In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ethnomusicology

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies of Printed Music
  • Bibliographies and Directories
  • Journals
  • Surveys and Introductions to Musics of the World’s Cultures

Music Ethnomusicology
Bruno Nettl
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0224


Ethnomusicology is most frequently defined as the study of music in its relationship to the rest of human culture, and as the study of the musics of the world from a comparative perspective. But it has also been defined many other ways, including “the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts” (Pegg, et al. 2001, cited under Publications after 1965, p. 367). Nettl 2015 (cited under Publications after 1965, pp. 3–18) discusses a number of definitions. It is frequently described as an interdiscipline, partaking of the perspectives of musicology and sociocultural anthropology, and also of the disciplines of folklore and linguistics. In fact, scholars who define themselves as ethnomusicologists have been principally concerned with the musics of non-Western societies, to a considerable extent also with folk music traditions of Western societies, and more recently, also with popular music traditions and with musics resulting from fusion of Western and non-Western cultures. Only most recently have ethnomusicologists begun to show a sustained interest in applying their approaches to the culture of Western classical music of the past or present. Ethnomusicologists deal with the musics of the world from a relativistic and egalitarian viewpoint, striving, for each music, to present the approaches and judgments of its own culture. Ethnomusicology is thought to have its starting point in 1885, but it has a substantial prehistory of publications about Asian and European folk musics. From 1885 it was ordinarily known as “comparative musicology” (vergleichende Musikwissenschaft in German, the language of most of its early literature). In the early 1950s, the term “ethnomusicology” began to be widely used, and by 1955 it had replaced the earlier terms. The bibliography presented here emphasizes works that deal with ethnomusicology as a whole as a field of research, and with some of its subdivisions, and pays considerable attention to its history. It also contains a sampling of significant studies often regarded models, of surveys of world music, and of significant landmark publications.

Overviews, Introductions, and Surveys

These publications present ethnomusicology as a field of research, looking holistically at its purposes, basic assumptions, methods, history, and schools of thought. A group of earlier works, illustrating the approaches of the field’s early history through the 1960s, when the center of research had moved from Europe to North America, is followed by a group of publications more illustrative of recent thinking.

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