Musicology FAQ

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Musicology is a humanities-based degree that draws from a variety of different disciplines in the study of music. What is musicology, exactly? What can you get out of studying it? What do you need to know before you apply to a college-level musicology program?

What is Musicology?

Musicology studies music as a scholarly field and academic subject housed in the humanities. There are many different kinds of musicology: historical musicology, musical psychology, ethnomusicology, acoustics, and more. Though many musicologists are musicians themselves, musicology tends to be focused on the academic study of music itself rather than, say, a performance degree would focus on actually playing the music.

What Can I Do with a Degree in Musicology?

Musicology students end up pursuing a wide variety of careers. Many students are keenly interested in research and enter grad school to continue their research on the topics they began studying in their first college degree. Other musicology students are interested in teaching.

Because it is a part of the humanities, musicology combines well with other areas of academic focus, including history, sociology, psychology, and archeology. The paths that musicology majors take are as diverse as the interests of these musicologists: some musicology students end up working as educators, while others work as curators at museums, fundraisers and grant writers at arts nonprofits, or board members of a foundation or arts board. Because the degree is research-focused, musicologists get to become excellent writers, sometimes leading to further work in music criticism, music journalism, and other music-oriented publication work. No matter what job a musicology student ends up pursuing, a deep interest in history, culture, and music’s place in society always abides.

What’s the History of Musicology?

Musicology is an extremely broad field, and many sub-categories fall under the umbrella of its academic purview. Since people began studying the scoring and playing of music, it has existed as an academic field. With the advent of audio recording in the 19th and early 20th centuries, musicology expanded dramatically as a field as musicologists began documenting music around the world. These days, recorded audio is a major part of many musicologists’ research. Access to new technologies presents promising expansion for musicologists everywhere.

Libraries and Musicology

Some musicology students have a special interest in music archives and libraries as they pursue their studies. Rare recordings, sheet music, and other primary source materials can be great assets for research experiences at any level. If you’re interested in this area of musicology, it’s in your interest to consult with the program you want to attend to see if they’re open to students taking this kind of approach.

How Will Studying Musicology Enrich My Life?

Studying musicology can enrich your life in a variety of ways:

  • Learn about the world around you. You can understand a lot about a culture by becoming familiar with its music. This endless exploration presents a lifelong learning opportunity.
  • Familiarize yourself with history. Music has existed throughout history. No matter what time and place you’re interested in studying, there will be a body of music to accompany it.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to travel. During your studies or afterward, you may have the opportunity to travel to the particular birthplace of the musical phenomena you’re studying.
  • Benefit from an interdisciplinary degree. By nature, musicology is interdisciplinary because it draws from music, psychology, sociology, and more. Using different parts of your brain is not only intellectually satisfying, but it makes you into a better creative problem-solver, a vital skill no matter what kind of career you choose to pursue.
  • Meet interesting people. Performers, audiences, and even other musicologists all present opportunities to meet people from all walks of life who have one thing in common: an aural appreciation.

Can I Study Musicology and Still Be a Musician?

Many musicologists are also performing musicians. After all, if you’re passion is music, there are a few reasons not to pick up an instrument yourself. The Frost School encourages you to take foundational music classes as you pursue musicology. The more you know about performing music, the better musical researcher you will be.

What Kinds of Classes Will I Take?

A masters student in musicology at the Frost School of Music has the opportunity to take many different kinds of classes including the following:

  • Operatic Literature
  • Symphonic Literature
  • Art Song Literature
  • Contemporary Music
  • Music, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Music and Religion
  • Jazz Cultures
  • History of the American Musical Theater
  • Music of Argentina and Brazil
  • Music Cultures of the World

Remember: not every class is available every semester, so it’s important to plan ahead and discuss your schedule with your academic advisor well in advance. That way, you won’t miss out on an important class and have plenty of time to fit in fieldwork and other complementary experiences.

What Are My Financial Options as I Pursue a Musicology Degree?

Students pay for their musicology degree in a variety of ways: some students are able to take advantage of the limited graduate assistantships in which the school pays tuition in exchange for academic services like teaching or research assistance. Other students use grants, loans, and scholarships to pay for their tuition and fees. The office of admissions is happy to provide potential students with a detailed list of financial options.


How Do I Find a Musicology Degree That’s Right for Me?

A quality musicology program will have a couple of different components: quality faculty, committed students, and a range of excellent connections. An established faculty department has members who represent a range of research interests. The faculty should be publishing widely and be familiar with many areas of this expansive field. A good program will have a broad cohort of devoted students who are able to take advantage of internship opportunities, research experiences, and other coursework. Attending a musicology program in a large city allows students the special advantage of close proximity to a wide variety of opportunities.