Early Ethnomusicology

Ethnomusicology is a division in musicology that gives special emphasis to the study of music in its cultural context.

The Anthropology of Music

While it is popularly believed that ethnomusicology is the study of non-western music, this is not the case, many Western ethnomusicologists have turned their gaze inward in order to analyze music in their own Western culture. The title ethnomusicology includes the study of folk music, Eastern art music and contemporary music in the oral tradition. Additionally, ethnomusicologists study conceptual ideas of music such as the origins of music, musical change, music as symbol, universals in music, the function of music in society, the comparison of musical systems and the biological basis of music and dance.

This is an extremely broad scope, and thus definitions of ethnomusicology range from ‘the study of music as culture’, to the ‘study of people making music’. What is important though, is that the theoretical basis of ethnomusicology is drawn from cultural anthropology and sociology with the primary method of research being participant observation. Therefore ethnomusicology is firmly rooted in the ethnographic method emblematic of anthropology.

Why teach ethnomusicology to students?

Much of the violence and hate in our world today stems from a lack of understanding of those who are different from us. Understanding and appreciating difference is an invaluable skill in today’s global world.

Teaching students ethnomusicology and exposing them to music from around the world, will help students learn to appreciate difference instead of fearing it. While their initial inclination might be to call it ‘weird’, by encouraging students to keep an open mind and listen carefully, we can overcome this initial challenge.