Thinking about ethnomusicology options

There are a raft of good ethnomusicology programs across the US. Most will be housed as part of conservatories, schools, or departments of music. In contrast, though some such still exist, it would unusual (and very old-fashioned) for an ethnomusicology program to operate outside the rubric of a music program, and the fact that some do so is both a reflection of decades-long schisms, and also the reason why, at my own particular institution for instance, I did a (music) degree in musicology, rather than a (folklore) degree in ethnomusicology. It is not unusual for individuals to become ethno specialists only as graduate students; typically this is because many such students only really discover the existence of the field, and their own interest in pursuing it, during their undergraduate years.

Hence, many MM candidates in ethno have undergrad degrees in Music Education, Performance, or other related areas. I actually think this is not a bad thing--there are not a huge number of ethno-specific posts opening every year, and it is very good to have a complementary expertise/qualification. I also think it is a good thing, philosophically, because the absence of a solid undergraduate music education is sometimes endemic to ethnomusicologists, and it weakens their insights and their credibility, in my opinion.

Also, it is good to think about the long-term goal of achieving such a degree. Typically--or traditionally--those with ethnomusicology degrees follow one of two career paths:

(a) Continue on to the PhD (well-named a "terminal" degree), with the goal of teaching and researching at the college level;

(b) Complete "only" the Master's, accepting that "lack" of a PhD limits one's employability at the college level, and combine that Master's expertise with complementary skills/qualifications to work in the "public" sector. Such persons are radio programmers or hosts, secondary- or private-school teachers or music specialists, arts administrators, public-education or arts presenters, and so on.

Realize also that an interest in studying and playing the music of the world's peoples can be pursued at the college level outside the strict limits of a formal MM or PhD in ethno. There are now programs across the country (which I can again describe/recommend) in which activities, or even a principal concentration, in "world" musics can be part of a more-or-less standard music degree. Again, this is something that is readily pursued at the undergraduate level, during which the candidate can decide whether s/he wants to pursue these interests within or outside the context of a formal degree.

TTU's music program now has a very innovative (and unusual, for the USA) four-year undergrad music degree that permits a concentration in any of the world's vernacular musics. In this MUBA (a Bachelor of Arts, rather than a Bachelor of Music) the Tech student is a music major, but has a huge amount of discretion in selecting/creating a combined curriculum. More info here: