A Music Theorist and Her Thoughts

The world of academia is predominantly male, and while the gap is slowly closing it is still an issue in music theory. According to the 2019 Society of Music Theory (SMT) member demographics, only 33.2% of members are women.[1] When counting graduate students, the number increases to 40.2%, and while this number is more comforting than a hair less than a third, it still is nowhere near equal.

When looking at programs for my master’s degree, I was adamant about wanting to find programs where there was at least one woman on faculty. To my dismay, I found that a lot of programs only had one woman on faculty if there were any at all. Of course, this is not the case at every institution, but when looking at graduate programs of interest, I found that to be the case.

While it may not seem like a large issue that there are not many music theory professors who are women,[2] it does in fact matter to those wanting to pursue a career in the field because it is important for students to feel represented by authoritative figures. Historically, this field has been dominated by men and that is reflected in the material I have studied. I have two classes that were dedicated to a music theory devised by a person, Schenker and Schoenberg, both of whom are men. In other classes, most readings assigned were written by men even though there are and have been plenty of relevant articles by women relating to the subject matter in class. When I do read articles by women in classes, they tend to be mainly pedagogical articles and not ones strictly on music theory.

Looking at these numbers and the disproportionate number of male-centric academic literature it is easy to become discouraged with my future career when I rarely see people like myself writing papers, being mentors, and receiving recognition. However, that also reminds me why I am entering the field of music theory: to create an environment where all people feel like their voice can be heard and to teach with a feminist, antiracist pedagogy. There is endless opportunity to improve and based on my experience at the virtual SMT conference, many music theorists are not only open to changing power structures in place but are actively moving towards it.

I am allowing myself to be hopeful because of the countless women who have already laid foundations that are moving towards equity and the number of womxn in the field is growing. I see the work that women are contributing to the future scholars of music theory which pushes towards feminist and antiracist methods.

Although I am hopeful, it is important that we continue to keep driving the needle forward. It is too easy to make a small amount of progress and congratulate yourself for putting in some effort. We – those within and outside music theory – must be diligent in providing womxn spaces for their academic work. That can be done in various ways:

  • Making sure to cite women in bibliographies.

  • Including academic works by women in the classroom whether they are articles, book chapters, or textbooks.

  • Sharing academic work by women to colleagues.

  • Follow them on social media! This last one may seem silly, but many academics now have Twitters and it is a great way to find out about their academic projects.


[1] While SMT member demographics are not fully representative of the breakdown of all music theorists, it does encompass a large number.

[2] SMT member demographics are: 24.6% of full professors, 28.0% associate professors and 38.3% assistant professors

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