certainly fit into the classical category above. However on the concert you could have a native practitioner from Korea perform the actual Korean folk song upon which the variations are based (Arirang) and possible even in native dress (you could really do a spectacular job and have a Korean supper prior to the concert). [2]

Does it make sense to focus on one of these types of music—classical, folk, and popular—over the others?  In a traditional band class is makes more sense to focus on classical music as very little opportunity exists to focus on popular or folk music (and even then it would of necessity need to be performed in a classically notated style). It is certainly not inappropriate to teach popular or folk music but within the context of the overall class, the scope would probably be limited and it would be very difficult to give the band the experience of  this music as it really exists because the performing genres are simply apples and oranges. More appropriately a high school band could include in their literature all kinds of American music spanning classical, folk and popular music and include this literature in almost every event they participate in throughout the school year.  The marching band could do a show on folk music starting with Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan right up through Peter, Paul and Mary and Up With People. A more popular half time show this past year for many schools focused on the music of Ray Charles (as a result of last year’s movie about his life). Obviously much of this music was blues and jazz oriented even if not played in the original style and manner. A concert might include selections from musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein or film music by John Williams. Festival music might include band music by John Philip Sousa or Charles Ives and transcriptions of music by Leonard Bernstein or John Adams. A wealth of great American music exists to be programmed on high school band concerts, and if performed side by side with the wealth of music which exists in world music, possibly including the folk traditions from other cultures, tremendously exciting concerts can be the result, not only for the audience but for the performing ensembles as well.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co. 


[1] Richard Crawford, An Introduction to America’s Music (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), xii.

[2] Introducing Korea, 2006, “Culture,” http://www.studyinkorea.go.kr/ENGLISH/A300/A300_Co4.jsp/ (accessed February 19, 2006).

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by Dr. Michael Pratt

The normal public high school bands in this country have a typical yearly cycle which is adhered to rather closely by most schools. It usually begins with a pre-school marching band camp, either on the school’s premises or at an actual camp somewhere. This camp is usually one week in duration and is used to prepare for the band’s appearances at the school’s football games once school actually begins (or sometimes before school actually begins, as in the State of Michigan where varsity football games begin the third week in August and school cannot, by law, start until after Labor Day). This is followed in the fall by a succession of performances at local football games, various marching band festivals and competitions (adjudicated or not), university band days, fall parades, and pep rallies. By its very nature this activity requires a great deal of time, energy, and expense by all involved and contributes (argumentatively) very little to the music education of the students involved. This will continue in many schools until Thanksgiving (extending into the football playoff season).

Following football, bands will usually be a switch to concert band format and perform some sort of a holiday concert in December. January brings not only the New Year, and second semester, but also the festival season. Many schools will have students involved in solo and ensemble festival (although typically only about one-quarter to one-third of a band’s enrollment).

Most bands participate in some sort of an adjudicated festival whereby they will play a group of selections (usually a march, a number from a required list, and a selected number) for a panel of adjudicators who will give them a rating (this is usually referred to by the bands as going to “contest”). As part of this festival they will also sight-read several numbers for yet another adjudicator (for a rating, of course). Some bands may choose to go to this festival for “comments only” and eschew the rating, but this is usually only done by those bands who want to avoid the embarrassment of a very low rating. The truth is that the bands want to win at festival just as they want their football and basketball teams to win. The directors say that the reason for going to festivals is for the experience of going to festival, hearing other groups perform, etc. The reality is that society expects everyone to be winners and that is what the bands want to do. Some schools even go so far as to work on no other literature and perform no other concerts (except for football) than the literature they will perform at festival.

This is usually followed in the spring by some sort of light, pops concert because the students are “worn out” by playing “serious music” for festival for so long. Most school conclude their year with a Memorial Day parade and graduation ceremony. In the summer the endless cycle starts over with band camp.

The high school band program will typically have from one to three bands and encompass 25 to 250 (or more) students. Annual budgets will run from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars (!). Some schools will take occasional trips to various locations around the country and world for educational purposes (for instance, Washington DC) and for performance purposes (for example, Rose Bowl Parade) and will raise from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars for these trips (a high school orchestra in Ann Arbor, Michigan recently toured China for which they raised over five hundred thousand dollars).

This endless cycle is repeated year after year and is what is considered to be normal instrumental music education for the majority of music students in this country. The emphasis in recent years on the Nine National Standards for Music Education and the Federal Government mandate for No Child Left Behind have had negligible impact on this endless cycle that bands go through.

A number of things would need to occur to break free from this endless and somewhat meaningless cycle. Schools should change from varsity athletics to intramural sports. This would achieve a number of things in one sweeping change. First, it would eliminate the millions of dollars (!) being spent in this country (sometimes in a single school district) to simply transport athletes, cheerleaders, bands, and fans to various varsity athletic events (intramural sports take place only at the local level). Second, it would involve countless more students in these athletic events than the elitist varsity sports currently do. Third, it would relieve the win at all costs mentality that rules this country (true, there would still be the desire for a team to win, but it would not be our town against your town, or our state against your state). This relief from the “win at all costs” attitude would filter down to all aspects of our society and bands would not feel the pressure to have to participate in festivals to “win” and could explore other much more worthwhile musical activities (such as Fine Arts Festivals which are celebrations of the arts not competitions of the arts).

Anthony Palmer states “schooling across this country shows a broad spectrum of both high success and dismal failure, along with much mediocrity, depending on the specific location and dynamics, such as funds available, support from parents, and the mind-set of the local population.”[1] The change away from varsity athletics would accomplish much to affect the dynamics, mind-set, and available funds Dr. Palmer refers to.

Another needed change is for a higher quality of band director. Band directors are coming out of college today with many deficiencies. They cannot adequately play all of the instruments they will teach. They are inadequately prepared in the skills required of a band director such as instrument repair, class and student behavior management, piano playing ability, arranging and composing, administration department ability for a music library, uniform library, booster organization, and fundraising. Dr. Palmer points out “if we had a Robert Shaw teaching chorus and a Frederick Fennell teaching wind ensemble, would we be concerned about standards?” (ibid.) The reality is we are not going to see a Robert Shaw or a Frederick Fennell in all of the public schools in this country. However, a great deal needs to be done to improve on the quality of the music education graduate these days.

A third change in the general thrust of the average high school band program needs to be less focus on music for its entertainment value and more focus on music for its cultural value. Our society today is beset by problems caused by differences in culture around the world. Music can go an extremely long way in helping to bridge the gap caused by these problems. Again, Dr. Palmer states “we must make comparisons among cultures to understand why human groups approach life differently because of unique experiences in time and place.” (ibid.)

School bands should place a greater emphasis on world music in their programs. For example, if a band is performing one of the classics of the band literature, Variations on a Korean Folk Song by John Barnes Chance, they could simply play the piece, or expand on that experience and explore the folk song basis of the work by bringing a vocalist into the band concert to sing the original Arirang (in Korean if possible). This singer could be a local Korean who could show some examples of traditional Korean costumes and cuisine (maybe give a Korean dinner along with the concert). Such an approach to a concert not only would be very educational for the band and audience but very enjoyable as well. There are many more concert works for band which could be used in a similar manner to not only simply perform music of an ethnic nature but to delve into the history and culture as well. Teresa M. Volk observes:

The greatest potential for multicultural music education remains the teacher. Regardless of methods or materials, the teacher is the factor that makes a difference in the classroom. Multicultural music education cannot happen unless the individual music educators in classrooms all around the country make it happen. It is a challenge to make the change from a Western-exclusive to a world-inclusive perspective. It requires a new mind-set, an openness to the new and different, in essence, a personal transformation.[2]

Our high school bands, stuck in a quagmire of stagnant activity and stagnant music need to lift themselves up, transform themselves in what they do and what they perform, and in doing so will not only raise the quality of music education in the country’s high schools, they will aid society as a whole in their relations with the rest of the world. If this could be achieved hand in hand with an upgrade in the quality of instrument music educators being graduated from music schools and a change from varsity to intramural sports in our schools, a transformation would occur which would be far-reaching not only in music education but in society as a whole.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.


[1] Anthony J. Palmer, “Consciousness Studies and a Philosophy of Music Education,” Philosophy of Music Education Review 8, no. 2 (Fall 2000): .

[2] Teresa M. Volk, Music, Education, and Multiculturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

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by Dr. Michael Pratt


Since numerous studies have documented gender bias of instruments in instrument selection for band students, the question arises is this a genuine bias or simply coincidental in conforming to the natural differences between the genders? Also, is this gender bias reflected in the dropout rate of band students?

Merriam-Webster defines bias as both “an inclination of temperament or outlook” and “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” [1]  Most of the numerous studies documenting gender bias and sex-stereotyping as it relates to instrument selection by band students tend to use the later definition. They sometimes characterize this bias as something which has been planted by an outside force. For example, Abeles and Porter (1978) state “the design and results of this study also suggest. . .that parents may influence their children to choose certain instruments, depending on the sex of the child.”   This research study shows that a significant reason for explaining this documented gender bias is more related to Merriam-Webster’s first definition than the second; i.e. the gender bias is more related to an inclination of temperament or outlook, more related to the simple differences between the genders which are completely natural.

Numerous studies have documented gender bias and sex-stereotyping of instruments in instrument selection for band students beginning with Abeles and Porter (1978). Other studies have followed including Griswold and Chroback (1982), Delzell and Leppla (1992), Fortney, Boyle and DeCarbo (1993), Harrison and O’Neill (2000, 2003), and Bayley, Kuhlman, and Walker (2004).  Many of these studies have negative connotations. For example, Abeles and Porter (1978) begins with the statement “The association of gender with musical instruments can, as can stereotyping of any type, serve to constrict the behavior and thus the opportunities of individuals.” On the surface this is a reasonable statement and the goal to affect a change in behavior is a reasonable goal. However, this is only true if the documented gender bias is an unreasonable bias whose intent (conscious or unconscious) is to “pigeon-hole” student behavior into categories which conform to societal categories which are unreasonable and which are potentially harmful to the students (e.g. the common gender bias that males are better at math and science than females).

Certainly such biases and behaviors do exist and need to be pointed out and corrected. However, it may be that not all behavior which is gender associated is in need of correction. Some of this behavior may simply be a natural reflection of the differences between the sexes. Females may be drawn to the flute more than males simply because they are more naturally attracted to the sound of the flute. Conversely, males may be drawn more naturally to the drums than are females simply because drums are louder. Both examples may simply be the result of natural phenomenon.

A common goal in education today is to eradicate bias and discrimination and to level the playing field for everyone (witness such phenomena as Title IX and Affirmative Action). Common sense tells us, however, that there may be some issues which can be explained by simply describing natural phenomena and basic human nature. It is possible that gender bias and sex-stereotyping of instruments when band students make their choice of instrument may fall more into the natural phenomenon category and less into the bigoted and stereotyped category which should be challenged and corrected.

Gender Bias is defined as males being prejudiced against what they view as female instruments and females being prejudiced against what they view as male instruments. Instrument Stereotyping is defined as the viewing of the various musical instruments as either masculine or feminine – the typically viewed masculine instruments being drums, brass and saxophones and the typically viewed feminine instruments as being flute and clarinet

 Literature Review

 If existing literature on gender bias and sex-stereotyping of musical instruments is examined in chronological order it can be seen how attitudes have changed over the years as society’s attitudes towards feminism and gender issues have grown and changed. The first major study was done in 1978 by Harold Abeles of Indiana University and Susan Porter of Wilmington, Delaware Public Schools.  In their study they say “The sex-stereotyping of musical instruments tends to limit the range of experience available to men and women, including participation in instrumental ensembles.” They go on in their study to cite instances of marching bands at Purdue, Notre Dame, and Michigan State University which had extremely low percentages of women members, specifically stating that this is “the result of the association of gender with instruments.” This is an erroneous statement. The University of Michigan Marching Band (contemporary to the above-named in time and type) was one hundred percent male at that time, not because of any issues regarding gender bias in the selection of instruments, but simply because it was thought to be inappropriate to have a co-ed band which toured together by bus and train: there was too much opportunity for improper behavior. The solution was to restrict the ensemble to male membership only (this was before the days of equal access for women). The same net result could have been achieved by restricting membership to an all female membership, although that was not the case at these major universities because it was also a common misperception at that time that females did not have the physical stamina necessary to participate in a major college marching band. This practice did not change until feminism issues became important and women became more empowered. Thus even though Abeles and Porter were able to document statistically a gender bias in instrument selection, their conclusions regarding this bias were incorrect. [2]

Griswold and Chroback (1981) asked 89 college students (including 40 music majors) to use a Likert scale and rate each instrument’s masculinity or femininity. The most feminine instrument was the harp, followed by flute, piccolo, glockenspiel, choral conductor, cello, violin, clarinet, piano, French horn, and oboe with tuba being the most masculine instrument, followed by string bass, trumpet, bass drum, saxophone, instrumental conductor, cymbal, and guitar.

Delzell and Leppla (1992) discovered that females tend to choose a wider variety of instruments than males do and that the quality of sound was the primary reason given for choosing a particular instrument rather than whether or not they were girl’s instruments or boy’s instruments. By this time women’s rights and feminism issues had come to the forefront and gender issues were looked at less in black and white categories, like the 1970s, and in more rich detail.

Jonathan Bayley (2004) concluded that even though gender bias can still be documented in instrument selection, the predominant influencing factor in the selection of an instrument by a student is the method by which the teacher presents the instruments to the student and the time of the year in which the selection occurs.

Most of the studies have taken a different focus to explain the gender bias in instrument selection by band students and each has shown that statistically the bias did and still does exist, but none are conclusive as to the reason for this gender bias, each showing a different possibility for the reason(s).

One recent study tends to support the hypothesis of this study (i.e. girls are more often drawn naturally to smaller and higher pitched instruments while boys are more often drawn naturally to larger and lower pitched instruments; having little to do with gender bias but rather with simple natural tendencies). Wai-chung Ho (2001) studied gender bias in instrument selection in a Chinese culture in Hong Kong. In his study Ho states “The ideology of feminine inequality that considers women by nature to be inferior to men and subordinate to men, has been inherent in Chinese communities for many centuries.” This would seem to give rise to a gender bias in musical instruments as something which is natural, common, and expected as a normal part of this culture. And yet Ho finds “this study did not indicate that social and cultural norms and values perpetuated boys’ and girls’ stereotyped beliefs.” At the same time the results of his findings also showed “boys usually took up bigger Western instruments such as trombone, tuba, trumpet, and bassoon.”


Two surveys were used to gather data for this research study. The first survey gathered data relevant to the question “Since numerous studies have documented gender bias of instruments in instrument selection for band students, the question arises is this a genuine bias or simply coincidental in conforming to the natural differences between the genders?”  The second survey gathered data relevant to the question “Is this gender bias reflected in the dropout rate of band students?”   


The first online survey was administered to a convenience sample consisting of four bands at Sand Creek Community Schools, Sand Creek, Michigan (5th grade band, 6th grade band, middle school band, and high school band), and college age band members from Adrian (Michigan) College. The participants (N=133) consisted of 72 females and 61 males. The second online survey was administered to 14 band directors in the local Lenawee County Band Directors Association (LCBDA). The directors were asked to provide the numbers of students by gender and by instrument that were in their band(s) last year and are not in their band(s) this year (not counting students who graduated, moved, or simply changed instruments). The survey resulted in documenting 140 dropouts (70 female and 70 male).


The first survey consisted of questions categorized as follows:

  • Demographic
    • Instrument
    • Grade
    • Gender
  • A Likert Scale Rating of How You Feel About the Various Instruments
  • Instrument Preferences by Generality
    • Smaller or Larger Instruments
    • Softer or Louder Instruments
  • Specific Instrument Preferences
    • Flute or Drums
    • Clarinet or Trumpet
    • Flute or Trombone
  • Attitudes on Gender Association of Instruments
    • Are Some Instruments Boy’s Instruments?
    • Do Girls Tend to Play Girl’s Instruments?
    • Should Boys Play Boy’s Instruments Only?
  • What Influences Did You Have on Selecting Your Instrument?

The second survey was very simple:

  •  How many students are not in your band this year that were in your band last year by instrument and gender not counting students who graduated or simply moved?


 Table 1 – What Is Your Instrument?

  # Female % Female # Male % Male # Total % Total % Female % Male
Flute/Piccolo 17 23.6% 1 1.6% 18 13.5% 94% 6%
Oboe 1 1.4% 0 0% 1 .75% 100% 0%
Bassoon 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0% 0%
Clarinet (any) 28 38.9% 1 1.6% 29 21.8% 97% 3%
Saxophone (any) 8 11.1% 9 14.5% 17 12.8% 47.1% 52.9%
Trumpet/Cornet 12 16.7% 21 33.9% 33 24.8% 36% 64%
Horn 0 0% 2 3.2% 2 1.5% 0% 100%
Trombone 0 0% 3 4.8% 3 2.25% 0% 100%
Baritone/Euphonium 0 0% 2 3.2% 2 1.5% 0% 100%
Tuba 0 0% 4 6.4% 4 3% 0% 100%
Percussion/Drums 4 5.6% 14 22.6% 18 10.5% 22% 78%
Other 2 2.8% 4 6.4% 6 4.5% 33.3% 66.6%
Total 72   61   133      

 The results of question one of the Band Instrument Survey (Table 1 above) show females heavily favoring flute and clarinet with a female mean average of 95.5% playing those instruments as opposed to a male mean average 4.5% playing the same instruments. Similarly, males heavily favor brass and percussion instruments with a male mean average of 90.33% playing those instruments as opposed to a female mean average of 9.66% playing the same instruments. Females select flute and clarinet over males 21.2 to 1. Males select brass and percussion over females 9.35 to 1. Saxophones are split close to even with females at 47.1% and males at 52.9%. Males show a lack of preference for flute and clarinet with only 2 male players (4%) as opposed to 45 female players (96%). A lack of preference is shown by female players for brass and percussion but particularly for horn and low brass, of which 100% of the players are male. A lesser bias was shown towards trumpet and percussion with 16 females (31%) and 35 males (69%) playing those instruments.

Table 2 – How Do You Feel About the Following Instruments? – Female Responses

  Love It Like It a little Its ok Dislike It a little Hate It No Opinion
Flute/Piccolo 23 22 22 4 1 0
Oboe 16 15 23 10 3 5
Bassoon 11 7 26 12 5 11
Clarinet 32 20 12 4 4 0
Saxophone 22 23 20 6 1 0
Trumpet/Cornet 19 13 19 10 8 3
Horn 10 12 24 15 7 4
Trombone 3 10 16 16 26 1
Baritone/Euphonium 1 5 23 11 17 15
Tuba 3 6 24 14 21 4
Percussion/Drums 23 15 19 10 3 2

 Table 3 – How Do You Feel About the Following Instruments? – Male Responses

  Love It Like It a little Its ok Dislike It a little Hate It No Opinion
Flute/Piccolo 4 8 20 8 10 11
Oboe 2 5 19 6 13 16
Bassoon 5 11 14 10 5 16
Clarinet 1 18 15 9 10 8
Saxophone 17 16 12 3 4 9
Trumpet/Cornet 29 19 5 0 2 6
Horn 14 12 17 2 4 12
Trombone 17 10 12 8 5 9
Baritone/Euphonium 6 12 17 6 6 14
Tuba 11 17 13 5 7 8
Percussion/Drums 24 16 8 1 6 6

Tables 2 and 3 above represent raw numbers on a Likert scale question asking how the respondents feel about the various instruments. The numbers in general tend to follow the same pattern of female and male preference documented above but allow for more gradation of preference. For example, notice how among 67 females concerning the flute, they were almost evenly divided between Love It, Like It a Little, and Its ok. As a group they were for the flute 67 to 5 but evenly divided from Love It to Its ok. Males on the other hand Disliked It a Little or Hated It only 18 out of 61 with more than half stating Its ok or No Opinion. In general, the numbers show a remarkable tolerance for all of the instruments by both genders as the next graph of mean scores (Table 4 below) shows.

Table 4 – The raw numbers from Tables 2 and 3 above are summarized in the following graph using the values of 5=Love It, 4=Like It a Little, 3=Its ok, 2=Dislike It a Little, 1=Hate It, 0=No Opinion – the numbers below represent the mean average for each gender/instrument (raw number from above times points for each category) with 5 points being the highest possible

Table 4

 Table 4 above shows a mean average compilation score from Tables 2 and 3. Notice how remarkably even the scores are from instrument to instrument and by gender. The mean score on the graph above (i.e. the mean score of mean scores) is 3.0 for females and 2.8 for males. In other words, both genders and all instruments average out to ‘Its ok’.

The next two questions show instrument preference in general terms (e.g. do you prefer smaller instruments or larger instruments, softer instruments or louder instruments?)

 Table 5

Table 5

 Table 5 above demonstrates that nearly half (48.9%) of both females and males have no opinion of preference between smaller or larger instruments. Of the rest, males are split approximately equally between smaller and larger instruments while females prefer smaller to larger instruments approximately 4 to1. Most of the ‘other’ responses specified either ‘medium instruments’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’.

Table 6

Table 6 

Table 6 above shows that 43% of females have no opinion of preference between softer and louder instruments. The remaining females show a preference split evenly between softer and louder instruments with 6% selecting other (mostly ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘a little bit of both’). The standout answer to this question is that males prefer louder instruments (49%) to softer instruments (7%) with 44% showing either no opinion or other. In other words, males who showed a preference showed a preference for louder instruments to softer instruments of 7 to 1.

The next questions show instrument preference in specific terms for five pairs of instruments: flute and drums, clarinet and tuba, flute and trombone, trumpet and clarinet, and trumpet and flute. Table 8 below puts the graph in Table 7 below in terms of percentages.

 Table 7 – ‘Which Do You Prefer?’ by Raw Numbers

Table 7

Table 8 – ‘Which Do You Prefer?’ by Percentages

  Female % of Females Male % of Males     Female % of Females Male % of Males
Flute 61% 10%   Trumpet 32% 76%
Drums 35% 77%   Clarinet 63% 8%
No Preference 4% 13%   No Preference 5% 16%
Clarinet 84% 25%   Trumpet 36% 75%
Tuba 8% 46%   Flute 54% 7%
No Preference 8% 29%   No Preference 10% 18%
Flute 84% 16%        
Trombone 8% 59%        
No Preference 8% 25%        

 In the preference between flute and drums, females selected flute over drums slightly less than 2 to 1 and selected flute 6 to 1 over males. Males selected drums over flute greater than 7 to 1 and selected drums slightly less than 2 to 1 over females. In the preference between clarinet and tuba, females selected clarinet over tuba greater than 10 to 1 and selected clarinet greater than 3 to 1 over males. Males selected tuba over clarinet slightly less than 2 to 1 and selected tuba more than 5 to 1 over females. Similar results were obtained between flute and trombone, trumpet and clarinet, and trumpet and flute. There was no noticeable difference in results depending on which instrument was presented first. It was also shown that females showed no preference for a mean average of 7% of the time while males showed no preference for a mean average of 20% of the time.

 Table 9 – Percentage responses to gender bias questions

  Females % Yes Females % No Females % Don’t Know Males % Yes Males % No Males % Don’t Know
Are Certain Instruments Girl’s Instruments?  46%  47%  7%  46%  46%  8%
Are Certain Instruments Boy’s Instruments?  36%  56%  8%  44%  48%  8%
Do Girls Tend to Play Girl’s Instruments?  65%  25%  10%  54%  26%  20%
Do Boys Tend to Play Boy’s Instruments?  60%  25%  15%  62%  20%  18%
Should Girls Play Girl’s Instrument Only?  7%  85%  8%  10%  75%  15%
Should Boys Play Boy’s Instrument Only?  10%  82%  8%  3%  77%  20%

 On the question of whether certain instruments are girl’s instruments and whether certain instruments are boy’s instruments the genders are nearly equally divided. On the question of whether girls tend to play girl’s instruments and boys tend to play boy’s instruments the genders agree on YES to both questions by more than 2 to 1. On the question of whether girl’s should play only girl’s instruments and boys should play only boy’s instruments the genders agree on NO by an overwhelming margin of greater than 7 to 1.

Table 10 – What was the most important influence on your instrument selection?

 Table 10

While not specifically related to the question of gender bias, the results to the question shown in Table 10 above provide interesting insight into the instrument selection process of individuals. It would make an interesting study to explore further this question of influence on instrument selection. Other studies have placed the sound of the instrument as the most important influence (Delzell and Leppla, 1992) while the results shown on this graph set the greatest influence on the parents.

The results of the second survey of Band Director Dropout Rate by instrument and gender (as shown in Table 11 below) produced remarkably even results between the genders and from instrument to instrument as well.

Table 11

Table 11


 As shown in Table 12 below there is a positive relationship between the number of female players on the various instruments and the number of females who expressed ‘Love It’ for the various instruments as shown by a correlation coefficient of 0.900839 (which can be described as a very strong direct relationship). Conversely there is a negative relationship between the number of female players on the various instruments and the number of females who expressed ‘Hate It’ for the various instruments as shown by a correlation coefficient of -0.45623 (which can be described as a moderately strong inverse relationship). A similar relationship exists for the males. [3]

 Table 12 – Relationship of number of players for each instrument by gender to number of players for each instrument by gender who replied ‘Love it’ and ‘Hate It’ to the question ‘How do you feel about the following instruments?’. The chart also shows a correlation coefficient for each column of data (related to the number of players by gender).

  # of Female Players # of Females who ‘Love It’ # of Females who ‘Hate It’ # of Male Players # of Males who ‘Love It’ # of Males who ‘Hate It’
Flute/Piccolo 17 23 1 1 4 10
Oboe 1 16 3 0 2 13
Bassoon 0 11 5 0 5 5
Clarinet (any) 28 32 4 1 1 10
Saxophone (any) 8 22 1 9 17 4
Trumpet/Cornet 12 19 8 21 29 2
Horn 0 10 7 2 14 4
Trombone 0 3 26 3 17 5
Baritone/Euphonium 0 1 17 2 6 6
Tuba 0 3 21 4 11 7
Percussion/Drums (any) 4 23 1 14 24 6
  Correlation Coefficient 0.900839  -0.45623 Correlation Coefficient 0.900839 -0.5851

 The fact that there is such a strong direct correlation between the instruments that the students actually choose to play and the instruments that they love (and conversely a moderately strong negative correlation  between the instruments they actually choose to play and the instruments that they hate) indicates that the gender bias documented by this and other studies could be the result of natural instincts and preferences by gender rather than the result of a societal bias which tries to place a sex-stereotype on the various instruments and encourage students to choose an instrument whose sex-stereotype matches the student’s own gender.

The natural preference of males for louder rather than softer instruments exhibits itself in almost exactly the same proportion of preference for drums over flute. Females, on the other hand, prefer smaller to larger instruments by a smaller proportion and softer to louder instruments almost evenly while at the same time preferring flute over drum by less than 2 to 1. This could indicate that while females exhibit a preference for the smaller, softer instruments like the flute, they are not nearly as strong as males in their preferences, exhibiting a more even distribution across the ’Love It’ to ‘Hate It’ spectrum and from instrument to instrument.

Table 13 – Comparison of Instrument Preferences With Attitude of Instrument Gender

  Female ‘Love It’ Female’s Said Girl’s Instrument Female’s Said Boy’s Instrument Male ‘Love It’ Male’s Said Girl’s Instrument Male’s Said Boy’s Instrument
Flute/Piccolo 23 40 0 4 34 1
Oboe 16 22 1 2 31 1
Bassoon 11 6 8 5 14 4
Clarinet (any) 32 29 0 1 28 1
Saxophone (any) 22 2 4 17 1 9
Trumpet / Cornet 19 1 21 29 1 17
Horn 10 2 25 14 3 13
Trombone 3 2 39 17 3 31
Baritone / Euphonium 1 0 28 6 1 22
Tuba 3 1 44 11 2 30
Percussion / Drums (any) 23 3 12 24 2 9
  Correlation Coefficient 0.593747 -0.67206 Correlation Coefficient -0.72674 0.413971

 In Table 13 above there is a strong positive, or direct relationship between the instruments females ‘love’ and the instruments they describe as girl’s instruments. Conversely there is a strong negative, or inverse relationship with the instruments they ‘love’ and the instruments they describe as boy’s instruments. The exact same relationship exists in males (with results the opposite of females) with males feeling stronger about girl’s instruments than did females and less strong about boy’s instruments than did females. The fact that there is a direct correlation between instrument preferences and attitudes about instruments by gender continues to bolster the argument that the so-called gender bias is not a bias at all but rather simply a reflection of the natural differences between the genders in their preferences concerning instruments.

It has been stated by other studies that students are influenced by their parents and their peers (and possibly by society in general) to select instruments which match their gender regardless of their preferences, in other words to exhibit a true gender bias towards instrument selection. This study shows that even while parents remain the strongest influence over students on their choice of instrument, the students still respond in proportion to their natural preferences for the instruments (this is reinforced by the sound of the instrument being the second strongest influence on the student for instrument choice).

If students were feeling pressure from outside sources (parents, friends, society) to select or not select certain instruments, this should be reflected in the instrument drop out rate. Either a student would feel pressure to drop out because he is the only boy flute player (for example) or she might strong willed enough to continue even though she is the only girl tuba player (for example). Neither seems to be the case. According to the data there is no correlation between gender, instruments, and dropout rate. Like previous results this reinforces the hypothesis that all of this is simply the result of natural tendencies and not of any exhibited biases.


The expectations were that this study would show that females preferred smaller and softer instruments while males preferred larger and louder instruments. This was shown to be partly true. Females were indifferent to loudness while preferring smaller instruments. Males were indifferent to size but preferred louder instruments. The expectation also was that it could be shown that while both females and males do select instruments in what appears to be a gender related manner, this is simply a reflection of the natural preferences regarding the instruments which are held by the genders. This expectation was fulfilled. The expectation which was not realized by this study was that there would be a correlation between gender association by instruments and dropout rate. It was expected that a student who selected an instrument contrary to perceived gender bias would be more likely not to drop out than the student who selected an instrument consistent with the commonly accepted sex-stereotyping of instruments (using the logic that they would exhibit more determination because of their initial strength in selecting the instrument in the first place). The fallacy of this argument proved to be that since everything was the result of natural tendencies in the first place, there was no added bonus of determination as the result of selecting an unpopular instrument. It can be concluded that there is no “unreasonable judgment” involved in the decision to select an instrument (as in Merriam-Webster’s definition of bias) and that what this and other studies have observed and documented (calling it a gender bias) is nothing more than the natural preferences of the genders towards the various instruments.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.


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 End Notes

[1] Merriam-Webster Online. “Bias,” http://www.m-w.com/ (accessed February 3,2007).

[2] Another reason for the all-male marching band lies in its ROTC roots. When schools like The University of Michigan finally decided to field a band at football games they logically turned to their ROTC cadets who were already practiced at marching. Many ROTC units already had military bands in place as well. This military heritage of many college marching bands also accounts for the all-male status which persisted until 1972 when Title XI forced them to admit women.

 [3] Correlation coefficient calculated by Microsoft Excel 2002.

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