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Cultural Musicology

Catalogue Number
Admin. code
Entry requirements
admitted to the MA programme Musicology
Time Period(s)
Semester 1 blok 1 en 2
Educational institute
Kunst-, religie- en cultuurwetenschappen
Organised by
Capaciteitsgroep Muziekwetenschap
dr. W. van der Meer ( and others)
Is part of ...


  • The socio-cultural approach in musicology.
  • Music and power.
  • The cultural analysis of music.
  • The musical analysis of culture (music-logic).
  • Meaning(s) of music.


Cultural musicology does not limit itself to any specific type, genre, region, class or period of/in music, and the student is free to investigate any musical subject of his/her own choice. However, it is expected that the participant has a working knowledge and familiarity with the music of choice, and apply the concepts studied in this course to the music of choice.

Research on the world's music has a much longer and much more globally spread history than (ethno)musicologists commonly acknowledge when they equate the study of the world's music with the university-based, European-derived academic discipline they engage in. Through the perpetuation of this epistemology, the scope of the scientific occupation with music around the world is silently confined to the narrow realm of Euro-American musicology. This ethnocentric stance is a main reason for the current 'ethnomusicological malady', characterized by scholars who grapple not only with the name and scope of their subject, but also, perhaps more importantly, with their methods and the definition of their object of study.

Cultural Musicology aspires to provide a sketch of the viable pathways musicology may opt for at its present crossroads. There is a substantial reconsideration of some basic but sometimes overworked concepts called upon in (ethno)musicology, including the notions of the musical Other, hybridity, and musical meaning. Finally, we will set forth selected systems of ‘thinking musico-logically’ from around the world. Some of the approaches of cultural musicology are listed below:

  • Post-modern musicology (Kramer)
  • Postcolonial musicology (van der Meer)
  • Evolutionary musicology and memetics of music (Cross, Jan)
  • Music and Gender (McClary, Subotnik)

Understanding world hearings, in which music is the funnel through which we make sense of the world, is the central quest of cultural musicology. Cultural musicology integrates methods and approaches from (new)ethnomusicology, the anthropology of music and new musicology.

Studying music in its cultural frames on a potentially world wide scale and focussing on the present and its recent history necessarily brings with it a distinctly postcolonial perspective. European music was propagated in large parts of the world, sometimes eradicating indigenous music, in other cases leading to hybridizations and generating new forms. But contemporary ‘musickers’ around the world, in both classical and popular traditions, also have engaged with ‘Other’ music on a large scale.

In cultural musicology music has often been studied as a means of identity construction. It is rather obvious that Irish and Polish people around the world revel in making (imagined and invented) music that furnishes them with a cultural comfort zone. But how are identities constructed in a cultural in-between? As a corollary of the postcolonial cultural flows and hybridization the emergence of new identities in music is a second focus of music and culture.

Finally, music is necessarily mediated, primarily through the musicker (including the listener and his body), and secondly through all sorts of records; written scores, wax cylinders, shellac discs, radio, LPRs, magnetic tapes and cassettes, television, CDs and the internet. In the twenty-first century music cultures heavily rely on these technologies and many new music cultures depend entirely on them, existing without a live counterpart.

Understanding world hearings, knowing culture through music, cannot be realized through a confined Eurocentric approach that was the hallmark of comparative musicology and largely also ethnomusicology. The different ‘musico-logicas’ of the world therefore play a salient role in cultural musicology. Analyzing music around the world with the tools of European musicology, with its heavy reliance on transcriptions in staff-notation simply will not do. Not only must indigenous methodologies be applied, but in addition the development of new methods of analysis through negotiations between music cultures will be necessary.


Other music studies

  • The history of studying ‘other’ music in its own (imagined) context
  • About barbarian, barbaric and barbarous music
  • Travellers
  • Misplaced music scholars
  • Encyclopedists (imagining other music)
  • Comparative musicologists (hearing the music, imagining the meaning)
  • Ethnomusicologists (getting the meaning on the spot)
  • World music studies (getting the locals here)
  • Transcending the self-other dichotomy

New (and/or Postmodern) musicology

  • Is WAM by definition as conservative as Kerman suggests? The concert hall
  • Being true to the work
  • The emancipation of music
  • Absolute music
  • The decline of improvisation
  • The authenticity hoax

Gender and music

  • The body
  • Performance

Sociology of music

  • How is this different from anthropology of music? Is this sociology or musicology?
  • What does it (not) say about music? Does it help in any way?

Pop music studies

  • Why pop music studies started so late? Why did musicologists stay so far behind?
  • What was the social scientist’s view of pop music? Which precursors of pop music do we know?
  • Why is pop music studies exploding now?


  • Why does Raymond Williams find culture such a difficult word? Culture and civilization
  • Culture as art / art as culture
  • Hi Lo
  • Everyday culture
  • Is music culture? Is culture music??? Is music in culture?
  • How do they interact?

Cultural analysis

  • What is the difference between cultural analysis and cultural studies?
  • Is cultural musicology the cultural analysis of music?
  • How does cultural analysis relate to musical analysis (of a piece)?

Evolution and Memetics

  • What is change in music?
  • Why evolutionary theory (neo-darwinism)?
  • Creationists
  • The association of evolutionary theories with liberalism and fascism
  • Wrong applications of evolutionary theory (unilinear evolution)
  • Steward, Sahlins, Service opposed to early social evolutionism
  • Biomusicology and the evolution of music
  • Not by genes alone
  • Language and music as organism
  • The meme; real or metaphor
  • Memetics; theory, paradigm or model?


  • Culture’s in-between
  • Cultural flows
  • Moving/travelling music
  • Fusion
  • Tradition and its invention


We will build an interactive website as a logbook of our investigations with a high degree of interactivity. To achieve this we have outlined a work plan as follows:

  • every week we have a couple of articles (or book chapters) to study
  • apply the ideas put forward in  one or more of those articles to a music you ‘know’
  • every other Friday before 24:00 report, by creating a new post of 800-1200 words, making sure you link the post to the correct category/ies
  • before the next meeting we look at the contributions of other participants, and where applicable leave observations, criticisms, suggestions (in the replay/comment).
  • during the meeting we discuss the articles, the posts and the discussions.
  • at the end of the course we all write a concluding post, summarizing our findings (1000-1500 words). students who go for the full 18 EC course can combine this post with their essay (the final essay should be about 4000-4500 words, so if you combine the concluding post with the essay it would be 5000-6000 words).
  • always use references (Chicago/APA) style and have a bibliography at the bottom
  • everybody is allowed to skip 2 times


2x 2 hours per week.

Study materials

You are supposed to have read and understood:

  • Cook: Music, A very short introduction
  • Kerman: Contemplating music (Musicology)
  • Bennet: Popular music reader
  • Some basic texts in ‘ethno’-musicology e.g.:
  • Nettl, Nettle’s elephant
  • Bohlman, World Music, A very short introduction
  • Titon, Worlds of Music (or a similar overview of the music of the world)

Recommended reading:

  • Mieke Bal: Travelling Concepts in the Humanities, A Rough Guide
  • Robert Young: Post-colonialism, A very short introduction
  • Arjun Appadurai: Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization


Assignments, active participation, final essay.

written contributions structure 3
  language (grammar/spelling) 3
  argumentation 6
  precision 3
  intelligibility 6
  originality 10
  complexity 3
  density 3
  use of course lit 6
  use of subject lit 4
  use of other lit 3
  use of av 6
  commentaries on others 8
  proper length 5
  referencing 3
  layout 3
participation classroom participation 10
music-logic engagement with the musical object 15

written contributions structure 3
  language (grammar/spelling) 3
  argumentation 6
  precision 3
  intelligibility 6
  originality 10
  complexity 3
  density 3
  use of course lit 6
  use of subject lit 4
  use of other lit 3
  use of av 6
  commentaries on others 8
  proper length 5
  referencing 3
  layout 3
participation classroom participation 10
music-logic engagement with the musical object 15

Explanation of the categories:

  • structure: is there a clear overall structure in your writing (like head, body, tail)
  • language: we have taken into account that you are not 'native', but even so …
  • argumentation: do you have a logical flow from one step to the next
  • precision: how precise is your writing (choice of words, formulation)
  • intelligibility: can we understand well what you wrote
  • originality: are (some of) the ideas original, do you have new angles
  • complexity: is your work simplistic or does it have a higher level of complexity 
  • density: are you using a compact style or are you just rambling
  • use of course lit: have you used the reading of the course (in its totality rather thatn just an isolated thought from an article)
  • use of subject lit: did you have good sources on your own subject and did you use them well
  • use of other lit: have you used literature of a more general theoretical nature
  • use of av: how have you used images, music, movies in your contributions
  • commentaries: what has been your contribution to the online debates/commentaries (quantity and quality)
  • proper length: did your work comply with the demands of nr of words and was all of the text relevant (writing a lot is easy…)
  • referencing: how was your referencing done (precision, correctness, relevance)
  • layout: is your work esthetically well presented
  • classroom participation: did you have much to say in class, did you show that you understood the literature
  • engagement with the musical object: could you bring the chosen musical object(s) of study to life, have you shown a thorough understanding of the object

Last column is the percentage of each category in the total of 100%.