Definitions of Ethnomusicology


[References are cited in chronological, rather than alphabetical, order]

I am inviting everyone to help to increase this list of definitions, with new ones. Just send an email to with the quotation and the reference.

Adler, Guido. 1885. Umfang, Methode und Zeil der Musikwissenschaft. Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft I: 5-20.

p. 14: “... die vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, die sich zur Aufgabe macht, die Tonproducte, insbesondere die Volksgesange verschiediner Völker, Länder und Territorien behufs ethnographischer Zwecke zu vergleichen und nach del Verschiedenheit ihrer Beschaffenheit zu gruppiren und sondern.
(. . . comparative musicology has as its task the comparison of the musical works especially the folksongs of the various peoples of the earth for ethnographical purposes, and the classification of them according to their various forms.”)

Lachmann, Robert. 1935. Musiksysteme und Musikauffassung. Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Musikwissenschaft 3:1-23.

p. 1: By implication “non-European music,” as in the following: “Aussereuropaische Musik wild ohne das Mittel del Schrift Uberliefert; ihre Untersuchung erfordert daher andere Methoden als die del abendlandischen Kunstmusik.”
(“Non-European music is handed down without the means of writing; its investigation demands, therefore, other methods than those for Western art music.”)


Roberts, Helen H. 1937. The viewpoint of comparative musicology. Proceedings of the Music Teachers National Association for 1936, pp. 233-38.

p. 233: “... the kind of studies that are now coming to be classified under the term 'comparative musicology' deal with exotic musics as compared with one another and with that classical European system under which most of us were brought up.”


Haydon, Glen. 1941. Introduction to musicology. New York: Prentice-Hall.

p. 218: “Non-European musical systems and folk music constitute the chief subjects of study; the songs of birds and phylogenetic-ontogenetic parallels are subordinate topics.”
p. 235: “If comparative musicology means the study of extra-European musical systems, it is natural that the study of Chinese, Indian, Arabian, and other musical systems should fall to the lot of comparative musicology.”
p. 237: “Comparative musicology has its characteristic subject matter chief1y in extra-European and folk music. . . .”
p. 219: “Most, if not all, of the music studied in comparative musicology is transmitted by oral tradition. . . .”


Sachs, Curt. 1943. The rise of music in the ancient world east and west. New York: W. W. Norton.

p. 29: “comparative Musicology. . . [is] . . . the primitive and Oriental branch of music history.”


Apel, Willi. 1946. Harvard dictionary of music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

p. 167: “Comparative musicology. . . [is] . . . the study of exotic music.”
p. 250: “Exotic music... [is comprised of] . . . the musical cultures outside the European tradition.”


Herzog, George. 1946. Comparative musicology. The Music Journal 4 (Nov.-Dec.): 11 et seq.

p. 11: “There are many other musical languages, employed by Oriental and primitive-preliterate-peoples. The study of these bodies of music is Comparative Musicology, which aims to discover all the variety of musical expression and construction that is to be found within the wide array of types of cultural development all over the world. Comparative Musicology embraces also folk music. . . .”


Kunst, Jaap. 1950. Musicologica. Amsterdam: Koninklijke Vereeniging Indisch Institut.

p. 7: “To the question: what is the study-object of comparative musicology, the answer must be: mainly the music and the musical instruments of all non-European peoples, including both the so-called primitive peoples and the civilized Eastern nations. Although this science naturally makes repeated excursions into the field of European music, the latter is, in itself, only an indirect object of its study.”


Koole, A. J. C. 1955. The history, study, aims and problems of comparative musicology. South African Journal of Science 51:227-30.

p. 227: “The Englishman Alexander John Ellis. . . is rightly considered to be the founder of this branch of science [comparative musicology], for although a few studies of exotic music had been published. . . .”


Bukofzer, Manfred F. 1956. Observations on the study of non-Western music. In, Paul Collaer ed., Les colloques de Wegimont. Bruxelles: Elsevier, pp. 33-36.

p. 33: “From the beginning [musicology] has included also the study of all oriental and primitive music or what can best be summarized as non-western music. This special branch is known by the somewhat clumsy name 'comparative musicology' or 'ethnomusicology.'. . . . The study is supposed to include also the musical folklore of western nations." (See remarks in opposition by Constantin Brailoiu, pp. 35-36.)


[McAllester, David P.] 1956. The organizational meeting in Boston. Ethno-musicology Newsletter No. 6:3-5.

p. 5: “The proper subject matter for the society was discussed at length. The general consensus favored the view that 'ethno-musicology' is by no means limited to so-called 'primitive music,' and is defined more by the orientation of the student than by any rigid boundaries of discourse. . . . It was further felt that the term, 'ethno-musicology' is more accurate and descriptive of this discipline and its field of investigation than the older term, 'comparative musicology.'”


Nettl, Bruno. 1956. Music in primitive culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

p. 1: “The study of primitive music falls within the scope of comparative musicology, or, as it is often termed, ethnomusicology, the science that deals with the music of peoples outside of Western civilization.”


Rhodes, Willard. 1956. Toward a definition of ethnomusicology. American Anthropologist 58:457.

p. 460-61: “Here, under the imprint of comparative musicology, are bound together studies of the music of the Near East, the Far East, Indonesia, Africa, the North American Indians, and European folk music. Of those ethnomusicologists whose interests are confined solely to primitive music I ask, 'Can we refuse our inheritance?' Let us not be provincial in the pursuit of our discipline. Oriental art music, the folk music of the world, and primitive music, all await our serious study.”


Schaeffner, André. 1956. Ethnologie musicale ou musicologie comparée? In Paul Collaer ed., Les colloques de Wégimont. Bruxelles: Elsevier, pp. 18-32.

p. 24: "J'ai dit... que rien dans son nom ne spécifiait que la musicologie comparée etudierait plutôt les musiques non-européennes. Or elle s'est interessée essentiellement à celles-ci.”
("I said that nothing in its name specified that comparative musicology must study non-European musics. But it is interested essentially in these.")


Hood, Mantle. 1957. Training and research methods in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology Newsletter No. 11 :2-8.

p. 2: "[Ethno)musicology is a field of knowledge, having as its object the investigation of the art of music as a physical, psychological, aesthetic, and cultural phenomenon. The [ethno) musicologist is a research scholar, and he aims primarily at knowledge about music."


Schneider, Marius . 1957 Primitive music. In Egon Wellesz ed., Ancient and Oriental music. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-82.

p. 1: “This new discipline was called 'comparative musicology', its primarily aim being the comparative study of all the characteristics, normal or other-wise, of non-European art”


Kunst, Jaap. 1959. Ethnomusicology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, Third Edition.

p. 1: “The study-object of ethnomusicology, or, as it originally was called: comparative musicology, is the traditional music and musical instruments of all cultural strata of mankind, from the so-called primitive peoples to the civilized nations. Our science, therefore, investigates all tribal and folk music and every kind of non-Western art music. Besides, it studies as well the sociological aspects of music, as the phenomena of musical acculturation, i.e., the hybridizing influence of alien musical elements. Western art- and popular (entertainment-) music does not belong to its field."


Merriam, Alan P. 1960. Ethnomusicology: discussion and definition of the field. Ethnomusicology 4:107-14.

p. 109: “. . . the study of music in culture.”


Nettl, Bruno. 1961. Reference materials in ethnomusicology. Detroit: Information Service, Inc., Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography Number 1.

p. 2: “Ethnomusicology... [is] .. . the study of non-Western music and, to an extent,. . . folk music. . . .”


Seeger, Charles. 1961. Semantic, logical and political considerations bearing upon research in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology 5:77-80.

p. 79: “The study of non-European musics was launched in 1900. . . and was eventually given the name 'comparative musicology.'”


Greenway, John. 1962. Primitive music. Boulder: University of Colorado.

p. 1: “... the systematic study of music as it is manifested among the more primitive and unfamiliar peoples of the world. . . .”


List, George. 1962. Ethnomusicology in higher education. Music Journal 20:20 et seq.

p. 24: “Ethnomusicology is to a great extent concerned with music transmitted by unwritten tradition.”


Nketia, J. H. Kwabena. 1962. The problem of meaning in African music. Ethnomusicology 6:1-7.

p. 1: “The study of music as a universal aspect of human behavior is becoming increasingly recognized as the focus of Ethnomusicology.”


Hood, Mantle. 1963. Music, the unknown. In Frank LI. Harrison, Mantle Hood, and Claude V. Palisca ed., Musicology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, pp. 215-326.

p. 217: “The discipline is directed toward an understanding of music studied in terms of itself and also toward the comprehension of music within the context of its society. Ethnomusicology is concerned with the music of all non-European peoples... and includes within its purview the tribal, folk, and popular music of the Western world, as well as hybridizations of these forms. It frequently crosses into the field of European art music, although such material is only an indirect object of concern. In other words, ethnomusicology embraces all kinds of music not included by studies in historical musicology, i.e., the study of cultivated music in the western European tradition.”


List, George. 1963. Ethnomusicology and the phonograph. In Kurt Reinhard and George List. The demonstration collection of E. M. von Hornbostel and the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv. New York: Ethnic Folkways Library, album notes for FE 4175, pp. 2-5.

p. 2: by implication: “[Ethnomusicology is] the study of aurally transmitted music. . . .”


Nettl, Bruno. 1964. Theory and method in ethnomusicology. Glencoe: Free Press.

p. 1: “...ethnomusicologists in the past have been students of the music outside Western civilization and, to a smaller extent, of European folk music,"
p. 11: “We can summarize the consensus in stating that ethnomusicology is, in fact as well as theory, the field which pursues knowledge of the world's music, with emphasis on that music outside the researcher's own culture, from a descriptive and comparative viewpoint.”


Nettl, Bruno. 1965. Folk and traditional music of the western continents. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

p, 26: “The field that provides research in... [folk and non-Western music] is now known as ethnomusicology. Before about 1950 it was commonly called comparative musicology, and it is a sort of borderline area between musicology (the study of all aspects of music in a scholarly fashion) and anthropology (the study of man, his culture, and especially the cultures outside the investigator's own background).”


Kolinski, Mieczyslaw. 1967. Recent trends in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology 11: 1-24.

p. 5: “One of the most ambitious objectives of musicological research is the comparative analysis of the known musical styles of the world's peoples designed to establish their distinguishing features and, ultimately, to search for universals providing a common basis for the immense variety of musical creations. The most appropriate term for this field of study appears to be comparative musicology."


Gillis, Frank. 1969. Personal communication.

“[Ethnomusicology is) the study of those world musics which are aurally transmitted.”


Hood, Mantle. 1969. Ethnomusicology. In Willi Apel ed., Harvard dictionary of music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Second Edition, pp, 298-300.

p. 298: “Ethnomusicology is an approach to the study of any music, not only in terms of itself but also in relation to its cultural context.”


Wachsmann, K. P. 1969. Music. Journal of the Folklore Institute 6:164-91.

p. 165: “...ethnomusicology is concerned with the music of other peoples. . .. The prefix 'ethno' draws attention to the fact that this musicology operates essentially across cultural boundaries of one sort or another, and that, generally, the observer does not share directly the musical tradition that he studies... Thus it cannot surprise us that in the early stages the emphasis was on comparison, and the field was known as comparative musicology until, in the 1960's, it was renamed.”


List, George. 1969. Discussion of K, P. Wachsmann's paper. Journal of the Folklore Institute 6:192-99.

p. 195: “A third definition (and one to which I subscribe) defines ethnomusicology in the broadest sense as the study of traditional music. What does the term 'traditional music' mean? It refers to music which has two specific characteristics: it is transmitted and diffused by memory rather than through the use of writing, and it is music which is always in flux, in which a second performance of the same item differs from the first.”


Seeger, Charles. 1970. Toward a unitary field theory for musicology. Selected Reports 1(3): 172-210.

In reading the following, one should recall that Seeger holds "ethnomusicology" to be the proper term for what is now called “musicology.”
p. 179: “...musicology is (1) a speech study, systematic as well as historical, critical as well as scientific or scientistic; whose field is (2) the total music of man, both in itself and in its relationships to what is not itself; whose cultivation is (3) by individual students who can view its field as musicians as well as in the terms devised by nonmusical specialists of whose fields some aspects of music are data; whose aim is to contribute to the understanding of man, in terms both (4) of human culture and (5) of his relationships with the physical universe.”


List, George. 1971. Inter-American program in ethnomusicology. Bloomington: Indiana University Publications.

n.p.: “Ethnomusicology is conceived as an interdisciplinary study in which approaches derived from many disciplines can be usefully applied.”


Chenoweth, Vida. 1972. Melodic perception and analysis. Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

p. 9: “Ethnomusicology is the study of the musical practices of a particular people.” Repeated in Second Edition, 1974.


Chase, Gilbert. 1972. American musicology and the social sciences. In Barry S. Brook, Edward O. D. Downes, and Sherman Van Solkema eds., Perspectives in Musicology. New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 202-26.

p. 220: "I favor the idea of an 'ethnomusicology'. . . but I do not favor the terminology. . . What we need is a term of larger scope. For this I propose the term 'cultural musicology' [the task of which is] 'to study the similarities and differences in musical behavior among human groups, to depict the character of the various musical cultures of the world and the processes of stability, change, and development that are characteristic to them.'”


Blacking, John. 1973. How musical is man? Seattle: University of Washington Press.

p. 3: "Ethnomusicology is a comparatively new word which is widely used to refer to the study of the different musical systems of the world."


Merriam, Alan P. ca 1973. Unpublished thoughts.

“Ethnomusicology is the study of music as culture.”


Blacking, John. 1974. In memoriam Antonio Jorge Dias. Lisboa, Vol. Ill, pp. 71-93.

p. 74: “The discipline is concerned chiefly with 'ethnic' or 'folk' music and thus tends to be an area study. The methods used are generally anthropological and sociological, or musicological: thus scholars are concerned with either the rules of a particular society or culture, of which music-making is a feature, or the rules of a particular society's musical system.”

Nettl, Bruno. 1974. Personal communication.

“Ethnomusicology is the comparative study of musical cultures, particularly as total systems including sound and behavior with the use of field research.”


Nettl, Bruno. 1975. The state of research in ethnomusicology, and recent developments. Current Musicology No. 20:67-78.

p. 69: “[Ethnomusicology is] the study of all music, from the point of view of its oral tradition. . . .”


Helser, Elizabeth. 1976. Personal communication.

“Ethnomusicology is the hermeneutic science of human musical behavior.”