Niche it!
BobbyGs Info



Music Sound


Ethnomusicology | Music history | Music cognition | Musical notation | Aesthetics of music | Music theory | Zoomusicology | Music information retrieval

Back | Home | Next

Musicology is reasoned discourse concerning music (Greek: μουσικη = "music" and λογος = "word" or "reason"). In other words:
the whole body of systematized knowledge about music which results from the application of a scientific method of investigation or research, or of philosophical speculation and rational systematization to the facts, the processes and the development of musical art, and to the relation of man in that art (Harvard Dictionary of Music).

By this definition, the field includes every conceivable discussion of musical topics. The specializations of musicologists are quite diverse. Some, for instance, may specialize in English Tudor church music, others in the history of musical notation, some in contemporary music theory, and others in the development of the flute. Other musicologists stress the cultural context of music and the meanings music holds for different people.

Like the comparable field of art history, different schools of musicology tend to emphasize different types of musical works and different approaches to music. National differences in the definition of musicology also abound. Some American scholars, for instance, would not consider music theory under the rubric of musicology.


What is music?

Main article: definitions of music.

"What is music?" is the first (and historical) question of musicology. Through it we can find the three sub-disciplines of present musicology.

1. What is music? What structures of sound can we call music? How have the ideas and practices of music developed in different cultures and ages? Which pieces and systems of music can we form a body of knowledge from, because they have survived in notated, recorded or remembered form? These questions lead to the study of music history.

2. What is music? What is possible to know about the internal logic and functioning of this we call music? How shall we describe it? Notate it? Analyze it? What ideas and systems of meaning have been associated with music in different cultures and ages? These questions lead to the study of music theory (see also below).

3. What is music? What is it doing in the human world? How it is used? These questions about the place of music in society, leads to the study of ethnomusicology (see also below).


Main article: Ethnomusicology.

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its cultural context. It can be considered the anthropology of music. Jeff Todd Titon has called it the study of "people making music". It is often thought of as a study of non-Western musics, and indeed most of the work in ethnomusicology has been on non-Western or popular music. But ethnomusicology may also include the study of Western classical music from an anthropological perspective.

Other theories and disciplines

The new musicology

The New Musicology is a term applied to a wide body of work produced by many musicologists who consider themselves neither new nor New. Often based on the work of Theodor Adorno and feminist, gender studies, or postcolonial hypotheses, the New Musicology is the cultural study, analysis, and criticism of music. As Susan McClary says, "musicology fastidiously declares issues of musical signification off-limits to those engaged in legitimate scholarship." It is a measure of the rate at which scholarship in music is changing, though, that few would any longer consider such a statement to be valid. Many of the scholarly concerns that used to be associated with New Musicology have now become mainstream. Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music, published in 2005, is an indicator of this. A major work by an internationally recognized scholar, it reflects a wide knowledge of recent scholarship while simultaneously reflecting the broad humanistic concerns of Taruskin's mentor Paul Henry Lang, author of the 1941 classic Music in Western Civilization. In light of such intergenerational connections, it is possible to argue that the distinction between an "old" and a "new" musicology is itself the product of a limited historical moment which has now passed.

Music Cognition

Music cognition is the study of the perception and performance of music from the viewpoint of cognitive science. The discipline shares the interdisciplinary nature of fields such as cognitive linguistics.

Biomusicology and zoomusicology

Biomusicology is the study of music from a biological point of view. Zoomusicology is a field of musicology and zoology or more specifically, zoosemiotics. Zoomusicology is the study of the music of animals, or rather the musical aspects of sound or communication produced and received by animals.

See also


Though musicological study of popular music has increased in quantity by orders of magnitude since 1990, Richard Middleton's assertion in that year -- that most major "works of musicology, theoretical or historical, act as though popular music did not exist" -- holds true. Academic and conservatory training typically only peripherally addresses this broad spectrum of musics, and many musicologists who are "both contemptuous and condescending are looking for types of production, musical form, and listening which they associate with a different kind of music...'classical music'...and they generally find popular music lacking" (Middleton 1990, p.103).

He cites (p.104-6) "three main aspects of this problem":

  1. "a terminology slanted by the needs and history of a particular music ('classical music')."
    1. "on one hand, there is a rich vocabulary for certain areas [harmony, tonality, certain part-writing and forms], important in musicology's typical corpus, and an impoverished vocabulary for others [rhythm, pitch nuance and gradation, and timbre], which are less well developed there"
    2. "on the other hand, terms are ideologically loaded...these connotations are ideological because they always involve selective, and often unconsciously formulated, conceptions of what music is."
  2. "a methodology slanted by the characteristics of notation," 'notational centricity' (Tagg 1979, p.28-32)
    1. "musicological methods tend to foreground those musical parameters which can be easily notated...they tend to neglect or have difficulty with parameters which are not easily notated", such as Fred Lerdahl. "notation-centric training induces particular forms of listening, and these then tend to be applied to all sorts of music, appropriately or not."
    2. Notational centricity also encourages "reification: the score comes to be seen as 'the music', or perhaps the music in an ideal form."
  3. "an ideology slanted by the origins and development of a particular body of music and its aesthetic...It arose at a specific moment, in a specific context - nineteenth-century Europe, especially Germany - and in close association with that movement in the musical practice of the period which was codifying the very repertory then taken by musicology as the centre of its attention."

These terminological, methodological, and ideological problems affect even works symphathetic to popular music. However, it is not "that musicology cannot understand popular music, or that students of popular music should abandon musicology" (p.104).

Middleton's views may be contrasted with a more nuanced perspective that takes into account the fact that musicology has long studied a wide variety of music over large time spans. Thus, e.g., one can find discussions of 15th-century Spanish popular song in 19th-century musicological work; and discussions of 16th-century popular song in the recent past (Brooks 2000, ISBN 0226075877). This is to say nothing about the concept popular, which subsumes Michael Jackson's Thriller (the best-selling album of all time) and Verdi operas.

Furthermore, musicology has traditionally been slow to adopt many postmodern and critical approaches now common elsewhere in the humanities.


  • Kerman, Joseph (1985). Musicology. London: Fontana. ISBN 0001971700.
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
  • Pruett, James W., and Thomas P. Slavens (1985). Research guide to musicology. Chicago: American Library Association. ISBN 0838903312.
  • Tagg, Philip (1979).

External links

On-line Journals

Although most of the broadest musicology journals are not available on-line, a sampling of peer reviewed journals in various subfields gives some idea of musicological writings:

Science Portal

Home | Music | Children's music | Musical composition | Music by continent | Music education | Music events | Musical forms | Music genre | Musical groups | Music history | Music industry | Musical instruments | Musical language | Live music | Musician | Musicology | Singing | Musical techniques | Music technology | Musical terminology | Music theory | Music venue | Music video | Music news | License

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

Microsoft Store