An Introduction to Ethnomusicology

Dateline: 10/17/97

Ethnomusicology is a relatively new field in the social sciences. It is a division of both Anthropology and Musicology. In loose terms, Ethnomusicology is the academic study of musical cultures. Anthropology is the study of human culture, and Musicology is the study of music itself. Combine the two, and the result could also be called "Musical Anthropology."

A more precise definition is presented in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, as "a subdivision of musicology concerned primarily with the comparitive study of musics of the world, music as an aspect of culture, and the music of oral tradition" (p. 291). This can include non-Western music, traditional and folk music, and even contemporary popular music studied from a cultural perspective. The study of a particular kind of music involves field research commonly used in Anthropology, that is, going out and experiencing the music *and* culture firsthand.

Although the roots of Ethnomusicology lay in the 1800's, with the scholarly study of non-Western music in Europe, a major surge of interest and activity occurred around 1950, which is the year usually credited as Ethnomusicology's birth. Because it is still so new, there is not as much material, print or online, as there is for other social sciences. However, there are some excellent online resources, most of which are of a specific, academic nature, and associated with a post-secondary institution.

Here is a brief overview of some of the online resources which can be used to launch research into an area of Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology Bibliography Guide from the University of California, Santa Barbara Library, is a comprehensive list of periodical indexes, dissertations, guides to musical instruments, and glossaries, with annotations and call numbers. This is helpful in arranging interlibrary loans, and many university libraries might have some of the more accessible materials already available. The Archive of World Music at Harvard, is also a comprehensive summary of what the institution has available.

More generally, and probably more useful for doing independent Internet research without academic support, is Ethnomusicology Resources on the Web, and Online Sources for Ethnomusicological Information. Both of these resources provide lists of links categorized by geographic region of the world, by era, or by style, which is generally how research into a musical culture begins.

Next week: Ethnomusicology societies, which offer research support, academic periodicals in the field, and other specific research resources.

Previous Features