Are Female Students Missing From Your Jazz Band?

by Rachel Spencer

Date Posted: December 02, 2023

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As music educators, we are responsible for creating equal representation in all of our performing ensembles. Every student deserves the opportunity to play jazz, yet so many band directors are confused as to why they often have only one or two girls in their band.

In honor of National Education in the Arts Week, here are a few tips for music educators and band leaders to allow for more female representation in their jazz programs:

1. Encourage girls from a young age to play jazz and improvise.

Allow them the same opportunities and pressure as your rising star boys and they will flourish to high school and beyond (looking at you, middle school directors!)

2. Expose them to women in jazz.

When I give my students a listening list of great players on their instrument, I make sure to include half men and half women. When young students see someone who looks like them doing something amazing, they are more likely to picture themselves doing something amazing in the future.

3. Don’t go easy on them.

Hold them to the same standards for playing as the young men in your group. Give them positive pressure and honest feedback.

4. Make them improvise and frequently play alone.

Starting in beginning band, all students need to get used to playing by themselves. The more often your band plays by themselves, the less of a big deal it is. This strategy eases the transition to improvisation based music for students of all genders.

5. When teaching improvisation, emphasize expression and melody first, notes second.

This takes away the fear factor of “playing a wrong note” and is true for all improvisers, not just young women. If your female students feel that your ensemble is a place for them to learn and express, they are more likely to join and stay in jazz band.

6. Bring in live musicians for clinics, and make sure at least half of them are women.

Be sure that every instrument is represented, not just voice.

7. Control the culture of your band.

Never tolerate bullying or sexist remarks of any sort from the boys in the band. Many girls shy away from playing jazz because their group becomes a “boys club”. It is your responsibility to educate your male students and cultivate a culture of mutual respect and inclusion.

8. Recruit talented girls from your concert band into jazz band.

Coined with the term “Confidence Gap”, many studies have shown that men tend to overestimate their ability and performance, while women underestimate both. Your female students may thrive in jazz band, they just might not join without encouragement.

9. Be joyful in your music making.

Jazz is fun, and the more fun you have teaching it the more your students will want to play it.

Rachel Spencer is a trumpet player and band director in Austin,Texas with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from Capital University and a Master of Music in Music and Human Learning from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to her band directing duties Rachel is a DCI brass instructor and a highly active member of the Jazz Education Network. She serves as the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Jazz Girls Texas, a youth development program aimed at shaping confident and well-rounded women in the music industry.

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