Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical approaches that emphasize cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, in addition to the sound component.
The two approaches to ethnomusicology bring unique perspectives to the field, providing knowledge both about the effects culture has on music, and about the impact music has on culture.Enemy Way Music: A Study of Social and Esthetic Values As Seen in Navaho Music
Aside from Enemy Way music, McAllester sought Navajo cultural values based on analysis of attitudes toward music. To his interviewees, McAllester gave a questionnaire, which includes these items:
In the same work, Merriam states that "what the ethnomusicologist does in the field is determined by his own formulation of method, taken in its broadest sense." Fieldwork can have multiple areas of inquiry, and Merriam lists six of these:
Aside from this history of fieldwork, Nettl writes about informants: the people whom fieldworkers research and interview. Informants do not contain the entirety of a musical culture, and need not represent the ideal of the culture. According to Nettl, there is a bell-shaped curve of musical ability. In a community, the majority are "simply good" at their music. They are of greatest interest. However, it is also worth seeing who a community recommends as informants. People may direct a fieldworker to the best musicians, or they may suggest many "simply good" musicians. This attitude is reflective of the culture's values.Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology
Ethics is vital in the Ethnomusicology field because the product that comes out of fieldwork can be the result of the interaction between two cultures. Applying ethics to this field will confirm that each party is comfortable with the elements in the product and ensure that each party is compensated fairly for their contribution. To learn more about the monetary effects after a work is published, please see the copyright section of this page.
In the Society of Ethnomusicology, there is a committee on ethics that publishes the field's official Position Statement on Ethics. Because ethnomusicology has some fundamental values that stem from anthropology, some of the ethics in ethnomusicology parallel some ethics in anthropology as well. The American Anthropology Association have statements about ethics and anthropological research which can be paralleled to ethnomusicology's statement.
Slobin's discussion of ethical issues in ethnomusicology was surprising in that he highlights the ethnomusicology community's apathy towards the public discussion of ethical issues, as evidenced by the lackluster response of scholars at a large 1970 SEM meeting.
Slobin also points out a facet of ethical thinking among ethnomusicologists in that many of the ethical rules deal with Westerners studying in non-Western, third world countries. Any non-Western ethnomusicologists are immediately excluded from these rules, as are Westerner's studying Western music.
A solution to some of the copyright issue that the ethnomusicology is having is to push for the broadening of the copyright laws in the United States. To broaden is equivalent to changing who can be cited as the original author of a piece of work to include the values that specific societies have. In order for this to be done, ethnomusicologists have to find a common ground amongst the copyright issues that they have encountered collectively.
Cognitive psychology, neuroscience, anatomy, and similar fields have endeavored to understand how music relates to an individual's perception, cognition, and behavior. Research topics include pitch perception, representation and expectation, timbre perception, rhythmic processing, event hierarchies and reductions, musical performance and ability, musical universals, musical origins, music development, cross-cultural cognition, evolution, and more.
Ethnomusicology has been referenced in popular media on occasion. The movie Songcatcher is loosely based on the work of an early ethnomusicologist.
For articles on significant individuals in this discipline, see the List of ethnomusicologists.