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About Ethnomusicology
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Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its social and cultural contexts. Ethnomusicologists examine music as a social process in order to understand not only what music is but what it means to its practitioners and audiences.

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

1) Employing a global perspective on music (encompassing all places of origin and genres).

2) Understanding music as social practice (viewing music as a human activity that is interrelated with its social and cultural contexts).

3) Engaging in ethnographic fieldwork (observing and participating in music-making, frequently gaining facility as a performer or theorist), and historical research.

Ethnomusicologists work in a variety of spheres. As researchers, they study music from any part of the world and investigate its connections to diverse elements of social life and culture. 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, theory and methods).

Ethnomusicologists are also active in public and applied work. Partnering with the music communities that they study, ethnomusicologists may document and promote music traditions or participate in projects that involve cultural policy, education, conflict resolution, health, environmental sustainability, arts programming, or advocacy on behalf of musicians. Ethnomusicologists often work with museums, archives, arts-presenting organizations, media companies, and other institutions that promote the appreciation and understanding of the world’s musics.


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

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