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What is musicology?

The word musicology literally means "the study of music," encompassing all aspects of music in all cultures and all historical periods. In practice, musicology includes a wide variety of methods of studying music as a scholarly endeavor; although the study of music performance is an important facet of musicology, music performance itself is a different area of study.

Musicology embraces the many different ways of studying music:

  • as part of history (analogous to art history), organized by
    • chronological era or period ("the Renaissance")
    • nation or region (American music, South Asian music)
    • musical style ("art music," "popular music")
    • the people involved (composers, performers, audiences)
    • the performance forces involved (symphony orchestra, soloists)
  • as part of society (sociology or anthropology of music)
  • with respect to its structure (music theory, music analysis)
  • with respect to how it functions as art (music aesthetics, philosophy of music)
  • with respect to how it is perceived (music perception and cognition)
  • with respect to the means of performance (the study of musical instruments, acoustics, physiology of voice)

The primary employment sector of musicologists is higher education; musicologists do research and teach classes (or guide doctoral research) on many aspects of the history of music at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Others work in museums, archives, libraries, performing organizations, K-12 education, as free-lance writers, and in other areas. They typically produce articles in such journals as The Musical Quarterly or our own Journal of the American Musicological Society; and they publish books on a wide array of musical topics.

The AMS provides financial and other resources to support many aspects of musicological work, including study and research, book and journal publication, and recording and performance support. To get a better sense of the kinds of subjects musicologists work with:

Do you have more questions about what musicology is? drop us a note!