Gender associations for musical instruments in nursery children: the effect of sound and image

Nigel A. Marshall, Kagari Shibazaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on the results of a study carried out with 105 children, aged between three and four years in three nursery units in London and Surrey, UK. The aim of this study was to explore the level of association which young children have between various musical instruments, musical styles and a particular gender. However, we also aimed to investigate if and how any gender association could be affected through the addition of an image of the featured musical instrument along with the sound of the instrument being played. The study had two conditions. In condition one, children were played 14 short (10 seconds) musical excerpts, 7 classical pieces and 7 jazz/pop pieces on 7 musical instruments, which previous research had identified as having strong associations with either males or females; namely flute, violin, piano, guitar, trumpet and drums. In this condition, the children were also given the name and shown an image of the instrument featured in the excerpt. In condition two, participants heard only the sound of the instrument and were neither given a name nor shown an image. Children expressed their gender association through the use of small playing cards, each featuring the cartoon image of either a boy or girl. Our results suggested that gender associations do exist in very young children, many of whom have spent a relatively short time in the education system and the presence of an image, alongside the sound of an instrument can in some instances dramatically change the gender they assign to the individual instrument.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-420
Number of pages15
JournalMusic Education Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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