How Do I Become an Ethnomusicologist?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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Ethnomusicology, or comparative musicology, is an academic discipline that focuses on the unique ways in which music has evolved in cultures across the globe. Combining archeological, sociological and musical study, this field involves becoming adept as describing the musical traditions of numerous cultures as well as an expert on certain foreign cultures. To become an ethnomusicologist, one must complete an advanced degree and have an interest in learning as much as possible about the many ways that people make and enjoy music.

To become an ethnomusicologist in 2011, you must first acquire an undergraduate degree in a related field. This could be a general music education or even a performance degree. Other ethnomusicologists come to the field by way of undergraduate learning in cultural anthropology, sociology or even psychology. In 2011, a long list of reputable universities within and outside the United States offer ethnomusicology as master's and doctorate degree programs. To be accepted in the academic circles of this field, one must typically achieve this ranking.

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In order to achieve an advanced degree and become an ethnomusicologist, you will need to write and publish field studies. Not only do students need to exhibit the knowledge of music and the way it is made across cultural divides, but also the ability to express those differences in papers that will further illuminate the discipline. This writing could involve holistic analyses of musical differences among various cultures, or it could delve into the specifics of how a particular people express themselves through music and even dance.

Teaching could be part of a student's quest to become an ethnomusicologist as well. Teaching basic components of a subject is often a prerequisite of achieving any advanced degree, ethnomusicology included. Posting yourself in front of a class of music history undergraduates just might inspire young ethnomusicologists with the desire to become a true expert in the field.

Researching the origins of ethnomusicology will help students know whether they truly want to become an ethnomusicologist. Though an interest in the world's different musical traditions likely has existed for nearly as long as music has been made, many credit the advent of advanced recording technology in the mid-20th century for the academic need to catalog that music in a way that accentuates its cultural significance. One of the first official ethnomusicologists was the Dutch music expert Jaap Kunst, who coined the term based on the Greek words ethno, or state, and musico, or music.

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