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. View article »

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  • 0:03 Ethnomusicologists
  • 0:42 Career Information
  • 1:16 Step 1: Education
  • 2:12 Step 2: Fieldwork
  • 2:47 Step 3: Employment

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Video Transcript

Ethnomusicologists

Ethnomusicologists study music, focusing 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 or internships as part of their studies. Typically, they also conduct research and write pieces for publications.

Many 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 a music field.

Career Information

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide employment or salary information specific to ethnomusicologists, it has projected a 13%, or faster-than-average, growth in jobs for postsecondary teachers from 2014-2024.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Doctorate typically required
Degree Field Ethnomusicology or related field
Experience Fieldwork or internships may improve professional prospects, past teaching experience if working in academia
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills; teaching skills, research abilities
Salary (2015)* $72,470 (median annual salary of postsecondary teachers)

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

Let's take a look at some of the steps involved in becoming an ethnomusicologist at a postsecondary school:

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

Step 1: Education

Because ethnomusicologists typically work at colleges and universities 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 not only immerse themselves in cultural, historical, and musical aspects of one culture, but also study a variety of cultures. Doctoral students complete a dissertation project related to the area of specialization. They also take a series of qualifying examinations.

Success Tip:

  • Learn a foreign language. Doctoral programs in ethnomusicology require knowledge of at least one language relevant to a student's research specialization.

Step 2: Fieldwork

Fieldwork is a core characteristic of ethnomusicology and is usually funded through grants, fellowships, and scholarships from the Society of Ethnomusicology, the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright Program, or another organization.

Fieldwork usually takes place in a country or region related to a student's musical specialty. It provides the opportunity to conduct research, collect information, and immerse oneself in a culture itself and its music. Aspiring ethnomusicologists typically learn the instruments commonly used within a culture.

Step 3: Employment

As we said earlier, ethnomusicologists with the required education and experience are typically employed in academic settings; however, they can hold positions at libraries, museums, record labels, or other institutions. Ethnomusicology and musicology positions can be found through college campus job boards or groups like the Society for Ethnomusicology.

Success Tip:

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

Remember, if you're still interested in becoming an ethnomusicologist, you'll need a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in ethnomusicology or a closely related field. Most ethnomusicologists work in academia as postsecondary teachers, where they can earn a median annual salary of $72,470 as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2015.

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