What is an Ethnomusicologist? What do they do?

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Written By Tanya

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This article will cover everything you need to know about ethnomusicology, as well as the types of jobs available for those who have a background in this field of study.

We will also pay the wages and salaries of your education.

What is Ethnomusicology?

Ethnomusicology refers to the academic study and analysis of the socio-cultural aspects music. Ethnomusicologists, in other words, look at the socio-cultural roots of music and those who create it.

Professionals in this field don’t just study music, but also consider the whole picture. They also examine the cognitive, biological and people-centered aspects of music creation. Ethnomusicology can be described as the study of people who create music.

What do Ethnomusicologists Do

Let me tell you about the purpose of musicologists without going into detail (which we’ll do later). Or, in other terms, the importance of ethnomusicologists.

Ethnomusicologists allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the cultures and people behind music. Musicologists focus on the musical elements of songs or compositions, while ethnomusicologists combine the methods and techniques from ethnography (a social science) and the subdiscipline musicology.

This type of worker would be a key to our understanding of the motivations and methods of musicians. We wouldn’t be able to understand the history of the musician and the music.

Ethnomusicology is a rigorous field that helps us understand and appreciate the human origins of music and musical traditions. Similar studies will be undertaken by many others in the industry, including a music librarian.

What is it like to be an ethnomusicologist?

It’s difficult to explain what an ethnomusicologist does every day. This is because it depends on the institution they work at, their research focus, their research methodology and whether or not they teach. There are some elements that are universal to the profession that can be applied to all members.

Ethnomusicologists spend a lot of their time reading and writing about music and the cultures that it comes from. They are similar to other academic careers that spend a lot of time reading and researching.

They listen to music that is relevant to their research, and they often travel to places where that type of music is found.

They conduct ethnographic research in the field, unlike other academics. They travel to meet musicians and cultures to conduct field interviews and collect data about their music.

Ethnomusicology, also known as “comparative musicology”, is often referred to as it’s old name. It examines different cultures and how they influence music creation.

These workers also teach classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels when they’re not doing research. Many ethnomusicologists spend their time teaching courses, grading essays and writing lectures. Teaching assistants (TAs), however, often help with lecturing and grading.

They often publish their research after completing their first-hand research. Ethnomusicologists who have many publications and citations in high-impact factor journals are more likely than others to be granted tenure and long-term job security.


Ethnomusicologists travel extensively for their work and conduct extensive fieldwork. Ethnomusicologists should have the following skills in order to excel at their job throughout their career.

  • Interviewing skills
  • Cross-cultural awareness, sensitivity
  • Communication skills for interpersonal communication
  • Note-taking skills
  • Capacity to travel frequently

Ethnomusicologist Jobs

Ethnomusicologists can be described as a type or academic professional that teaches and conducts original research in higher educational institutions or private research institutes. They could also pursue other careers or have a side job.

Below are some of the most popular jobs for ethnomusicologists.

Academic researcher: They are well-equipped to work as academic researchers in a college, university, or research center.

Instructor or lecturer: With their academic credentials, they are qualified to teach research methods at post-secondary institutions as either a professor or adjunct teacher.

Music historian They are an excellent candidate to pursue a career in music history, aside from ethnographic research.

Music teacher or tutor: Pedagogically-inclined individuals may opt to teach music lessons or instrument tutoring to children or adults. This would require certification and expertise in the instrument.

High school or elementary teacher: An ethnomusicologist can choose to teach in elementary or high schools and specialize in music classes or after-school band instruction.

Ethnomusicologist Salary

The salaries of ethnomusicologists in America are not well-documented. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Handbook shows that in 2019, the median salary for postsecondary teachers was $79.540.

This figure is applicable to all instructors and teachers in higher education at different levels of tenure. It can still give an idea of the salary a musicologist could earn after being hired to teach.

Ethnomusicologists have many other career options. Below are the median salaries for various careers that ethnomusicologists can pursue. They were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Music historian: $63,680
  • Teacher in high school: $61,660
  • Teacher in elementary school: $59,420
  • Music teacher postsecondary: $66,930
  • Artist or singer: $30.39 an hour

The median income of Americans in 2017 was $31,099 so the many career options above would place an ethnomusicologist well above the national average.

Many academics with musical interests aspire to be ethnomusicologists because of the high pay and potential for this career path.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that postsecondary teachers are one of the most rapidly-growing occupations in America. According to the Bureau, the 2018-2028 job outlook is 11%. This is “much more than the average,” they say. The number of jobs for ethnomusicologists is expected to rise sharply in the coming decade.

In 2018, the United States had 1,350,700 jobs in postsecondary education. If the profession sees its 11% growth, then there will be approximately 1,499,000 jobs in postsecondary education. This is a net gain in employment of 155,000 post-secondary educators, which includes academic ethnomusicologists, from 2018 to 2028.

Ethnomusicologist Degree

A doctorate (PhD), in ethnomusicology, or another closely related academic discipline, is required to become an ethnomusicologist. After completing a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, a doctorate in ethnomusicology can be completed.

To become an ethnomusicologist, one must have completed at least eight years of university education. Many schools offer Master’s and PhD degrees. Some offer both.

Several schools offer programs in ethnomusicology in the United States, including:

  • Northwestern University
  • University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill).
  • Cornell University
  • Brown University
  • Florida State University
  • Boston University
  • Brandeis University
  • Indiana University (Bloomington)

All of the academic programs listed above offer competitive and internationally-recognized ethnomusicology programs. Each institution has its own requirements for admission to each program. To apply to any of these programs, it is a good idea to check with the school to verify that you meet the requirements.

Click below to contact any one of the schools listed above to find out if you are eligible for their programs. [Edit: Tool removed]

This is the Ethnomusicologist Job Description

This article will explain what an ethnomusicologist does, how to become one, and who the best qualified person is for it. We also examined alternative career options and the median salary of ethnomusicology-degree holders in postsecondary teaching ($79,540).

Ethnomusicologists study the intersection of culture and music. There is plenty of research available and the future looks bright for them. However, the downside is that ethnomusicology PhD programmes are extremely competitive and require years of education to be admitted.

Although it is hard work, this job can be very rewarding and enriching intellectually. Ethnomusicologist is a highly sought-after profession for intellectuals and academics with a passion for music, the study of human culture and music.

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