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Musicology and Ethnomusicology


Musicology is the scientific and historical study of music, primarily in the European classical tradition. Ethnomusicology is the study of music outside this tradition.

In musicology and ethnomusicology programs, students learn about the cultural styles of different musical traditions. They also learn to study music using tools from different fields such as anthropology, sociology, and music theory.

Musicology and ethnomusicology programs include topics such as:

In musicology programs, students learn all aspects of music, from the life of a composer, to the development of the instruments used, to the history and culture of the place in which a piece was composed. They gain an understanding of musical traditions and their influences.

With this background students may go on to:


In musicology and ethnomusicology programs, students may be able to focus on:


Several colleges and universities offer graduate degrees in both musicology and ethnomusicology. A master’s degree typically requires two years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Doctoral (PhD) degree programs usually require two or more years of study beyond the master’s degree.

A few schools offer bachelor's degree programs in musicology and ethnomusicology. It is more common for schools to have a degree in related fields such as music or folklore, where a student could concentrate in musicology or ethnomusicology. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four years of full-time study.

See schools that offer this program.

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Program Admission

You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges also require two years of a second language.

Below is a list of high school courses that will help prepare you for this program of study:

Graduate Admissions

Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need a bachelor's degree in music, good grades, and good scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General.

If you don't have a bachelor's degree in music, some schools allow you to take entrance exams, submit supplementary material, or complete extra courses to demonstrate your ability to study these programs at the graduate level.

In general, you need a general background in music performance and music theory. Sending in a tape of your performance and taking an entrance exam shows the admissions committees whether or not you are at the right level for graduate study in this program. If not, some programs may allow you to take undergraduate-level courses until you are.

If you want to apply for a doctoral program, you should have a master's degree in musicology or ethnomusicology and a bachelor's degree in music. The exceptions noted above may apply to doctoral program admissions as well.

Additional requirements at most schools include:

Typical Course Work

Program Courses

In this undergraduate program, you typically take courses such as the following:

Some undergraduate programs have a performance requirement, especially if you're studying ethnomusicology. Learning to play the music of a certain cultural tradition helps you to gain a deeper understanding of the tradition and style.

Graduate Program Courses

Graduate course work tends to vary from program to program. However, the outline of a typical curriculum in musicology and ethnomusicology looks like the following:

You usually have to be able to read in one or more European languages, especially German or French. Other languages are usually appropriate also, especially if you're studying the music of a non-European country such as Japan or Brazil.

Things to Know

Many graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology require you to be able to read in one or more languages in addition to English. In musicology programs, this typically includes German, Italian, or French. In an ethnomusicology program, you can usually choose to study the language most related to your regional research focus.


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