Masculine Harps and Feminine Horns: Timbre and Pitch Level Influence Gender Ratings of Musical Instruments

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Sara Incera ORCID iD icon



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We examined whether timbre (instrument), pitch level, or both influence gender ratings of musical instruments. According to previous research, a variety of musical instruments are categorized or rated as masculine, neutral, or feminine in a relatively consistent way. Gender associations to musical instruments have been rather reliable across time and across participant populations. We investigated the gender ratings of nine musical instruments (three masculine, three neutral, and three feminine) each heard at low, medium, and high pitch levels within the playable range of each instrument. Both timbre and pitch level influenced participants’ gender ratings. The effect of timbre is consistent with results of previous studies, further demonstrating that participants rate instruments fairly consistently. One novel finding is that pitch level also played a role in participants’ gender ratings. The ratings of all instruments heard in low pitch levels were shifted in the masculine direction, and the ratings of all instruments heard in high pitch levels were shifted in the feminine direction. These results provide evidence for the notion that participants are influenced by associations to both timbre and pitch level when rating musical instruments on gender.

Journal Title

Psychology of Music