What Does a Musicologist Do?

Musicologists are scholars of music who consider the relationship between music and various subjects including geography, aesthetics, politics, race theory, gender theory, neuropsychology, and more. While most work as music professors at conservatories or universities, musicologists lack the technique-based approach most commonly associated with teaching music, instead preferring to view music through the lens of a social science. 

Ethnomusicologists, for example, study music in its cultural context, while cognitive musicologists examine how music manifests in the brain. Music historians, a large and highly diverse subgroup of musicologists, study music from a historical point of view, conducting archival and biographical work, researching performance practices, and exploring the function of music in societies. 

Competition for jobs in academia is high, so in addition to the appropriate degrees and credentials musicologists need to know how to market themselves to stand out from the packs of applicants for teaching posts.

Musicologists who work as professors spend most of their time on typical scholarly pursuits: conducting research, teaching at the college or graduate level, and authoring articles and books to present their work. Others find preservation work at libraries, museums, or archives. In recent years, musicologists have found a number of new opportunities and applications for their knowledge, such as offering their services as expert witnesses in copyright infringement lawsuits, or working at organizations that create audio recognition software and music recommendation apps. Musicologists might also consult for music publishing and licensing companies on matters of original music clearance, sample analysis, copyright valuation, and verification of originality; they might also advise directors, music supervisors, and advertisers on the historical and stylistic accuracy of music in television, films, and advertisements.

People in the Field

Joe Bennett

Joe Bennett

Name:

Joe
Bennett
Position: 
Forensic Musicologist

Musicologist at a Glance

Career Path

Musicologists who work as professors must possess at least one bachelor's degree and one advanced degree in music and another field, usually a social science. Musicologists typically begin teaching and doing research in their field while graduate students, and this continues after graduation when they become adjunct professors or find grant funding to continue their research independently. Most professors' end goal is to acquire a highly coveted tenured position, but others transition into careers in business, law, software development, or entertainment.

Finding Work

Competition for jobs in academia is high, so in addition to the appropriate degrees and credentials musicologists need to know how to market themselves to stand out from the packs of applicants for teaching posts at colleges, universities, and conservatories. Additionally, musicologists might look for jobs at music libraries, archives, arts organizations, arts journals, and music technology groups.

Professional Skills
  • Music theory
  • Music history
  • Research
  • Critical analysis
  • Teaching
  • Writing
  • Time management
Interpersonal Skills

Musicology requires focus, attention to detail, curiosity, independence, time management, and long hours of research. Those with a passion for music, history, and critical analysis will thrive in this field.

Work Life

Musicologists who work as professors generally work during standard business hours, usually spending somewhere around 20 hours each week teaching, and the rest grading papers and advancing independent research. The vast majority of the work is done from one desk or another, but many musicologists travel for research, particularly those whose topics concern culture and geography.