Ethnomusicology, the study of world music, is a branch of musicology. This discipline developed after World War II in Western countries with a special emphasis on the inter-disciplinary approach to music. Like any other academic field, which is being created and recreated through research, writings and teaching, Ethnomusicology also had many variations in concepts, interpretations and applications.

The discipline Ethnomusicology branched out of musicology because of the ardent desire of many Western musicologists to study non-western music that had passed on from generation to generation through the oral tradition, especially the music of tribal and village communities.

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Jaap Kunst, a Dutch musicologist, introduced the term Ethnomusicology in 1950, though the actual discipline was in existence since late 19th century under the name Comparative Musicology. It may be said that from the publication of the Viennese scholar Guido Adler, 'Umfang Methodeund Zid Der Musikwissenschaft' (1885), the term Comparative Musicology was used for the study of non-Western music as a separate branch of musicology. The first edition of the Harvard Dictionary defines Comparative Musicology as the “study of exotic music” and   “the musical cultures outside the European tradition”.

After World War II, many musicologists did not favour the term Comparative Musicology and one of them was Jaap Kunst, the Dutch Ethnomusicologist who argued that the term was not entirely satisfactory. However the comparative method is frequently used in other fields of musicology and studies in this field are often not directly comparative. Therefore Jaap Kunst introduced the term Ethnomusicology in his little booklet Musicologa in the title page of the book in 1950. He placed the prefix “Ethno” in front of the word Musicology with a hyphen to indicate that the study would be on the music of the races of man or ethnic groups.

The term was virtually accepted immediately and a Society for Ethnomusicology was established in 1956 in the United States of America. The members who formed the society discussed and favoured the view that, “Ethnomusicology is by no means limited to the so-called ‘primitive music’ and is defined more by the orientation of the student than by any rigid boundaries of discourse”. The term Ethnomusicology is more accurate and descriptive of this discipline and its field of investigation than the older term, Comparative musicology. The hyphen in Ethnomusicology was officially dropped by the Society for Ethnomusicology in 1957. Prof. David McAllester one of the founders of the Society, emphasized that this new discipline must not be defined by the music under study, but by its methodology.

By late 1950s, the term Ethnomusicology came into use with or without hyphen as synonyms and by the end of the decade, the term comparative musicology acquired a historic status.

Many Ethnomusicologists from time-to-time have defined the term Ethnomusicology, thus changing the connotations of the term. Jaap Kunst defined the term Ethnomusicology as “the study of the music and musical instruments of all non-European peoples, including both the so-called primitive peoples and the civilized Eastern nations”. In the third edition of this same book, he wrote that it is a study of “Traditional music and musical instruments of all cultural strata of mankind” but specifically named “tribal and folk music and every kind of non-western Art-music” but specifically excluding Western Art and popular music. The definition was satisfactory at that period for many Ethnomusicologists. More definitions for the term Ethnomusicology began to come up from 1960s from various Ethnomusicologists extending the scope of study wider and wider.

Dr. S A K Durga


Ramayana Theatre in India and South-East Asia - Part 3

Ramayana Theatre in India and South-East Asia - Part 2

Ramayana Theatre in India and South-East Asia

Note: The author is a noted expert on Ethnomusicology.
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