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Musicology (from Greek μουσικήmousikē 'music' and -λογια-logia, 'domain of study') is the scholarly study of music. Musicology research combines and intersects with many fields, including psychology, sociology, acoustics, neurology, natural sciences, formal sciences and computer science.


Musicology is traditionally divided into three branches: music history, systematic musicology, and ethnomusicology. Historical musicologists study the history of musical traditions, the origins of works, and the biographies of composers. Ethnomusicologists draw from anthropology (particularly field research) to understand how and why people make music. Systematic musicology includes music theory, aesthetics, pedagogy, musical acoustics, the science and technology of musical instruments, and the musical implications of physiology, psychology, sociology, philosophy and computing. Cognitive musicology is the set of phenomena surrounding the cognitive modeling of music. When musicologists carry out research using computers, their research often falls under the field of computational musicology. Music therapy is a specialized form of applied musicology which is sometimes considered more closely affiliated with health fields, and other times regarded as part of musicology proper.


The 19th-century philosophical trends that led to the re-establishment of formal musicology education in German and Austrian universities had combined methods of systematization with evolution. These models were established not only in the field of physical anthropology, but also cultural anthropology. This was influenced by Hegel's ideas on ordering "phenomena" from the simple to complex as the stages of evolution are classified from primitive to developed, and stages of history from ancient to modern. Comparative methods became more widespread in musicology beginning around 1880. [1]

Parent disciplines

The parent disciplines of musicology include:

Musicology also has two central, practically oriented sub-disciplines with no parent discipline: performance practice and research, and the theory, analysis and composition of music. The disciplinary neighbors of musicology address other forms of art, performance, ritual, and communication, including the history and theory of the visual and plastic arts and architecture; linguistics, literature and theater; religion and theology; and sport. Musical knowledge is applied within medicine, education and music therapy—which, effectively, are parent disciplines of applied musicology.


Historical musicology

Music history or historical musicology is concerned with the composition, performance, reception and criticism of music over time. Historical studies of music are for example concerned with a composer's life and works, the developments of styles and genres (such as baroque concertos), the social function of music for a particular group of people, (such as court music), or modes of performance at a particular place and time (such as Johann Sebastian Bach's choir in Leipzig). Like the comparable field of art history, different branches and schools of historical musicology emphasize different types of musical works and approaches to music. There are also national differences in various definitions of historical musicology. In theory, "music history" could refer to the study of the history of any type or genre of music, such as the music of India or rock music. In practice, these research topics are more often considered within ethnomusicology and "historical musicology" is typically assumed to imply Western Art music of the European tradition.

The methods of historical musicology include source studies (especially manuscript studies), palaeography, philology (especially textual criticism), style criticism, historiography (the choice of historical method), musical analysis (analysis of music to find "inner coherence") [2] and iconography. The application of musical analysis to further these goals is often a part of music history, though pure analysis or the development of new tools of music analysis is more likely to be seen in the field of music theory. Music historians create a number of written products, ranging from journal articles describing their current research, new editions of musical works, biographies of composers and other musicians, book-length studies or university textbook chapters or entire textbooks. Music historians may examine issues in a close focus, as in the case of scholars who examine the relationship between words and music for a given composer's art songs. On the other hand, some scholars take a broader view and assess the place of a given type of music, such as the symphony in society using techniques drawn from other fields, such as economics, sociology or philosophy.

New musicology

New musicology is a term applied since the late 1980s to a wide body of work emphasizing cultural study, analysis and criticism of music. Such work may be based on feminist, gender studies, queer theory or postcolonial theory, or the work of Theodor W. Adorno [ citation needed ]. Although New Musicology emerged from within historical musicology, the emphasis on cultural study within the Western art music tradition places New Musicology at the junction between historical, ethnological and sociological research in music.

New musicology was a reaction against traditional historical musicology, which according to Susan McClary, "fastidiously declares issues of musical signification off-limits to those engaged in legitimate scholarship." [3] Charles Rosen, however, retorts that McClary, "sets up, like so many of the 'new musicologists', a straw man to knock down, the dogma that music has no meaning, and no political or social significance." [4] Today, many musicologists no longer distinguish between musicology and new musicology since it has been recognized that many of the scholarly concerns once associated with new musicology already were mainstream in musicology, so that the term "new" no longer applies.


Ethnomusicology, formerly comparative musicology, is the study of music in its cultural context. It is often considered the anthropology or ethnography of music. Jeff Todd Titon has called it the study of "people making music". [5] Although it is most often concerned with the study of non-Western music, it also includes the study of Western music from an anthropological or sociological perspective, cultural studies and sociology as well as other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Some ethnomusicologists primarily conduct historical studies, [6] but the majority are involved in long-term participant observation or combine ethnographic, musicological, and historical approaches in their fieldwork. Therefore, ethnomusicological scholarship can be characterized as featuring a substantial, intensive fieldwork component, often involving long-term residence within the community studied. Closely related to ethnomusicology is the emerging branch of sociomusicology. For instance, Ko (2011) proposed the hypothesis of "Biliterate and Trimusical" in Hong Kong sociomusicology. [7]

Popular music studies, known, "misleadingly", [8] as popular musicology, emerged in the 1980s as an increasing number of musicologists, ethnomusicologists and other varieties of historians of American and European culture began to write about popular music past and present. The first journal focusing on popular music studies was Popular Music which began publication in 1981. [9] The same year an academic society solely devoted to the topic was formed, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. The association's founding was partly motivated by the interdisciplinary agenda of popular musicology though the group has been characterized by a polarized 'musicological' and 'sociological' approach also typical of popular musicology. [10]

Music theory, analysis and composition

Music theory is a field of study that describes the elements of music and includes the development and application of methods for composing and for analyzing music through both notation and, on occasion, musical sound itself. Broadly, theory may include any statement, belief or conception of or about music (Boretz, 1995)[ incomplete short citation ]. A person who studies or practices music theory is a music theorist.

Some music theorists attempt to explain the techniques composers use by establishing rules and patterns. Others model the experience of listening to or performing music. Though extremely diverse in their interests and commitments, many Western music theorists are united in their belief that the acts of composing, performing and listening to music may be explicated to a high degree of detail (this, as opposed to a conception of musical expression as fundamentally ineffable except in musical sounds). Generally, works of music theory are both descriptive and prescriptive, attempting both to define practice and to influence later practice.

Musicians study music theory to understand the structural relationships in the (nearly always notated) music. Composers study music theory to understand how to produce effects and structure their own works. Composers may study music theory to guide their precompositional and compositional decisions. Broadly speaking, music theory in the Western tradition focuses on harmony and counterpoint, and then uses these to explain large scale structure and the creation of melody.

Music psychology

Music psychology applies the content and methods of psychology to understand how music is created, perceived, responded to, and incorporated into individuals' and societies' daily lives. [11] Its primary branches include cognitive musicology, which emphasizes the use of computational models for human musical abilities and cognition, and the cognitive neuroscience of music, which studies the way that music perception and production manifests in the brain using the methodologies of cognitive neuroscience. While aspects of the field can be highly theoretical, much of modern music psychology seeks to optimize the practices and professions of music performance, composition, education and therapy. [12]

Performance practice and research

Performance practice draws on many of the tools of historical musicology to answer the specific question of how music was performed in various places at various times in the past. Although previously confined to early music, recent research in performance practice has embraced questions such as how the early history of recording affected the use of vibrato in classical music or instruments in Klezmer.

Within the rubric of musicology, performance practice tends to emphasize the collection and synthesis of evidence about how music should be performed. The important other side, learning how to sing authentically or perform a historical instrument is usually part of conservatory or other performance training. However, many top researchers in performance practice are also excellent musicians.

Music performance research (or music performance science) is strongly associated with music psychology. It aims to document and explain the psychological, physiological, sociological and cultural details of how music is actually performed (rather than how it should be performed). The approach to research tends to be systematic and empirical and to involve the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data. The findings of music performance research can often be applied in music education.

Education and careers

Music historian Jack Stewart lectures at a conference. Satchmofest07JackStewartSpeaks.jpg
Music historian Jack Stewart lectures at a conference.

Musicologists in tenure track professor positions typically hold a PhD in musicology. In the 1960s and 1970s, some musicologists obtained professor positions with an MA as their highest degree, but in the 2010s, the PhD is the standard minimum credential for tenure track professor positions. As part of their initial training, musicologists typically complete a BMus or a BA in music (or a related field such as history) and in many cases an MA in musicology. Some individuals apply directly from a bachelor's degree to a PhD, and in these cases, they may not receive an MA. In the 2010s, given the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of university graduate programs, some applicants for musicology PhD programs may have academic training both in music and outside of music (e.g., a student may apply with a BMus and an MA in psychology). In music education, individuals may hold an M.Ed and an Ed.D.

Most musicologists work as instructors, lecturers or professors in colleges, [universities or conservatories. The job market for tenure track professor positions is very competitive. Entry-level applicants must hold a completed PhD or the equivalent degree and applicants to more senior professor positions must have a strong record of publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Some PhD-holding musicologists are only able to find insecure positions as sessional lecturers. The job tasks of a musicologist are the same as those of a professor in any other humanities discipline: teaching undergraduate and/or graduate classes in their area of specialization and, in many cases some general courses (such as Music Appreciation or Introduction to Music History); conducting research in their area of expertise, publishing articles about their research in peer-reviewed journals, authors book chapters, books or textbooks; traveling to conferences to give talks on their research and learn about research in their field; and, if their program includes a graduate school, supervising MA and PhD students, giving them guidance on the preparation of their theses and dissertations. Some musicology professors may take on senior administrative positions in their institution, such as Dean or Chair of the School of Music.

Notable journals

Role of women

Rosetta Reitz (1924-2008) was an American jazz historian who established a record label producing 18 albums of the music of the early women of jazz and the blues. Rosetta Reitz.jpg
Rosetta Reitz (1924–2008) was an American jazz historian who established a record label producing 18 albums of the music of the early women of jazz and the blues.

The vast majority of major musicologists and music historians from past generations have been men, as in the 19th century and early 20th century; women's involvement in teaching music was mainly in elementary and secondary music teaching. [14] Nevertheless, some women musicologists have reached the top ranks of the profession. Carolyn Abbate (born 1956) is an American musicologist who did her PhD at Princeton University. She has been described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world's most accomplished and admired music historians". [15]

Susan McClary (born 1946) is a musicologist associated with new musicology who incorporates feminist music criticism in her work. McClary holds a PhD from Harvard University. One of her best known works is Feminine Endings (1991), which covers musical constructions of gender and sexuality, gendered aspects of traditional music theory, gendered sexuality in musical narrative, music as a gendered discourse and issues affecting women musicians. [16]

Other notable women scholars include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Music history, sometimes called historical musicology, is a highly diverse subfield of the broader discipline of musicology that studies music from a historical point of view. In theory, "music history" could refer to the study of the history of any type or genre of music. In practice, these research topics are often categorized as part of ethnomusicology or cultural studies, whether or not they are ethnographically based. The terms "music history" and "historical musicology" usually refer to the history of the notated music of Western elites, sometimes called "art music".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethnomusicology</span> Study of the cultural aspects of music

Ethnomusicology is the multidisciplinary study of music in its cultural context, investigating social, cognitive, biological, comparative, and other dimensions involved other than sound. Ethnomusicologists study music as a reflection of culture and investigate the act of musicking through various immersive, observational, and analytical approaches drawn from other disciplines such as anthropology to understand a culture’s music. This discipline emerged from comparative musicology, initially focusing on non-Western music, but later expanded to embrace the study of any and all different kinds of music of the world.

Susan Kaye McClary is an American musicologist associated with "new musicology". Noted for her work combining musicology with feminist music criticism, McClary is professor of musicology at Case Western Reserve University.

New musicology is a wide body of musicology since the 1980s with a focus upon the cultural study, aesthetics, criticism, and hermeneutics of music. It began in part a reaction against the traditional positivist musicology—focused on primary research—of the early 20th century and postwar era. Many of the procedures of new musicology are considered standard, although the name more often refers to the historical turn rather than to any single set of ideas or principles. Indeed, although it was notably influenced by feminism, gender studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, and critical theory, new musicology has primarily been characterized by a wide-ranging eclecticism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American Musicological Society</span> American music research organization

The American Musicological Society (AMS) is a musicological organization which researches, promotes and produces publications on music. Founded in 1934, the AMS was begun by leading American musicologists of the time, and was crucial in legitimizing musicology as a scholarly discipline.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Taruskin</span> American musicologist and critic (1945–2022)

Richard Filler Taruskin was an American musicologist and music critic who was among the leading and most prominent music historians of his generation. The breadth of his scrutiny into source material as well as musical analysis that combines sociological, cultural, and political perspectives has incited much discussion, debate and controversy. He regularly wrote music criticism for newspapers including The New York Times. He researched a wide variety of areas, but a central topic was Russian music from the 18th century to the present day. Other subjects he engaged with include the theory of performance, 15th-century music, 20th-century classical music, nationalism in music, the theory of modernism, and analysis. He is best known for his monumental survey of Western classical music, the six-volume Oxford History of Western Music. His awards include the first Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society in 1978 and the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in 2017.

The Society for Ethnomusicology is, with the International Council for Traditional Music and the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, one of three major international associations for ethnomusicology. Its mission is "to promote the research, study, and performance of music in all historical periods and cultural contexts."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sociomusicology</span> Academic subfield of sociology and musicology

Sociomusicology, also called music sociology or the sociology of music, refers to both an academic subfield of sociology that is concerned with music, as well as a subfield of musicology that focuses on social aspects of musical behavior and the role of music in society.

Systematic musicology is an umbrella term, used mainly in Central Europe, for several subdisciplines and paradigms of musicology. "Systematic musicology has traditionally been conceived of as an interdisciplinary science, whose aim it is to explore the foundations of music from different points of view, such as acoustics, physiology, psychology, anthropology, music theory, sociology, and aesthetics." The most important subdisciplines today are music psychology, sociomusicology, philosophy of music, music acoustics, cognitive neuroscience of music, and the computer sciences of music. These subdisciplines and paradigms tend to address questions about music in general, rather than specific manifestations of music. In the Springer Handbook of Systematic Musicology, "(the) sections follow the main topics in the field, Musical Acoustics, Signal Processing, Music Psychology, Psychophysics/Psychoacoustics, and Music Ethnology while also taking recent research trends into consideration, like Embodied Music Cognition and Media Applications. Other topics, like Music Theory or Philosophy of Music are incorporated in the respective sections."

Harold Stone Powers was an American musicologist, ethnomusicologist, and music theorist.

Victor Kofi Agawu is a Ghanaian musicologist and music theorist. He often publishes as V. Kofi Agawu and specializes in musical semiotics and ethnomusicology. He is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Gary Alfred Tomlinson is an American musicologist and the John Hay Whitney Professor of Music and Humanities at Yale University. He was formerly the Annenberg Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Ph.D., in 1979 with thesis titled Rinuccini, Peri, Monteverdi, and the humanist heritage of opera.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music archaeology</span> Interdisciplinary study field

Music archaeology is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines musicology and archaeology. As it includes the study of music from various cultures, it is often considered to be a subfield of ethnomusicology.

Ecomusicology is an area of study that explores the relationships between music or sound, and the natural environment. It is a study which encompasses a variety of academic disciplines including musicology, biology, ecology and anthropology. Ecomusicology combines these disciplines to explore how sound is produced by natural environments and, more broadly how cultural values and concerns about nature are expressed through sonic mediums. Ecomusicology explores the ways that music is composed to replicate natural imagery, as well as how sounds produced within the natural environment are used within musical composition. Ecological studies of sounds produced by animals within their habitat are also considered to be part of the field of ecomusicology. In the 21st century, studies within the field the ecomusicology have also become increasingly interested in the sustainability of music production and performance.

Stephen Blum is an American scholar and musician, whose research has primarily been in ethnomusicology. He has lent a multidisciplinary approach to the writing and publication of numerous articles discussing a wide range of musical topics and ideas.

David G. Hebert is a musicologist and comparative educationist, employed as Professor of Music at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, where he leads the Grieg Academy Music Education (GAME) research group. He has contributed to the fields of music education, ethnomusicology, sociomusicology, comparative education, and East Asian Studies. Since 2018, he has been manager of the Nordic Network for Music Education, a multinational state-funded organization that sponsors intensive Master courses and exchange of university music lecturers and students across Northern Europe. He is also a visiting professor in Sweden with the Malmo Academy of Music at Lund University, and an honorary professor with the Education University of Hong Kong. He has previously been sponsored by East Asian governments as a visiting research scholar with Nichibunken in Kyoto, Japan, and the Central Conservatory of Music, in Beijing, China.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Women in musicology</span>

Women in musicology describes the role of women professors, scholars and researchers in postsecondary education musicology departments at postsecondary education institutions, including universities, colleges and music conservatories. Traditionally, the vast majority of major musicologists and music historians have been men. Nevertheless, some women musicologists have reached the top ranks of the profession. Carolyn Abbate is an American musicologist who did her PhD at Princeton University. She has been described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world's most accomplished and admired music historians".

Ruth Katz is an Israeli musicologist, a pioneer of academic musicology in Israel, professor emerita at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been a corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society since 2011. She was named laureate of the Israel State Prize in 2012.

Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical approaches that emphasize cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, in addition to the sound component. While the traditional subject of musicology has been the history and literature of Western art music, ethnomusicology was developed as the study of all music as a human social and cultural phenomenon. Oskar Kolberg is regarded as one of the earliest European ethnomusicologists as he first began collecting Polish folk songs in 1839. Comparative musicology, the primary precursor to ethnomusicology, emerged in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The International Musical Society in Berlin in 1899 acted as one of the first centers for ethnomusicology. Comparative musicology and early ethnomusicology tended to focus on non-Western music, but in more recent years, the field has expanded to embrace the study of Western music from an ethnographic standpoint.


  1. Bader, Rolf (2018). Spring Handbook of Systematic Musicology. Springer. p. 40. ISBN   978-3662550045 . Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  2. Beard, David; Gloag, Kenneth (2005). Musicology: The Key Concepts. Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-31692-7.
  3. McClary, Susan (1991). Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. p. 4.
  4. Rosen, Charles (2001). "The New Musicology". Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New. Harvard University Press. p. 264. ISBN   978-0-674-00684-3. I doubt that anyone, except perhaps the nineteenth-century critic Hanslick, has ever really believed that, although some musicians have been goaded into proclaiming it by the sillier interpretations of music with which we are often assailed.
  5. Titon, Jeff Todd (January 2020). "Ethnomusicology as the Study of People Making Music". Musicological Annual. 51 (2): 175–185. doi: 10.4312/mz.51.2.175-185 . ISSN   2350-4242. S2CID   191062139.
  6. McCollum, Jonathan; Hebert, David, eds. (2014). Theory and Method in Historical Ethnomusicology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  7. Ko, C.K.S. (2011). An Analysis of Sociomusicology, Its Issues; and the Music and Society in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Ko Ka Shing. ISBN   978-9-881-58021-4. This book has been selected for inclusion in the Association for Chinese Music Research Bibliography in 2012.
  8. Moore, Allan, ed. (2003). Analyzing Popular Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN   978-0-521-77120-7. 'Popular musicology' should be read as the musicological investigation of popular music, rather than the accessible investigation of music!
  9. Popular Music - All Issues (journal), Cambridge University Press
  10. Moore 2003, p. 4.
  11. Tan, Siu-Lan; Pfordresher, Peter; Harré, Rom (2010). Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance. New York: Psychology Press. p. 2. ISBN   978-1-84169-868-7.
  12. Ockelford, Adam (2009). "Beyond music psychology". In Hallam, Susan; Cross, Ian; Thaut, Michael (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 539. ISBN   978-0-19-929845-7.
  13. Martin, Douglas. "Rosetta Reitz, Champion of Jazz Women, Dies at 84", The New York Times , 14 November 2008. Accessed 19 November 2008.
  14. Wieland Howe, Sandra (2015). "Women Music Educators in the United States: A History". GEMS (Gender, Education, Music, and Society). 8 (4). [When looking beyond bandleaders and top leaders, women had many music education roles in the] home, community, churches, public schools, and teacher-training institutions [and] as writers, patrons, and through their volunteer work in organizations.
  15. "Abbate named University Professor", The Harvard Gazette , 20 November 2013. Accessed 10 December 2014
  16. "Susan McClary". MacArthur Foundation . 1 July 1995. Retrieved 18 January 2021.

Further reading

On-line journals

A list of open-access European journals in the domains of music theory and/or analysis is available on the website of the European Network for Theory & Analysis of Music. A more complete list of open-access journals in theory and analysis can be found on the website of the Société Belge d'Analyse Musicale (in French).