Category Archives: Percussion

Flutes are for girls and percussion is for boys?

This is a chapter of my master thesis ‘Women in Salsa’ (2009). Are gendered instruments still a fact, and what are we music educators doing in order to break with this cliché?

Gendered instruments

First, there is an extensive range of studies analyzing the gender-stereotypes of musical instruments. Hallam (2008) conducted a research among British school children aged between five and nineteen years, where she studied which instruments are the most gendered, and illustrates some of the possible reasons for those differentiations. According to her findings, girls’ (and women’s too) choice for an instrument depends on such factors as the shape or size of an instrument, its pitch and sound quality, and the physical characteristics necessary to play the particular instrument (Hallam, 2008: 7). In accordance with her results, girls are more probable to play small and higher pitched instruments, as example the flute, which is one of the most gendered musical instruments.

As Gourse writes in her study about the jazz scene, female horn players experienced insults, or were even occasional physically attacked. It was unacceptable for men to see a woman blowing an instrument, which let to comments such as “I hate to see a woman do that” (Gourse, 1995: 8 ).

While today brass and woodwinds instruments are still extremely gendered, the saxophone is gender neutral. Amongst the various percussion instruments, there is a clear dominance of boys playing the Kit drums, whereas African drums are gender neutral.

Those numbers are conforming to traditional views on gender and practice of music instruments. Nicholas Cook wrote that practically all of Jane Austen’s female characters played the piano (1998: 106). This female preference for the piano, or keyboard is still ongoing today, as the research of Hallam (2008) proves. Eklund Koza (1991) is noticing a comparable fact while examining the role of women in music as described in Godey’s Lady’s Book, popular in the nineteenth century. At that period, keyboard instruments were the most prominent among women, while men preferred instruments of the orchestral woodwind and string families such as violin and flute. The book does not mention any female musicians in connection with percussion or woodwind instruments (1991: 107).

As Zervoudakes and Tanur (1994, cited in Hallam, 2008: 9) remarked, a change in girls’ choice for instruments between 1959 and 1990 can be noticed, and one realizes that girls are gradually opting for both, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ instruments.

It is important for girls or women to have role models. As Bruce & Kemp (1993, cited in Hallam, 29008: 9) found out, girls are more probable to choose a ‘masculine’ instrument if there are other female musicians playing that same musical instrument. This phenomenon has also been confirmed by Maite Hontelé, a Dutch trumpet player:

Well, girls find it in general nice to see that there is a woman who gives the lesson. Then they see that it is possible for a girl to play the trumpet. What I do while teaching is to support the girls in their choice to play the trumpet. (Interview on July 6th 2009)

She had two role models herself, from whom she could receive the confirmation that it is possible for women to play the trumpet successfully (interview on July 6th 2009).

May Peters, while teaching at the Puerto Rican conservatory was interestingly not only a role model for girls but also for her male students.

They [the male students] also tell me: wow, I think you are so great, Maestra! They even tell me that they would enjoy having a mother like me. This is for me the reason to be there; being a role model. (Interview on August 3rd 2009)

A further influence is the social environment. Especially during the adolescence, peers have an enormous influence and one runs the risk of standing under enormous pressure if one is opting for ‘the wrong’ instrument (Hallam, 2008: 14). Again, the same occurred in the case of Maite Hontelé who found it extremely important in the early stages of her musical experience that female friends of hers played the trumpet as well (interview on July 6th 2009).

If, on the one side female musicians are slowly accepted playing ‘masculine’ instruments, on the other side one is still making differentiations in performance practices of women. The most apparent example is the one of female percussion players. Waxer states that, while men are playing the congas or bongos (both Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments used in Salsa, next to the timbales) mainly being seated, women are expected to play them standing up, since it is considered “unlady-like for a woman to be seated with her legs spread around a percussion instrument” (2001: 242). She further mentions the female keyboardists, who also play standing up. The reason for this, according to Waxer, is the expectation that women show legs and dance while performing (2001: 242).

By Jeanne Schmartz

Keith Terry’s Body Music

Following up from yesterday’s blog post with the Barbatuques video clip, today’s spotlight is on the work of percussionist/rhythm dancer and “body musician” Keith Terry. Keith Terry’s Body Music is a performance art that synthesizes body percussion, movement and cross-cultural rhythmic concepts. In Body Music, Terry draws upon rhythmic techniques such as polyrhythms, phasing, cross pulses, and polymeters. Terry’s influences range from Japanese Taiko and Balinese Gamelan to North American rhythm tap and Ethiopian armpit music. Terry  is the artistic director of Crosspulse, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance. In addition to performing and teaching workshops, Terry has created two instructional videos (Body Music Vol.1 and Body Music Vol. 2) that teach the basics and variations on Body Music. These videos are wonderful (teaching) resources for music educators and musicians.

I was first introduced to Terry’s Body Music by San Fransisco-based Orff teacher Doug Goodkin, who was the first music educator to use Keith’s ideas in his work with children and subsequent teaching in Orff workshops. Since the early 90’s, Body Music ideas have been introduced by Goodkin and by Keith Terry himself to music teachers worldwide, among others at the Orff Insitute, and at Orff summer courses and conferences. In addition to the use of Body Music in the classroom, Keith’s ideas are applied by many performing groups as well.

Body Music is suitable as a medium for rhythm training at all levels, and also for strengthening rhythmic sensibility in singing, instrumental playing and dance. My own musical training began with classical piano studies and singing. Rhythmical training was often a nightmare subject because of the way it was taught: focusing on the ears and the head/logic, but completely disconnected from the rest of the body. It wasn’t until I was introduced to music education approaches like Dalcroze and Orff Schulwerk, where rhythm is connected to movement and body percussion, that I had most of my a-ha moments in rhythmical training. Later on, I took some percussion classes – something I would strongly recommend too for all singers. Working with world music styles that are based on aural learning has also been an invaluable training to strengthen my own rhythm skills.

In Body Music, the playing of rhythm patterns, movement and vocalization are brought together. When rhythm is experienced through the whole body it demands a physical internalization of rhythm, that I believe music education on all levels and areas benefits from. Music doesn’t happen in the head, it happens in the whole body! Body Music can be adapted to virtually any music style or culture, and thereby provides excellent rhythm training tools for culturally diverse music education. Finally, a link to the Crosspulse Teacher Blog, where you can download a PDF of Keith Terry’s article on Body Music.

By Katja Maria Slotte

Jeanne Teaching At Axent Percussion Camp

Jeanne has been teaching at the Axent percussion camp in Luxembourg for many years. This summer they had 30 students and agreat team with Paul Mootz, Michel Mootz, Carmen Wurth, Benoit Martiny, Jean-Luc Jossa and Philippe Noesen.

Here is a link to a news documentary of the percussion camp, broadcasted by the Luxembourgish national TV:

Enjoy the good vibes!


5MP-9G4 Digital Camera