Women entering male-dominated field

When Brittany Frompovich was in high school, she wanted to learn how to play the electric guitar. At the time, her best friend--a guy--played and she wanted to be just as good, she said.

So a 15-year-old Frompovich bought a $50 electric guitar from a yard sale, and her best friend taught her.

But when she later asked him if she could join his rock band, he told her: "Rock 'n' roll is not something a girl should play."

The now 31-year-old Fredericksburg resident spends her time performing and teaching--male and female students--at Picker's Supply on Caroline Street.

Her advice to young women interested in rock 'n' roll: Don't give up.

"Don't look at yourself as a man or woman but as a musician, and be the best you can be," said Frompovich, who teaches guitar, cello and string bass.

For years, men have dominated the rock music industry. They were the ones strumming the guitar or banging the drums, while women admired them from a distance. Until now.

Female music artists such as Lita Ford, PJ Harvey, Melissa Etheridge, Ani Difranco and Liz Phair have made their way through the industry over the years. They also have inspired girls to pick up a guitar or drumsticks and rock on.

Heather Brown said Difranco is her role model, and she is trying to follow her lead.

"She is very female-oriented," Brown said. "She talks about having confidence in yourself, and that's very motivating."

The 20-year-old Fredericksburg resident takes guitar lessons from Kathy Horner at Apple Music on Princess Anne Street.

"Women have been popular in all forms of music throughout the world, except in the pop culture in the West," said Joe Kane, general manager at Bang Music on Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.

About 50 of the store's 175 students are women who are learning the guitar and drums, he said.

The independent music market helped women break into the scene, Kane said. Women such as Joan Jett worked through the post-punk-rock period in the 1980s like Courtney Love did in the grunge era in the 1990s. All-girl bands like the Bangles and the Go-Go's also were popular.

With the help of the Internet, many women, such as Difranco, were able to affordably produce, record and release albums without the support of a major label company, he said.

"You can't tell half of the human race that you can't be involved in the rock world," Kane said.

Women Who Rock

Before there were Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne, there was Lisa Brown of Fredericksburg.

Brown, who now goes by her married name, Lisa Lim, started playing classical piano when she was 7 years old, but she said she always had a desire to play the guitar.

"My mom has pictures of me at 3 or 4 years old with a toy guitar for kids," she said.

She began playing guitar at age 10.

Her piano instructor eventually told her she had to choose one instrument. So she dropped the piano and never looked back.

Since she knew no girls who played guitar at the time, Lim said she played with guys, who treated her like a sister.

After graduating from Stafford High School, Lim played with several all-girl bands, including one called the East Coast Crew.

One night while performing at a bar in Orange County, Lim said, her band's lead vocalist was punched in the face by one of the men in the audience because he couldn't accept females playing hard rock.

Lim now spends her time teaching guitar and piano at Picker's.

"As a guitar instructor, I noticed more female students coming in with an electric guitar and saying, 'I want to play, and I want to be the lead guitar player,'" she said. "It reminds me of when I was young."

But teaching men seemed to be a real obstacle, she said.

Some men couldn't accept a woman instructor. They were conditioned to believe that only men could play and teach the instrument.

Lim said there were times when she felt like she was auditioning for them instead of the other way around.

James Fore, one of Lim's students, said he isn't surprised.

The 40-year-old Culpeper resident said because rock music is the oldest standing boys club around, it never occurred to him before that a woman would teach him guitar.

Out of the four guitar teachers he's had so far, Lim is the first woman and by far the best, he said.

"I've had teachers show me how good they are or make me memorize songs," Fore said. "But Lisa is concerned with teaching you how to play."

Drummer girl

Breaking through the barriers is one reason why Mandy Brown started playing the drums two years ago.

The 16-year-old Fredericksburg resident said she first became interested in the instrument through her sister's boyfriend, who is in his school's drum line.

Once she realized that not many girls play drums, Brown said, she traded the flute and piano for the drums.

She is now the only female player in the four-member local band Afterburn.

"They don't care about me being a girl, just as long as I can play," she said of fellow band members.

But being a drummer girl has its drawbacks, she said.

Sales clerks at music stores don't give her as much attention as they would male customers, and she has lost gigs once people learn she's a girl.

Brown said she doesn't let it bother her.

"From the beginning, it's been a man's world," she said. "Why not persevere now? There's no point in holding back."

Changing the business

Pete Mealy, manager at Picker's Supply, said some guitar companies have changed their advertising to focus on the new market.

"I don't know if the companies are responding to this market or if they've created it," he said. "But ads were normally the guy playing [guitar or drums] and his doting girlfriend standing by him."

Taylor Guitars is now running more ads of women as students as opposed to the young, sexy, half-naked woman next to the guy guitarist.

The National Association of Music Merchants is also working to reach and connect with women customers.

In its publication "Playback," the association, based in Carlsbad, Calif., recently published a guide for store owners to make their stores more female friendly. Looking around the store for displays that might offend a woman or hiring and promoting more women are among the suggestions.

"We've noticed the growing trend of women customers, and we want to connect with them," said Scott Robertson, spokesman for the National Association of Music Merchants.

There also are more magazines like Women Who Rock and Web sites such as lady6string.com and drummergirl.com available to women. It's helpful for those who are interested in the instruments or want to form networks with other female musicians, Frompovich said.

"It's nice to talk or work with other women," she said. "You can share your stories."

To reach JESSICA ALLEN: 540/368-5036 jiallen@freelancestar.com

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