Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for a link to a Times Online article I’d otherwise have missed concerning Leonard Sax‘s book Boys Adrift: The Five Factors* Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young MenThis is a massive field and one upon which I do not feel qualified authoritatively to comment. However, one claim in the article (not indicated as being a direct quote from the book) stopped me in my tracks and that was that boys do not hear as well as girls. My initial reaction was one of disbelief as my my experience of the playing by ear vs. playing from written music divide suggests that boys massively outnumber girls in preferring the former. There are side-effects: their reading suffers, but their memory improves. For a while the feeling of incongruity was ameliorated by the realisation that there is a world of difference between simply having a musical ear and being disposed to listening to instructions in class. However, the more I thought about this, the more omnipresent listening skills appeared to be:
- part of the selection process for instrumental instruction involves a multiple choice listening test
- much further down the line, Listening forms 1/3 of SQA Music courses and exams
- all external exam bodies include some kind of aural testing
- ensemble skills rely on a mixture of reading and taking cues through listening to the other parts
- although written parts convey expressive ideas, many decisions are arrived in rehearsal without further writing – the participants simply listen and remember
Instrumental instruction requires such a level of listening that, were that statement in the article to be true, girls would simply outnumber boys when it comes to lasting the course. I looked at the statistics for the five schools in my orbit and compiled the following:
Primary School 1 Boys 8.7% Girls 91.3%
Primary School 2 Boys 50% Girls 50%
Secondary School 1 Boys 62.5% Girls 37.5%
Secondary School 2 Boys 47.5% Girls 52.5%
Secondary School 3 Boys 50% Girls 50%
N.B. No pupil was sawn into fractions in the compiling of these statistics. If anyone can advise me on how to insert a table into WordPress, I’d be very gratful.
I’d be very interested to see a breakdown of statistics for other instruments taught by either gender. It should be borne in mind that other factors come into play e.g. which instruments have been taught in feeder primaries and how many musicians of either gender are already in the system when they arrive in secondary school, where the full compliment is on offer.
* Dr. Sax lists the The Five Factors Driving the Decline of Boys as:
Video Games. Studies show that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits.
Teaching Methods. Profound changes in the way children are educated have had the unintended consequence of turning many boys off school.
Prescription Drugs. Overuse of medication for ADHD may be causing irreversible damage to the motivational centers in boys’ brains.
Endocrine Disruptors. Environmental estrogens from plastic bottles and food sources may be lowering boys’ testosterone levels, making their bones more brittle and throwing their endocrine systems out of whack.
Devaluation of Masculinity. Shifts in popular culture have transformed the role models of manhood. Forty years ago we had Father Knows Best; today we have The Simpsons.