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Become an Ethnomusicologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how you can become an ethnomusicologist. Explore the education and career requirements, and discover some success tips that can help you start a career in ethnomusicology.

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Should I Become an Ethnomusicologist?

An ethnomusicologist studies music and focuses on the role that music plays in a given culture, according to the Society for Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicologists typically work in academic settings as professors or assistant professors, and must complete field work as part of their studies. They typically also conduct research, write pieces for publication and educate students. Many of these professors work part-time or have flexible schedules, though they may face competition for tenured positions. As ethnomusicologists tend to work at the university level, most are required to have a doctorate in the music field.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's and doctorate (often required)
Degree Field Ethnomusicology
Experience Fieldwork or internships may improve professional prospects
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills
Salary $68,970 (median annual wage of postsecondary teachers)

Sources: ethnomusicology.org, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete Education Requirements

Because ethnomusicologists are typically hired to work at colleges and universities to work as professors or assistant professors, they must have a doctorate. Many schools require that students have a background in ethnomusicology before enrolling in a Ph.D. program. During ethnomusicology graduate programs, students may focus on a specialization, such as African or Asian music. Depending on the specialization, students are engaged in not only cultural, historical and musical studies of one culture, but they might also be expected to study a variety of cultures. During a Ph.D. program, students focus on their area of specialty to complete a dissertation project. They also take part in a series of qualifying examinations.

Success Tip:

  • Learn a foreign language. Doctoral programs in ethnomusicology require that students know at least one language that is relevant to their research specialization.

Step 2: Engage in Fieldwork

Fieldwork is a core characteristic of ethnomusicology. A common way to fund fieldwork is through grants, fellowships and scholarships from organizations such as the Society of Ethnomusicology and the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright Program. Fieldwork commonly takes place in a culture, country or region of musical specialty. Fieldwork provides the opportunity to conduct research, collect information and immerse oneself in the music of the culture and the culture itself. Additionally, ethnomusicologists typically learn the instruments commonly used within a culture.

Step 3: Find a Job

Ethnomusicologists are typically employed in academic settings; however, they can hold positions in museums, libraries, record labels or other institutions. Ethnomusicology and musicology positions can be found on job boards offered at college campuses or through groups such as the Society for Ethnomusicology. Job applicants must typically demonstrate ethnomusicology education and credentials, as well as experience.

Success Tip:

  • Gain Experience. Since many ethnomusicologists work in academia, a common requirement is that candidates have demonstrated teaching experience.
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