Brass Bodies

This research seeks to describe and understand the experiences of women musicians who play a brass instrument (trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium and tuba), exploring how changes in female physiology--whether it is considered a normal life event or unanticipated trauma--affects how a female brass musician maintains a career.

Data from this study will contribute to the occupational care of female brass players, while serving a university initiative to cultivate health and wellness through innovative research and teaching. The data is also expected to generate hypotheses for future studies into preventative and rehabilitative care for female musicians, offering best practices for female brass musicians responding to life cycle changes or unanticipated physical trauma (injury, assault, illness).

The survey has closed, and we are not accepting new submissions at this time.

Study update

The survey phase has ended, and the investigators have published selected data from the survey in the Societies journal. A forthcoming article of additional survey data will be published in Fall 2019 in the journal for the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors.

Four women playing French horns

Women brass players are both an underrepresented and under-researched group in music. Conventional practices in music teaching and performances are based on male physiology, which is significantly different from female physiology. Gendered bias in the music industry reinforces the idea that women are physically deficient and must “overcome” inherent limitations to play a brass instrument.

Despite assumptions of their inherent weaknesses, the number of female brass players in professional and avocational ensembles is substantial. And yet, female physical development differs from their male counterparts through unique experiences, ranging from menstruation to illnesses like breast cancer, and the gendered workplace of brass sections often creates stress that manifests in physical symptoms. 

Eligible participants in the Brass Bodies study must meet the following criteria:

  • Must identify as female
  • At least 21 years of age
  • Play a brass musical instrument either as a livelihood or significant hobby

Data for the Brass Bodies study will be collected through an online survey and optional telephone interview. THE SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED.  

500 participants completed the anonymous online survey. The online survey asked questions regarding the effects of female life cycle events, as well as other experiences like injury, illness and mental health issues, on brass playing. The survey polled socio-cultural demographic information, specifically gendered and racial bias as well as relationship status.

Participants who completed the online survey were invited to provide additional information about their experiences in an optional telephone interview. The investigators are currently scheduling telephone interviews, from a randomized selection process, to be conducted throughout spring 2019 Contact information (name, telephone number) to conduct the interviews will be destroyed immediately after the interview, and all identifying information in the data will be omitted.  

Participants who volunteered for a telephone interview but were not selected will have the opportunity to contribute information through an anonymous written forum, to be administered at a later date

Sarah Schmalenberger, PhD - Music (Principal Investigator)

Dr. Schmalenberger is an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas, teaching courses in music history and culture as well as applied studio french horn. Her research has produced presentations, journal articles and chapters on topics ranging from African American women musicians in concert music, Frank Zappa, and the occupational health of women musicians treated for breast cancer. An active freelance musician, Dr. Schmalenberger especially promotes female musicians and female jazz musicians through annual BrassChix forums and the creation of the Swing Sisterhood Big Band.

More information about Dr. Schmalenberger's work can be found at

Patricia L. Maddox, PhD - Sociology

Dr. Maddox is an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas and focuses her research interests on underrepresented populations, youth and families. She recently explored a Midwestern restorative justice program for first time youth offenders to understand how youth view punishment. Currently she is interested in studying family support systems, as well as the concerns of population groups that experience discriminatory treatment.