What is ethnomusicology? That’s a good question and it has been debated and argued about for at least the last 60 years. Ethnomusicology was coined as an academic term in 1959 by Jaap Kunst, a Dutch scholar working mainly in Indonesia. Before that ethnomusicology was known as comparative musicology. Simplistically, it is the social and cultural study of music. It’s very interdisciplinary, it was originally a divergence from more traditional musicology, which was very much about western art music, about the cannon, German composers, this is the only music that matters. Ethnomusicologists were those who started to be interested in Indian music, folk music – just the variety of musics that are out there in the world- and realised that the musicological approach (transcription, score based analysis) doesn’t necessarily apply or doesn’t work anything like what we understand as harmony. Musicologists realised they needed different methods of dealing with different musics, so they started to say it is the study of music in culture, music as culture, the study of all the human processes that are important in the making of music e.g. psychology, biology, what happens in the cells. But the most important threads are still the anthropological approaches to music. This means participant observation, fieldwork, long term immersion with a culture.
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