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What is Ethnomusicology?
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Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its cultural context. Ethnomusicologists approach music as a social process in order to understand not only what music is but why it is: what music means to its practitioners and audiences, and how those meanings are conveyed.

Ethnomusicology is highly interdisciplinary. Individuals working in the field may have training in music, cultural anthropology, folklore, performance studies, dance, cultural studies, gender studies, race or ethnic studies, area studies, or other fields in the humanities and social sciences. Yet all ethnomusicologists share a coherent foundation in the following approaches and methods:

1) Taking a global approach to music (regardless of area of origin, style, or genre).

2) Understanding music as social practice (viewing music as a human activity that is shaped by its cultural context).

3) Engaging in ethnographic fieldwork (participating in and observing the music being studied, frequently gaining facility in another music tradition as a performer or theorist), and historical research.

Ethnomusicologists are active in a variety of spheres. As researchers, they study music from any part of the world and investigate its connections to all elements of social life. As educators, they teach courses in musics of the world, popular music, the cultural study of music, and a range of more specialized classes (e.g., sacred music traditions, music and politics, disciplinary approaches and methods). Ethnomusicologists also play a role in public culture. Partnering with the music communities that they study, ethnomusicologists may promote and document music traditions or participate in projects that involve cultural policy, conflict resolution, medicine, arts programming, or community music. Ethnomusicologists may work with museums, cultural festivals, recording labels, and other institutions that promote the appreciation of the world’s musics.

For a partial list of international programs in ethnomusicology in higher education, visit our Guide to Programs in Ethnomusicology.

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