Factors Contributing to Disproportionate Gender Participation in High School Jazz Bands

July 27, 2011 / By: Laura Berggren

The problem of this thesis was to examine participation rates in Minnesota high school jazz bands by gender and determine which factors contribute to the disproportionate number of males versus females who participate in these ensembles.  This study is an examination of four sub-problems: (1) Does instrument selection affect a female’s eligibility for jazz band membership? (2) Does the lack of female role models/mentors in jazz bands have an affecton a female’s decision to participate in a jazz band? (3) Do improvisation expectations affect a female’s decision to participate in jazz band? (4) Are there gender-related differences in musical style preferences that affect a female’s decision to participate in jazz band?

Thirty-three schools participated in this study to determine if these factors hold merit in today’s band classrooms.  Thirty-three directors and 1,884 female students completed separate surveys with questions pertaining to: band program demographics, instrument selection, female role models in jazz, improvisation expectations, musical style preferences, and other possible barriers to female participation in jazz band.  The results are displayed on a series of bar graphs throughout chapter four.

Survey results show that instrument selection is a primary barrier to participation in jazz band by females.  In addition, a lack of female role models in jazz, coupled with a high level of anxiety when it comes to improvisation expectations, could both be factors contributing to the gender disparity in jazz.  Musical style preference did not seem to be a factor, although the open-ended questions gave insight into other obstacles, such as scheduling and time conflicts, apathy, and audition anxiety.

The findings of this study implicate the following: (1) a gender gap exists among males and females participating in jazz; (2) there is a divide among directors about the belief that a lack of female role models in jazz plays a factor in participation rates; (3) directors are divided regarding their belief about improvisation expectations being a barrier to higher female participation, although females reinforce this as a reason; and (4) a decision should be made as a music community as to whether raising participation rates among females in jazz band is a worthy cause to pursue.