Sex, gender and singing development: Making a positive difference to boys’ singing through a national programme in England

Graham F. Welch, Jo Saunders, Ioulia Papageorgi, Evangelos Himonides

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The chapter reports evidence to suggest that children’s singing is characterised by both sex and gender differences. Sex differences are evidenced in the relative size of the vocal anatomy and physiology, with boys tending to have slightly larger vocal instruments compared to girls throughout childhood. Gender differences are evidenced in the ways that such sex differences are reflected in the socio-cultural shaping of children’s developing vocal behaviours over time. Girls tend to be relatively more accomplished in their singing than boys at an earlier age in Western cultures, but there are also diverse cultural examples (such as in the UK, Afghanistan and South Africa) where there are strong traditions of accomplished boys’ singing. For both sexes, highly skilled singing is more likely to be evidenced where selected children participate in an extensive programme of singing development, such as offered by the Cathedral choirs in the UK since the first millennium. Within the chapter, gender similarities and differences are illustrated by data from three longitudinal studies, one in Italy and two in England, including an ongoing evaluation of the English National Singing Programme Sing Up. In the latter study, data analyses based on the sung products of approximately 10,000 individual children indicate that those with successful experience of the programme - both girls and boys - tend to be significantly more developed in their singing competency than those outside the programme. However, gender differences persist in both groups in favour of girls, although these are mediated by age and experience. When questioned about their attitudes to singing, clear gender differences also emerged, with girls tending to be more positive than boys, although again with age as a mediating factor, with younger children of both sexes generally more positive than older children. Nevertheless, the potential benefit of appropriate educational experience in addressing these general trends is evidenced by examples of individual schools where boys are at least as successful as their female peers, and demonstrate equally positive attitudes to singing.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on Males and Singing
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789400726604
ISBN (Print)9789400726598
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • Cathedral choirs
  • Cultures
  • England
  • Gender
  • Italy
  • Vocal anatomy


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