What is Ethnomusicology?
The field of ethnomusicology explores human music-making activities all over the world,
in all styles, from the immediate present to the distant past. We study music, the people
who make it, the instruments they use, and the complex of ideas, behaviors, and
processes that are involved in the production of music.
Classical musics of Europe and China, Cajun dance, Cuban son, Hip-Hop, Nigerian Juju,
Javanese gamelan, Navajo ritual healing, and Hawaiian chant are just a few of the areas
in which ethnomusicologists work. Ethnomusicology is interdisciplinary by nature and so
ethnomusicologists may also be trained as anthropologists, musicologists, folklorists,
educators, performers, composers, dancers, archivists, librarians, historians, linguists,
cultural analysts, cognitive psychologists, and in other disciplines.
Many ethnomusicologists utilize the tools of ethnography in their research. They spend
extended periods of time with people making music, observing what happens, asking
people questions, helping individuals and communities document and promote their
musical practices, and sometimes learning to perform in the style they are studying.
Ethnomusicologists may also rely on archives, libraries, and museums for documentation
from the past on musical sounds, practices, instruments, and the people who created
Most ethnomusicologists work as college professors in academic institutions, but a
significant number also work with museums, festivals, record labels, archives, libraries,
schools, and other institutions in roles that have a greater focus on educating and
presenting to the general public.
A large number of colleges and university have programs in ethnomusicology. To see a
list, visit our
Guide to Programs in Ethnomusicology