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
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.