Gender differences in computer- and instrumental-based musical composition

Kagari Shibazaki, Nigel Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Previous studies have argued that technology can be a major support to the music teacher enabling, amongst other things, increased student motivation, higher levels of confidence and more individualised learning to take place [Bolton, J. 2008. Technologically mediated composition learning: Josh’s story. British Journal of Music Education 25, no. 1: 41–55; Kardos, L. 2012. How music technology can make sound and music worlds accessible to student composers in further education colleges. British Journal of Music Education 29, no. 2: 143–51]. In contrast, a reasonable number of alternative voices [Conlon, T. and Simpson, M. 2003. Silicon Valley versus Silicon Glen: The impact of computers upon teaching and learning: A comparative study. British Journal of Educational Technology 34, no. 2: 137–50; Convery, A. 2009. The pedagogy of the impressed: How teachers become victims of technological vision. Teachers and Teaching 15, no. 1: 25–41; Treadway, M. 2001. Making a difference? An investigation into the relationship between ICT use and standards in secondary schools. Cowbridge: Fischer Family Trust] have also argued against the claims made for the effectiveness of technology in enhancing the learning process. More specifically, recent work by Armstrong [Armstrong, V. 2008. Hard bargaining on the hard drive: Gender bias in the music technology classroom. Gender and Education 20, no. 4: 375–86; Armstrong, V. 2011. Technology and the gendering of music education. Aldershot: Ashgate] has explored issues of technology and music education in relation to gender, suggesting that the construction of gendered meanings associated with digital technologies is having a major effect on pupils’ attitudes and thus ultimately, on their level of achievement in areas such as musical composition. However, there is relatively little research on how primary-aged boys and girls relate to technology as a composing tool and how they experience this compared with using more traditional instruments to compose. More specifically, very little research has been carried out into the extent to which boys and girls differ in their attitudes towards using technology as a composing tool.

Purpose: This small-scale, exploratory study had two main aims. The first aim was to investigate whether any gender differences existed between the attitudes of boys and girls towards the use of computers in creating musical compositions. The second aim was to compare their attitudes between composing with instruments and composing with computers.

Sample: Our study was based in England and involved class groups of 10–11-year-old pupils in three state primary schools; a total of 63 children were involved in creating short musical compositions over a two-week period. Forty-three of them were interviewed about their experiences.

Methods: Our method involved children composing two pieces of music on the same theme. In the first lesson, they composed a piece using a musical notation software package on a computer whilst in the second lesson they composed a piece on the same theme using percussion instruments. Forty-three children (22 pairs of children) were subsequently interviewed about their attitudes towards composing with computers and with percussion instruments.

Findings and discussion: Our findings suggested that children could appreciate both the advantages and disadvantages of using computers to compose musical pieces and a number of differences existed between boys and girls in terms of their attitudes and the way in which they composed their pieces. The findings also suggested that differences might exist in the way in which boys and girls integrated previous musical knowledge, skill and teaching into the compositional process as well as affecting their levels of motivation, confidence and self-esteem in gender-specific ways.

Conclusions: This small and exploratory study suggests that variations do exist in children’s approaches to computer-based musical composition activities and that attitudes do appear to vary as a function of gender.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-360
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2013


  • ICT
  • music education
  • gender differences
  • musical composition

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