Guidelines for developing an ethnomusicological fieldwork project

[with acknowledgments to Titon’s Worlds of Music]

Generating ideas/where to look
  • Family and family contexts: home, church, travel, life-cycle events
  • Generation groups and organization’s w/ generation-specific profile
  • Avocation: amateur music-making contexts
  • Religion: music in worship contexts and music in religion-specific communities
  • Ethnicity
  • Regionalism
  • Nationalism/national identity
  • Commercial contexts

Musical ethnography: “a written representation and description of a music-culture, organized from the standpoint of a particular topic.”

May be accompanied by documentation in various different media.

Goal: to understand a music-culture or some part of it from a native’s or insider’s point of view.

Begin with developing a model of the music culture in question, perhaps:

Music > Performers > Audience > Time and Space

Modes of interacting with research subjects

Issues of documentation: notes, recordings (A/V), participant observation, other

Develop a bibliography of relative previous studies, especially of area-specific ethnographies and/or journal literature.

Breadth of focus: individual? Family group? Social group? Ethnicity?

Gaining entry: moving from public toward private contexts. Use of contacts and referrals. Issues of honesty and patience.

Repeatedly refine focus.

Move toward thesis statement.

In observation situation, maintain awareness of necessary variant perspectives.

Ethics of collecting and observer behavior

Write up field notes regularly!

Topics for observation:
  • Teaching/learning situations
  • Terminology
  • Aesthetics
  • Rehearsals
  • Composition
  • “Business” of music
  • Variant social contexts for performances
  • Feedback from participants
  • Patterns and structures of behavior

Think about interview technique and its pitfalls

Think about questionnaire design and its pitfalls

  • Confidentiality issues
  • Followup with participants
  • Recompense of participants

Shape of final report: thesis, evidence, argument, conclusion