Gender in bands

It doesn’t really surprise me when I see this in Christian churches, but the phenomenon also spills out into secular society as well, and that does surprise me. I’ve seen a lot of bands with a woman lead singer who sings and plays no instrument (except maybe a tamborine) supported by men playing bass, guitar, and drums. This gender dynamic is odd.

Of course, there’s nothing terrible about being the lead singer. I don’t want to make it sound as if that’s an example of gender oppression, to be in the spotlight, but why aren’t there more women guitarists, bassists, and drummers? I know they exist. I’ve seen them before—just not in great numbers.

When my wife and I saw Sara Bareilles in concert, the opening act was a band called Raining Jane. They weren’t bad. They weren’t amazing. But she and I both agreed that it was pretty cool to see an all-female band—vocals, sitar, guitars, drums, bass. I also saw only once an all-female worship team at a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts (don’t know if they’re still there). Doubt I’ll ever see that again.

I wonder what the sociological factors are that go into band gender dynamics. If women do play instruments, they’re far more likely, it seems, to play piano and rhythm guitar than solo guitar, bass, or drums. Is there something deemed by the women themselves (or by society discouraging women) supposedly unfeminine about these instruments?

A while ago, I went with two women to see the documentary Girls Rock, about a one-week rock camp for girls. The girls didn’t have to have any previous musical experience, but within the course of one week, they all formed bands, wrote songs, practiced, learned instruments, and gave final performances. Even though there is some musicianship involved in the camp, a one-week camp can’t really train you that much on playing instruments well. A lot of the camp has to do with self-confidence and self-expression. Both women I saw it with loved the film and found it empowering. Neither particularly wanted to follow up by forming a band or learning guitar (or bass or drums) themselves, though.

I’m curious as to what other people’s experiences have been around bands and gender. If you’re a man, do you feel any particular affinity toward guitars, drums, or basses? If you’re a woman, do you feel any particular affinity toward singing, piano, and guitar? What messages of encouragement or discouragement in the realm of instrument-learning and musicality have you experienced?


  1. Hanzel und Gretel spring to mind, lead singer who plays guitar

    In the genre of music I listen to (metal) I find the ratio of lead singers playing an instrument less than female lead singers all together.

    A quick look at some bands,

    Lamb of God: lead singer male
    American Head Charge: lead singer male
    Arch Enemy: lead singer female
    Ektomorf: lead singer male + plays guitar
    Fear Factory: lead singer male
    Napalm Death: lead singer male
    Otep: lead singer female
    Opeth: lead singer male + plays guitar
    Pantera: lead singer male
    Rob Zombie: lead singer male
    Shadows Fall: lead singer male
    Strapping young lad: lead singer male + plays guitar (and on some albums every instrument!)

    The amount of girls playing instruments in the bands goes something like this:

    That’s a 0.. but then we have to go down further and look at how many girls are into metal to begin with.. and compare it to how many are into crappy pop music..

  2. I’m into crappy pop music, but I think this gender divide (with few exceptions) seems to transcend genre. In L7, I believe it’s all women who play the instruments. But then again they all sing, too.

    I’ve seen many bands in which the guys play all the instruments and write all or most of the music, and the girl sings.

    Rarely have I seen a band in which the girls play all the instruments and write all or most of the music, and the guy sings.

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