10 Best Musicology Programs in the US
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10 Best Musicology Programs in the US

Author: Tom Stein

Date: January 20, 2020

Reads: 1,186


Tom Stein is a Senior Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, bandleader and performer. He is an Administrator of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and Multi-Media Tour Bus, and a member of the US State Department's Fulbright Specialist Roster for global entertainment and music industry.
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Interested in studying Musicology or earning your undergraduate or graduate degree in Ethnomusicology? You should consider the schools on my list.

The schools listed here are not in any particular order. Now, without any further ado;

Our picks for the best musicology programs in the US are:

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

At the end, I’ll also mention a few other programs worth considering, in addition to my top ten.

Studying Musicology and Ethnomusicology

Musicology and Ethnomusicology are academic fields focused on the research and study of musical forms and methods, along with the functions of music in Western and non-Western societies and cultures. It includes the holistic investigation of music in its cultural contexts, combining aspects of folklore, psychology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, music theory, and history.

Borrowing methods from many disciplines, Ethnomusicology has evolved since its introduction as a field in the early 20th Century. Initially focused on studying Western Art Music, its perspectives expanded to include non-Western music, and finally to the study of all musical approaches. Today, Ethnomusicology researchers and Musicologists apply systemized frameworks to their research and study.

All of the programs in Musicology are small; most have only a handful of students enrolled. The largest programs might have a dozen or so students enrolled. Students take courses in general music, music theory, and may study on an instrument. Because of the small size of programs, students should expect to receive individualized instruction and guidance in their research from faculty.

Some schools offer only graduate degrees, and the field tends to be very research-oriented and scholarly in nature. A few schools offer minors in Musicology.

All the schools included in my 10 best list have well-established programs with a track record of producing successful alumni. In deciding where to earn your degree, begin by considering a number of schools, and then carefully investigate each one.

I recommend that you visit each school you are seriously considering, and speak directly with the faculty and some students. They can best give you a realistic perspective on what the program is like. You might want to attend a conference to get an idea of which schools are most active in the field and become acquainted with the faculty teaching at various institutions.

Many students choose a school based on the faculty teaching there, or the notable successes of their alumni. Location and cost can be a factor in choosing a school, as are scholarships. There’s a lot to consider when choosing a school. As you do your research, take careful notes to help you compare the different programs’ plusses and minuses.

Take advantage of opportunities to network with industry professionals while researching schools. Keep track of who you speak with, in case questions come up later on and you want to circle back to them. Listen to the opinions of Teachers and other professionals, but in the end, you should make the decision based on what feels right for you.

10 of the Top Schools for Musicology

Organizing a “Top 10” list for anything is a difficult and complex undertaking. It’s really hard to decide which schools to include or leave out. For my list, I considered different factors, such as size of the program, reputation, location, facilities, faculty, costs, alumni success, length of operation, affiliations, degrees offered, and so on.

I wanted to provide a sampling of excellent programs as a starting point for students to help with their initial research. Over time, programs can change, so I tried to make the information as up to date as possible for our current academic year.

At the end, I have also included some additional schools not included in the list, but also worthy of consideration. The link to each school is also provided. Schools aren’t listed in any particular order.

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University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA’s Department of Musicology offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Arts (MA) and a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in Musicology, as well as a Musicology Minor. The most recent report of the National Research Council ranked UCLA Musicology as the number one Musicology doctoral program in the country.

Course offerings range from traditional subjects from the history of European and American music to more specialized courses in electronic dance music (EDM), pop, rock and roll, musicals, and other modern styles. Students can take theoretical courses in sound studies, music and politics, performance, listening and analysis, music and gender, philosophy of music, and music in postcolonial studies.

The department presents concerts by the UCLA Early Music Ensemble, with participation from students across the university. The Musicology Department is housed in the Herb Alpert School of Music.

Boston University (BU)

Housed in the School of Music, Boston University offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Music with a concentration in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, a Master of Arts (MA) in Musicology with specializations in Musicology or Ethnomusicology and a Ph.D. in Musicology with specializations in Musicology, Ethnomusicology, or Musicology and Ethnomusicology.

The faculty consists of five Musicologists and five Ethnomusicologists, and the department houses research centers in Early Music and Beethoven studies. Faculty specialties range from the Middle Ages to popular music, and geographically from Indonesia to Japan, Africa, and the Americas.

The customizable curriculum integrates performance, manuscript studies, and oral traditions in research and training. Doctoral students (post BA or MA) can access up to 5 years of full funding.

Brown University

In Providence, RI, Brown offers a Ph.D. program in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, which includes earning an MA as an intermediate step. To earn the MA, students must complete 8 graduate courses, master a foreign language, demonstrate proficiency in Western Music Theory, Western Music History, and Musicology subjects, plus produce a 30 to 50-page research paper.

For the Ph.D., students take additional required and elective courses, learn a second foreign language, take written qualifying exams, and write an original dissertation that makes a contribution to knowledge in the field of ethnomusicology. The coursework normally takes six full-time semesters, and the dissertation, with review and defense, could take several more years.

The small size of the program facilitates close mentoring relationships with faculty, allowing students to receive guidance from scholars with a variety of approaches. Recent dissertations have explored matters such as Afrocentric consciousness in Brazilian capoeira, carnival performance in mixed-race South African communities, Scandinavian white nationalism, and Turkish intellectual property law.

Northwestern University

In Evanston, IL, in proximity to downtown Chicago. Offers Bachelor of Music (BM), BA, BS, MA, and Ph.D. degrees. The Musicology Program at Northwestern approaches music as a humanistic study of music in culture, where students are invited to view music through an interdisciplinary lens to reveal cultural contexts and meanings.

In addition to strengths in 18th Century and African and African-American studies, faculty specialize in all periods of traditional music history, plus geographies of increasing interest for the field, such as the former Soviet Republics, Spain, Britain, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Students complete interdisciplinary coursework in humanities and social sciences, present academic papers at national and international conferences, and earn prestigious fellowships and awards, as well as academic placements after graduation.

In the University’s Bienen School of Music, hundreds of concerts are given each year, and students benefit from the large university’s scholarly community, research libraries, plus the thriving musical cultures of both Evanston and Chicago. The Northwestern Music Library is one of the largest music collections in the U.S. specializing in 20th century and contemporary classical music.

Ph.D. students can qualify for tuition and stipend, plus subsidized health insurance.

Cornell University

Located in Ithaca, NY, heart of the Finger Lakes, the Ivy League Cornell campus overlooks Cayuga Lake and is set in an area of natural beauty and with a small college town-vibe. Offering a Ph.D. in Musicology, which also includes a Masters, students are offered full financial support for the entire five years through a series of fellowships and teaching assistantships.

The program encompasses ethnomusicology, music theory, and historical musicology, and is flexible, as it is developed individually in consultation with the student’s Special Committee, and in combination with studies in the field of music or with other fields offered at the university. Students are encouraged to complete a graduate minor in another discipline from outside the department and are required to learn multiple foreign languages, pass comprehensive examinations, and orally defend their doctoral dissertation.

University of Pennsylvania

Located in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is also an Ivy League university, offering graduate degrees focused on Historical Musicology, Music Theory, and Ethnomusicology. Combining approaches from anthropology, musicology, folklore, literary theory, religious studies, linguistics, critical theory, and gender studies, students and faculty explore the deeper meaning of music in different cultures.

Research areas include diaspora, jazz in world perspective, post-coloniality, tourism and mobility studies, applied ethnomusicology, and popular music studies. Geographic expertise of faculty encompasses the Americas, Western Europe, Africa, and the Indian Ocean.

Seminars are organized around the various instructors’ current research. Seminars extend into fieldwork locally, and recent projects have included exploring gospel music in several West Philadelphia churches and documentary fieldwork in a West Philadelphia mosque.

Other recent seminar topics have included: Music and Tourism in the Caribbean; Improvisation in Cross Cultural Perspective; Women in Jazz; The Ethics of Style in Caribbean Popular Music; Cosmopolitanism; Songwork in Early Colonial Latin America; African Music; and Music of Central Asia.

Brandeis University

Located in the western suburbs of Boston, Brandeis has an internationally recognized music department which offers MA, MFA, and Ph.D. degrees in Musicology. The MA can be earned in one year and is for students interested in exploring graduate research without committing to years of study.

The MFA takes two years and requires writing a thesis (or two expanded seminar papers), plus proficiency in both German and French.

The Ph.D. program is for serious researchers also interested in preparing for a university teaching career. Award-winning faculty and their students participate in the American Musicological Society of New England and perform or write for the many university ensembles.

Brandeis’s Slosberg Music Center houses 30 pianos (including the one used by Leonard Bernstein as a child), the Jencks Early Music Room (containing an extensive collection of period instruments, including two harpsichords and an historic Viennese fortepiano), and an electro-acoustic studio. The Creative Arts Library has holdings in scholarly music editions, journals, and microfilm, as well as the Walter F. and Alice Gorham Collection of Early Music Imprints (1501-1650).

The Brandeis Journal of Musicology is a new peer-reviewed, student-run, online publication showcasing the work of graduate students and scholars of music.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In the Music Department of the College of Arts and Sciences, UNC offers BA and BM undergraduate degrees, as well as an MA and Ph.D. in Musicology. The department boasts internationally recognized faculty, a world-leading academic music library for research, and historical collections with numerous music-related artifacts.

The Ph.D. program is the second-oldest in the US, granting its first degrees in 1939. Faculty and alumni include many leading scholars, Teachers, and Music Historians, and there is a strong legacy of job placement, especially for teaching positions. Students and faculty focus on all areas of music and the globe in their studies and research.

Indiana University Bloomington

The Jacobs School of Music offers graduate degrees in Musicology, including an MA, an MA in Musicology combined with a Master of Library Science (MLS), and a Ph.D.

The Department of Musicology is one of the top-ranked musicology programs in the country, covering music of all periods. Students have access to generous financial aid, an outstanding music library, and the resources of a major research university and a comprehensive school of music. The Graduate Musicology Association, Musicology Reading Group, and the Musicology Colloquium Series promote a strong sense of community among a small and close-knit group of scholars.

Florida State University (FSU)

Located in the state capitol, in the Florida Panhandle, FSU offers a Master of Music (MM) and a Ph.D. in Musicology, with focus on Ethnomusicology, and Historical Musicology. They also offer a Specialized Study Program for undergraduates in music with a focus on Early Music and Music of the Americas.

The curriculum has a strong orientation towards performance, with Early Music and World Music ensembles, and an internationally recognized faculty specializing in contemporary and historical musicological topics from all areas of the globe. Students also benefit from well-equipped laboratories, a program of guest lecturers, an outstanding library, and a collection of musical instruments from many cultures and historical periods that is used actively by students and faculty alike.

Also Worthy of Mention

The following schools are also notable and well worth a look.

Claremont Graduate University (CGU)

Located on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, CA, the School of Arts and Sciences at Claremont offers a Ph.D. in Musicology. Designed for aspiring academic or music professionals, CGU’s Ph.D. in Musicology emphasizes performance, composition, theory, and scholarly research, with a curriculum focused on music in its interdisciplinary, cultural, and intellectual contexts.

Highly qualified faculty provide mentorship to students developing their program of studies in music literature, historical style analysis, and performance practices, using cutting-edge analytical methodologies. Their accomplished graduates have gone on to varied musical careers, including College and University Professors, members of professional ensembles, Music Directors in churches, and solo performing artists.

CGU is home to the highly respected music journal Performance Practice Review.

Tufts University

Located in Medford, MA, a close-in suburb of Boston, Tufts has long been known for its Ethnomusicology programs, offering courses in Ethnomusicology and world music for undergraduate liberal arts and music majors/minors, plus a Master of Arts (MA) in Ethnomusicology.

Courses cover world music; area studies in Africa, Afro-America, American popular and sacred music, the Arab and Islamic world, Asia, the Jewish world, and Europe (Western Art Music). Students study theory of music and culture, research methods for Ethnomusicology, multimedia for music, and perform in ensembles from the Arab world, Ghana, Java, and the Jewish Klezmer tradition.

Private lessons are offered on instruments and voice from Japan, India, and the Mediterranean.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that there are some great schools that are not on my 10 Best list. Do your own research and then plan to visit the schools you are most interested in.

Speak with professionals in the field to see what they advise. Try to talk to graduates of any programs you’re considering, and ask how they feel about their training. Earning a degree in Ethnomusicology or Musicology should be a solid investment in terms of learning, and preparation for entry to the field as an academic, a teacher, or a music professional.

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