from Grove


The origin of the term ‘ethnomusicology’ is attributed to the Dutch scholar Jaap Kunst (1950), who used it in the subtitle of his book Musicologica: a Study of the Nature of Ethno-musicology, its Problems, Methods, and Representative Personalities (Amsterdam, 1950). In European languages it is equated with French ethnomusicologie, Italian ethnomusicologia, German Ethnomusikologie or Musikethnologie and Polish etnografia muzyczna. The term ‘ethnomusicology’ has also been adopted by specialists in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and the Netherlands. In Germany and Austria some scholars continue to use the phrase Vergleichende Musikwissenschaft (‘comparative musicology’) to stress affiliation with the work of Stumpf, Hornbostel (Berlin) and Lach (Vienna) (see Wiora, 1975, Graf, 1974). Russian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian scholars distinguish etnomuzïkal′naya (the study of the music) from etnografiya muzïkal′naya (‘musical ethnography’) in turn equated with muzikal′naya fol′kloristika. Since the early 1980s, the term minze yinyuexue has been adopted in China to denote ‘ethnomusicology’ (see China §I). There are regional interpretations of the term. For instance, in Indonesia, both Western scholars and indigenous scholars trained in the West equate ethnomusicology with the study of Indonesian art music, while for scholars in the Academy of Central Java it is used to denote the study of the music of other Indonesian islands.

Historically ethnomusicology has been a scholarly discipline primarily within universities in the USA, Canada and Europe (see §II). Its specialists are trained in music or in anthropology, sometimes in both. Research is undertaken in university departments of music or anthropology, in ethnographic museums and in research institutes of national academies of science, found particularly in Eastern Europe. As the following survey of musical activities illustrates (§II below), a multitude of musical research was being undertaken by a range of people from many Western countries prior to World War II including ethnologists, anthropologists, sociologists, comparative musicologists, folklorists, psychologists, physicists, missionaries, clerics, explorers, civil servants and enthusiasts, forming multiple influences both inside and outside the academy that affected contemporary thinking. This melting pot includes distinctive figures who have been simultaneously co-opted into the lineages of different disciplines. Ethnomusicologists and scholars in Folk Life Studies or Folkloristics, for instance, lay equal claim in their disciplinary ancestry to the English folksong collector cecil j. Sharp (see also Folk music, England, §II), the American charles Seeger or the Hungarians béla Bartók and zoltan Kodály, despite these individuals’ own perceptions of their affiliations.

Similarly, a single geneological line is difficult to create for any single country, since these will vary individually according to a combination of personal interest and professional and cultural orientations. For instance, the myth of origin of the American discipline may be projected back to ‘founding fathers’ such as erich moritz von Hornbostel (1877–1935), who taught a heady interdisciplinary mix of music psychology, comparative musicology and music ethnology (Musikalische Völkerkunde, Musikethnologie) in Berlin supported by his mentor carl Stumpf; franz Boas (1858–1942) who, after moving to North America from Berlin in the 1880s, established fieldwork as a prerequisite of American anthropology and through his students influenced the anthropological strand of ethnomusicology; to george Herzog (1901–84), Hornbostel’s student, who moved to Columbia University to study anthropology with Boas and established a consistent methodology for comparative musicological study and archival work; Charles Seeger (1886–1979) with his interest in vernacular musics and linguistics; and eventually to the musicological methods of mantle Hood and the anthropological methods of alan p. Merriam which exacerbated the theoretical and methodological ‘great divide’. Alternative lineages might point to the work of ‘founding mothers’, such as Alice Cunningham Fletcher (1838–1923), who collaborated with the Omaha Indian Francis La Flesche (1857–1932) throughout her life, and Frances Densmore (1867–1957), author of over a dozen monographs on different Amerindian groups. Or they might draw upon figures from different disicplines relevant to the multiple approaches that have traditionally contributed to our understanding of music, such as Musicology, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, linguistics, psychology, folklore, political science and economics.

In Britain, the ‘father of Ethnomusicology’ is perceived generally as the British physicist and phonetician, alexander john Ellis (1814–90) who suggested that ‘acoustical phenomena’ should be studied by scientists rather than musicians, since those who had been trained in particular musical systems tended to consider ‘familiar’ sounds as ‘natural’ (1885). That the conceptualization of music – the way we listen to and evaluate musical sounds – is not value free was later to be developed in the British context by john Blacking in his theories on music as ‘humanly organized sound’. An anthropologist and ethnomusicologist from Cambridge is bound to point out the term ‘fieldwork’ was appropriated from natural science for anthropology by the ethnologist Alfred Cort Haddon, who led the ‘Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait’ in 1898. This multidisciplinary project, which included the physician and musician Charles Myers and photographer Anthony Wilkin, was equipped with the high technology of the day: two phonographs with recording and playback facility, a cine camera, still cameras and a magic lantern projector. Recordings of music on wax cylinders, some of which were transcribed using Ellis’s system of ‘cents’ (division of the equal-tempered semitone into 100 equal parts), are now housed in the British Library National Sound Archives in the UK (Clayton, 1996) and Australia. The film – the first piece of ethnographic film made in the field – which depicts dance sequences performed at re-enactments of the Malu-Bomai ceremonies – is now in the National Film Archives in the UK and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra. Several hundred field photographs including some of the masked dances of the Malu-Bomai cult are in the collections of the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The emphasis on direct field research on this expedition provided the basis for the development of intensive fieldwork as the essential methodology of British anthropology: ‘the ethnographic method’. Haddon’s evocative description of the dance emphasizes ‘performance’ and ‘experience’ both of which are very much to the fore in contemporary ethnomusicological writings. From these origins, then, the anthropological lineage proceeds through the theoretical developments of Bronislaw Malinowski’s strategizing Trobriand performer constantly reshaping tradition, through Radcliffe-Brown’s elucidation of the power of the Andaman Islanders’ music and dance to act as a moral force on the indivual (1922) and the parallel developments in; comparative musicology (e.g. Fox Strangways, 1914) and folk music research (Cecil Sharp and his descendants) before proceeding through Hamish Henderson at the School of Scottish Studies and John Blacking who moved from Cambridge to Paris then Belfast.

In addition to cropping up in different disciplinary lineages, certain personages appear in the national lineages of the same discipline. For instance, constantin Brăiloiu who, following the Romanian Sociological School shaped by Dimitrie Gusti argued that music was indissolubly attached to social phenomena, is important for French, Romanian and Swiss ethnomusicology.

Not for the first time, ethnomusicology is faced with the need to reassess its perceptions of history (compare, for instance, the historical methodologies of §II and §III below), its subject matter, methods and ethics (see §IV). The subject matter of ethnomusicology has been constantly debated since its inception. Initially, it was perceived as all music outside the Western European art tradition and intended to exclude Western art and popular musics. It concerned itself with the musics of non-literate peoples; the orally transmitted music of cultures then perceived to be ‘high’ such as the traditional court and urban musics of China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, Iran and other Arabic-speaking countries; and ‘folk music’, which Nettl (1964) tentatively defined as the music in oral tradition found in those areas dominated by high cultures. At the beginning of the 21st century, ethnomusicology embraces the study of all musics in local and global contexts. Concerned primarily with living music (including music, song, dance and instruments), recent studies have also investigated music history (Blum, Bohlman and Neuman, 1991). A discipline that first examined music ‘in culture’ (Merriam, 1964) and then ‘as culture’, and has had ‘fieldwork’ as integral to its methodology now presents both ‘culture’ and ‘fieldwork’ as problematics rather than givens (see §IV).

Since its inception, ethnomusicology has always seen connections between itself and other disciplines, as outlined above. It never fitted happily into the modernist dichotomization between ‘us’ and ‘them’; the contemporary hot debate on whether musicology is part of ethnomusicology or vice versa therefore becomes irrelevant. Musicology is one of many theoretical and methodological interweaving strands in a discipline that recently moved in the West from concentrating on the traditional musics of the exotically removed ‘other’ to Popular music, both local and global, (e.g. Manuel, 1988; Waterman, 1990; Berliner, 1994; Mitchell, 1996; Schade-Poulsen, 1999), World music (e.g. Keil and Feld, 1994) and Western ‘art’ music (e.g. Born, 1995); from traditional interdisciplinary relationships to contemporary interactions with disciplines such as cultural studies (e.g. Lloyd, 1993; Straw, 1994) and performance studies (e.g. Schechner and Appel, 1990; Schieffelin, 1994; Pegg 2001); and from homogeneous, structural and interpretative perspectives to those of experience (e.g. Rice, 1994; Blacking, 1995). Ethnomusicology as a discipline is not homogeneous and, clearly, is no longer confined to the West or to Europe. It is now well placed to take on board the diverse national ethnomusicologies represented in this dictionary which include those who recently emerged from the former Soviet Union, non-European scholars and musicians untrained in the Western system.

See individual country articles for details of national archives and histoires as well as entries on cultural regions, concepts, genres, instruments and individual musicians. See also Ethnochoreology; Transcription; Notation, §II; Society for ethnomusicology (SEM); International council for traditional music (ICTM); and British forum for ethnomusicology (BFE).


Early sources.

Western interest in non-Western music dates back to the voyages of discovery, and the philosophical rationale for the study of foreign cultures derives from the Age of Enlightenment. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) argued that music is cultural not natural and that diverse peoples would react differently to ‘diverse musical accents’; his Dictionnaire de Musique (1768) includes samples of Swiss, Iranian, Chinese and Canadian Amerindian music.

As early as the 17th century Europeans, including missionaries, explorers and civil servants, made contributions to music research in the colonies, through references in diaries and monographs. Captain James Cook (1728–79) recorded careful descriptions of the music and dance of Pacific islanders (1784); the Swiss theologian Jean de Léry (1534–1611) wrote about Brazil in Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (1578), which includes musical notation and describes antiphonal singing between men and women and dancers in elaborately feathered costumes. Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) observed Canadian Amerindian singing and dancing on his New World voyages (1534, 1535–6) and his crew entertained the Amerindians with ‘trompettes et aultres instruments de musique’ (Biggar, 1924).

The early literature is particularly rich in writings on Chinese music. The French Jesuit Jean-Baptiste du Halde (1674–1743) based his monograph, Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise (1735), on reports of Jesuit missionaries to China from the 16th century onwards. The French cleric Joseph Amiot (1718–93) served for some 60 years as a missionary in Beijing, where he wrote the pioneering study, Mémoire sur la musique des Chinois tant anciens que moderns (1779). The Irish-born Earl of MacCartney in 1793–4 led an embassy from the King of England to China, where he met with Father Amiot (1793–4; published, 1962). The party comprised 95 persons including a six-man German band that played for the Chinese on an assortment of string and wind instruments (supplied by the English musicologist Dr Charles Burney). The German theologian and music critic Gottfried Wilhelm Fink (1782–1846) published a monograph on Chinese and Hindustani music, Einiges über die Begründungsweise (1831). He also proposed an early diffusionist theory of European music (1831, Erste Wanderung der ältesten Tonkunst).

Francis Taylor Piggot, author of The Music and Musical Instruments of Japan (1893), spent years with Japanese musicians; his valuable treatise describes many aspects of Japanese musical life, some now obsolete. For the Arab world the Frenchman Guillaume-André Villoteau (1759–1839) worked at the request of General Bonaparte during the Egyptian campaign. In his three major works Villoteau discussed Arab folk and art music, the music of minority groups in Egypt from Asia, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa and Ethiopian, Armenian and Greek music (1812, 1813, 1816). The French composer, Francesco Salvador-Daniel, lived in Algeria from 1853 to 1865; he combined eastern and western systems in his compositions and compared them in his essay, La musique arabe, se rapports avec la musique grecque et le chant grégorien (1863), in which he argued that Arab and Greek modes were similar, contradicting Villoteau’s theory.

In modern times some ethnomusicologists have put these sources to good use, for example in the analysis of musical change. In her research on Tongan dance, Adrienne Kaeppler used the diaries of Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1784) to confirm that the structures of the me’etu’upaki formal ceremonial dance survived relatively unchanged after the conversion of the T’ui Tonga chief to Christianity in the late 19th century and that the informal me’elaufola dance, for which Cook describes graceful hand and arm movements, was renamed lakalaka after conversion to Methodism (Kaeppler, 1970).

The writings of Mungo Park (1771–1806) provide evidence of stylistic continuity in African music. Imprisoned during his travels, he recorded observations in his diary about native song and dance, for example this passage about the women’s songs of Bambarra, Niger (20 July 1796). They lightened their labour by songs, one of which was composed extempore; for I was myself the subject of it. It was sung by one of the young women, the rest joining in a sort of chorus. The air was sweet and plaintive, and the words, literally translated, were these. – ‘The winds roared, and the rain fell. – The poor white man, faint and weary, came and sat under our tree. – He has no mother to bring him milk; no wife to grind his corn. Chorus. Let us pity the white man; no mother has he, &c, &c’ (Park, 1799).

This passage describes some important features of African music; its integration with work and play, the predominance of leader–chorus form and the use of improvisation.

A useful anthology of early sources is given in Harrison (1972).

Scientific advances.

Scientific investigation of non-Western music was made possible by the invention of the phonograph in 1877 by Thomas Edison. The phonograph facilitated fieldwork, offering pioneering comparative musicologists the possibility of playback from which to transcribe and analyse.

Scholars were quick to use the phonograph, recording many two- to four-minute samples of music on wax cylinders, which they added to their collections of instruments, photographs and notations made ‘by ear’. The first field recordings were made by Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1890 among the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine. In Hungary Béla Vikár (1859–1945) began recording in the field in 1896, and in Russia, Evgeniya Linoyova in 1897. The portable and convenient cylinder machine continued to be used in the field until the 1950s, even though more advanced technology, such as wire, and then tape recorders became available.

The English phonetician, Alexander J. Ellis (1814–90), an expert on the psychology of hearing and acoustics is often said, by English scholars, to be the father of modern ethnomusicology, and his publication ‘On the Musical Scales of Various Nations’ (1885), the first scientific and fair-minded appraisal of non-Western tuning systems, to mark the birth of the new study. Although he felt his hearing was faulty (or perhaps for this very reason), he devised the ‘cents’ system of pitch measurement, whereby the Western tempered semitone is divided into 100 cents, the octave into 1200 cents. The precision of his system allowed the objective measurement of non-Western scales. Musical scales, Ellis maintained, were the product of cultural invention and not based on natural acoustical laws. All musical scales were equally natural, hence equally good. The pronouncement he read before the Royal Society in 1885 is a credo for modern ethnomusicology, that ‘the Musical Scale is not one, not “natural”, nor even founded necessarily on the laws of the constitution of musical sound, so beautifully worked out by Helmholtz, but very diverse, very artificial, and very capricious’ (p. 526). This finding brought into question the superiority of Western tempered tuning and led the way to open-minded cross-cultural comparison of musical systems. It dealt a harsh blow to the pernicious theory of the ‘contemporary ancestor’ as applied to music, whereby so-called ‘primitive’ music was understood to represent an early phase in the evolution of European art music.

Ellis was assisted in his investigations by Alfred James Hipkins (1826–1903), specialist on temperament and pitch, of the Broadwood piano firm. This team measured the non-diatonic and non-harmonic tunings of Asian instruments, breaking precedent by testing in a performance setting rather than in the lab. They studied visiting Japanese musicians (1885), Central Javanese music during a gamelan appearance at the London Aquarium (1882) and Chinese court music at the International Health Exhibition (1884). In their findings they debunked the prevalent notion that pentatonic scales had developed in Asian cultures because of insensitivity to the subtleties of the semitone: ‘It is found that intervals of three-quarters and five-quarters of a Tone, and even more, occur. Hence the real division of the Octave in a pentatonic scale is very varied’.

Southern and eastern Europe.

The collecting projects of southern and eastern Europeans of the second half of the 19th century were largely contributions to folkloric studies. These collectors feared that entire repertories were on the point of extinction, repertories that were thought a proper base for nationalist styles of art music. Early collectors were motivated by musical nationalism, theories of self-determination and by hope for a musical rationale for a pan-Slavic identity. Thus composers of the late 19th century, from Janácek, to Grieg, Sibelius, Bartók and Rimsky-Korsakov were indebted to the painstaking research of song collectors. Whereas German scholars focussed on small samples of music from distant colonies, eastern European collectors explored their own linguistic setting, amassing large collections, thousands of song texts and, later, tunes, which they sought to classify and compare. The approaches of folk music research and comparative musicology were synthesized after World War I in the studies of Béla Bartók for Hungary and adjacent regions, the Romanian collector Constantine Brăiloiu, Klement Kvitka for Ukraine, Adolf Chybinski for Poland and Vasil Stoin for Bulgaria. These later writings dealt with theory, method, documentation and analysis, in light of the orientation of the Berlin school.


Since 1832, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been responsible for the collection and publication of folksongs both to preserve ‘authentic song’ and to present composite versions of folksongs to form a national public aesthetic and musical taste. Early Hungarian work includes that of collector Károly Szini, who published 200 melodies in notation (1865); Áron Kiss prepared an important collection of Hungarian children’s games (1891); and István Bartalus (1821–99) produced Magyar népdalok (1873–96), a seven-volume work including items acquired through correspondence and pieces by contemporary composers.

The philologist Béla Vikár (1859–1945) was first to record Hungarian folksong with the Edison phonograph in 1895. Zoltan Kodály (1882–1967) began transcribing Vikár’s recordings in 1904. Scholars such as László Lajtha (1892–1963) and Antal Molnár (1890–1983) worked from the Ethnographic Department of the National Museum (later the Museum of Ethnography).

Kodály set out on his first collecting trip in 1905, Bartók in 1906. Working in collaboration, they divided the districts they hoped to cover between them. Bartók’s travels took him to neighbouring countries and led to comparative studies. Between 1906 and 1918 Bartók collected 3223 Slovak melodies and between 1908 and 1917, 3500 Romanian melodies. In 1913 he collected Arab music in Biskra, North Africa and in 1936 travelled to Turkey. His Hungarian collections include 2721 songs (1924). In A magyar népdalok (Hungarian folksong) (1924) Bartók summarized his work with Kodály and presents 8000 melodies, attempting to reconstruct the evolution of Hungarian folksong through classification and typology. His work Népzenénk és a szomszéd népek népzenéje (Our folk music and that of neighbouring peoples) (1934) presents a comparison of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak songs, notable for the 1930s. Kodály’s A magyar népzene (Hungarian folk music) (1937) covers the entire oral tradition of Hungary including instrumental genres, folk customs and the relationship of music to culture. In 1953, Kodály founded the Folk Music Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (renamed the Folk Music Research Department of the Institute for Musicology in 1974); its major project has been publication of Corpus musicae popularis hungaricae (1951–). The collection of the Institute of Musicology is expanding (holdings of some 150,000 melodies) and research is ongoing, reflecting the changing scene.

Musical origins.

The early studies of black music by musicologists tried to pinpoint the origins of African-American style. Richard Wallaschek found scant evidence of Africanisms in transcriptions of Negro spirituals, and claimed they were imitations of European song (1893). Hornbostel concluded that African and European musics are ‘constructed on entirely different principles’ and could not be combined (1928).

The success of the Fisk Jubilee Singers of the 1870s, the first of many popular ‘Jubilee’ choirs from black colleges, stimulated publication of their song arrangements and reviews of their concerts (Marsh, 1875). Spiritual collections of this period include Johnson and Johnson (1925, 1926), Grissom (1930) and Work (1940). Spirituals were the first black musical genre to receive comprehensive scholarly attention. Early in the 20th century a controversy arose that lingered on until the 1990s. In Afro-American Folksongs (1914) Henry Edward Krehbiel (1854–1925) asserted that black American music was purely African material, that it sprang, without any outside influences, from its unique historical position. In White and Negro Spirituals (1943) George Pullen Jackson (1874–1953) put forward the ‘white origin theory’, arguing that black music had been influenced by Anglo-American song and constituted an integral part of the British tradition. Jackson discovered many of these white spirituals published in shape-note hymn books of the early 19th century. For example, the black spiritual ‘Down by the Riverside’ is derived from the white spiritual ‘We’ll Wait Till Jesus Comes’, published in 1868. The black spiritual ‘I want to Die A-Shouting’ uses a variant of the tune from the white spiritual ‘New Harmony’, but takes parts of its text from three other white spirituals: ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Jesus My All’ and ‘Am I a Soldier’. This ‘white origin theory’ was rejected by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamund Johnson (1925–6), John W. Work (1940), Mieczyslaw Kolinski (1969) and John Lovell (1972).

During the 1940s, anthropological theory weighed in heavily on the debate over the origins of spirituals. Melville J. Herskovits (1895–1963; The Myth of the Negro Past, 1941) and his student Richard A. Waterman (‘African Influence on the music of the Americas’, 1952) developed important anthropological theories based on hypotheses of culture change that included acculturation, syncretism and cultural focus, and demonstrated how European and African forms had blended to produce new genres bearing features of both parent musics. European and African music, they argued, have many features in common, among them diatonic scales and polyphony. When these two musics met, during the slave era, it was natural for them to blend; a lack of shared features explains why European and Amerindian musics failed to combine.

Herskovits and Waterman maintained that musical survivals, ‘Africanisms’, were stronger in areas of the New World where blacks predominated numerically. In the West Indies, particularly in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad, for example, Shango and Vodou cult songs (which derive directly from Africa) are still sung (these songs may have changed or even died out in their original African setting). In the USA the cotton plantation system placed blacks in close association with white musics, and fewer pure Africanisms can be identified in black folksongs of the American South. Herskovits proposed a scale of intensity, rating music as ‘a little African’ in the urban North, ‘quite African’ in the rural South, and ‘very African’ on the Gullah islands (Herskovits, 1941; Waterman, 1948, 1951, 1952).