bristol ozturgut


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Is there something inherently masculine about playing an instrument?

I was listening to Artie Shaw's "Stardust" and realized the rich timbre of the lead trumpet was the same as any heart-on-sleeve singers.

So then I was made curious by the feminine - vulnerable, sensual - characteristic of the trumpet. How is that men can afford to be so expressive? I wondered if male expression is made more masculine once it's removed to an instrument - tool. And then, in turn, does that say something about the instrument?

And then - hang on, the giant extrapolation - is there perhaps an inherently-masculine nature of tool-based skills?

  • Dec 18 2012: There is something inherently powerful.
    Men like power, but so too, do ladies.
    There is something overwhelmingly beautiful, fulfilling, wonderful, and mysterious about playing an instrument.
    There is something inherently empowering, freeing and communicative, that transcends the world in which we live.
    There is something inherently hilarious and deeply joyful about playing an instrument.
    But, inherently masculine? Yes and no.
    InHERently feminine? Yes and no.
    Inherently complete? Yes
    Inherently otherworldly? Yes
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    Dec 14 2012: I hope, Bristol, that an anthropologist here will chime in, as I fear first reactions will tend to be culture bound. Both men and women have a long history of using "tools," though men more likely those that are heavy and need lifting.

    I also wonder at the real differences in expressiveness between genders ("how is it that men can afford to be so expressive?"). I am not sure I would call either gender more expressive. Rather, I would call them differently expressive. There might, for example, be a difference in how immediately expressive women and men are to people they do not know well, but this may only be cultural.
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      Dec 14 2012: Different cultures have different standards and justifications for said standards. Our environment and social relationships impact our ways of thinking. Studies in neuroscience have found that males and females do think differently. It is not that far of a stretch to propose that that extends to the realm of music, perception and production. Along with cultural standards and genderization, one can conclude that there are certain things that are considered masculine or not, and that depends on the culture from which the person comes.
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      Dec 15 2012: Oh it will definitely be an answer of culture - an anthropologist applies the data to human behavior.

      I'd also qualify my statement a little more. I wouldn't say either one is more expressive, either. That is... a poor phrasing. Rather, perhaps men can express differently through an instrument. Perhaps, by filtering that expression, males are able to shed something associated with vocalizing without sacrificing quality of expression.

      OOOH! I just thought of something: what if males choose such "pretty" instruments like the clarinet and soprano sax in order to achieve a female timbre - higher in range, etc? Maybe it's not about rejecting an aspect but actually adopting one?
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    Jan 10 2013: If one can characterise playing an instrument as masculine - it is due to social constructions.

    There is a dynamic between the genders that one has to look at in order to understand it. A lot of human choices are influenced by our attractiveness towards the opposite sex. It is an dominant factor in how we measure social success.

    Sadly females are taught from an early age that their skills, achievements or intelligence aren't important in this context - it is even perceived as a disadvantage. Their social success is influenced by their appearance. They are even taught that intelligence is a disadvantage. I don't know about you, but I've met a lot of women who've admitted to "dumbing down" in situations involving the opposite sex.

    Boys however learn quickly that skills is a way to gain social acceptance and attract the attention of the opposite sex.

    What I'm describing is not absolutes; it is tendencies that are subject to a statistical spread, which is why you can find examples of the opposite as well. But it explains the disproportion.

    Why can't men "afford" to be expressive? By dividing genders into these boxes you reinforce these social structures and the result is that we limit ourselves to fit into them.

    Being vulnerable or mastering the guitar isn't inherent to just one gender – it is human.
    • Jan 12 2013: Faisel,
      Perhaps the women you have met are from a certain small section of society? No woman I have met has ever said they have 'dumbed down' in situations with the opposite sex. Then again, my contemporaries have all been to university and have careers, maybe you should broaden your horizons a bit?

      You have just reinforced an outdated stereotype. The idea that men can't be expressive and woman can't be strong is very sexist.
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        Jan 13 2013: Hi (Hej?) Mette

        I think you have completely misunderstood my comment. This is the first time in my life, I have ever been called sexist. I find it hurtful, because it is in complete opposition to my views.

        Have you read the original question by Bristol? I think that Bristol is asking a question that in its nature reinforces the destructive (sexist) social constructs, that I was was trying to address.

        I don't believe that any knowledge, interest or capability is inherent to any particular gender. The reason why we see a disproportion in the amount of male instrumentalists is due to social structures - structures that I do not in anyway agree with.

        When I talk about women "dumbing down", I present it as a tendency in imperial knowledge that I have obtained throughout my life. Do I condone this? No - not at all. On the contrary, I see this as a major problem! The fact that you haven't come across this, I interpret as good news; but sadly it is probably limited to the small section of society that you interact with - your contemporaries at university.

        I hope that i have made my point more clear. If not, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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    Dec 23 2012: bristol, I still may be off on what your question is. I keep thinking about rock because it is a music I know. It seems like when women have played in a rock band, it's usually as the vocalist.

    I can think of a few reasons why this might be. For one, the audience's eyes are mostly on the singer, so you want the singer to be attractive physically, to look nice. And women look nice, so being vocalist would work for them.

    Also, women have attractive physical voices, sweet and light. Thus being vocalist would be good for them.

    Probably you want your singer to be good at expressing emotion, and women traditionally have been good with feelings. So this is another reason they would make good vocalists.

    Fourthly, you want your singer to have sex appeal, and traditionally women are thought of as having this.

    All these factors would be at play in jazz, I would think, as well. When I think about jazz, I ask myself why jazz is so often played just with instruments and no vocals, which is quite different from rock. Well, one reason is that jazz emphasizes improvisation more than rock, and improvisation is generally something you do on an instrument and not so much vocally.

    Any of this helpful? Sorry, I don't think I'll listen to "Stardust." I tend to like the excitement of rock, so those old ballads move too slowly for me. Also, you're talking about an instrumental version of "Stardust," right?, and I tend to like music with vocals.
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    Dec 17 2012: Maybe men have all this expressiveness bottled up, because it is not seen as 'manly' to let it go in any other form but through music and art.

    It could be that music or art gives men the outlet - permission even - to express emotion while still remaining masculine. And I think you're probably right, that men can play vulnerable, sensual music or create art in the safe knowledge that it is the instrument - or the artwork - doing the 'emoting', rather than he himself.
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    Dec 16 2012: Hmm. I wonder if other people would agree that "Stardust" sounds feminine. Before you make the assertion that it does, maybe check your perception with your family and friends, play the song for them and see if they agree.

    What music are you thinking of where most of the vocalists are female? Because the vocalists that I know in rock are overwhelmingly male, Jagger, Lennon, etc. If you're thinking about jazz, maybe the question could become what is it about jazz that most of the vocalists are female? It's hard for me to comment because I haven't listened to much jazz with singers in it, mostly just instrumental jazz. Though there are famous male jazz singers, like Sinatra and Bennett.
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      Dec 23 2012: Good idea! I'll ask people what Stardust sounds like to them. Go listen to Stardust everyone!

      Someone further down in the conversation helped me refine my question: why are there generally more male instrumentalists than there are women in jazz?
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    Dec 16 2012: Thank you for your interesting in my relying.
    Please open the top first article “10,000 Years Ago Norm 幸福万标”, First Part English.

    Good luck!
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    Dec 15 2012: Oh man... constructing the perfect question probably takes quite a while. "How is that men can afford to be so expressive" should be reworded to ask something along the lines of "why are there are far more male jazz instrumentalists than female?" and then add to it that I just generally notice that in the genre singers tend to be ladies. In fact, when I think of all genres, women tend to dominate the vocal aspect (not to say there are definitely exceptions). But they *seem* to lead the vocal world.

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      Dec 15 2012: Do females actually lead the vocal world?

      I can think of a couple of hypotheses about jazz instrumentals that might explain more male involvement. One is that some of the instruments are heavy or long- some saxophones, trombone, bass... even while playing them. (Harp is heavy to move, as is piano, but once they are in place, strength are not at issue, so those orchestral instruments wouldn't favor strength and size).

      Another feature of jazz is that the form requires lots of improvisation in front of an audience. Could that feature draw more male interest?
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        Dec 15 2012: Then perhaps "why do males lead the instrumental world" is a more accurate question. I don't think weight can be a significant reason. While men are just plain stronger, the strength and endurance necessary to play an instrument is low enough for women to comfortably play.

        I am really intrigued by the improvisation in front of the audience. That seems the most significant cause. Then what does that say about the male ego?
        • Dec 15 2012: Velvet Brown plays the tuba better than most male players. Size and/or gender have nothing to do with playing an instrument. In fact, your assumptions as to which instrument is more difficult to play are probably wrong. Easiest---tuba, hardest---F Horn, most aggravating---oboe. Flute (most often played by women) is actually one of the more difficult instruments to master
          I think (without much evidence) is that there are gender implied roles that are impressed upon children very early in life (before grade 5 or 6). I have seen research done on this with respect to math and computer usage and I suspect that it blends to other disciplines like music as well.
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        Dec 15 2012: I am really excited by that! The more I think on it, the more "no-duh" it seems.

        Improvisation is an illustration of skill. Perhaps males are drawn to the public praise associated with improvisation, indeed! There are elements of competition in that, something females tend to not involve themselves in (generally). [Speaking from personal experience, not to perpetuate sexist stereotypes.]
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          Dec 15 2012: I actually do think it is harder for a small person to handle a large brass instrument.

          There is a dimension of improvisation other than acknowledgement for skill. I am certain I have read research to the effect that among adolescents, which would be a prime age for studying music, girls are more inclined than boys to avoid making mistakes in public and boys are more inclined to risk-taking. Regrettably I do not have the reference at hand, but this is something I recall from my teacher training not as speculation but rather as a research-supported finding.
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        Dec 15 2012: Oh! Huh. Hmmmmmm... Then if it comes to this, why are girls not risk takers? Is this a social thing, something related to a biological instinct, or something else entirely?
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          Dec 16 2012: I could imagine both arguments for this observed behavior.
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    Dec 14 2012: Yes!
    It is inherently.
    Also, it is not only about playing an instrument but also about everything owing to human ULTRA-HIGH ACCURACY.

    (For ULTRA-HIGH ACCURACY, see the 1st article, points 11, at
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      Dec 15 2012: Which document should I open to find these points?
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    Dec 14 2012: "Afford to be so expressive" was a bit of a ramble based off the understanding that most jazz artists - virtuosos - tended to be male.