Ethnomusicology Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an ethnomusicology degree program? Read about ethnomusicology requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and a PhD, as well as potential careers.
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Ethnomusicology Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in increasing your knowledge of music history around the world and music's cultural impact, than pursuing a career in ethnomusicology may be for you. Many students who gain a master's degree in ethnomusicology go on to a doctorate program. Graduates of an ethnomusicology program can get jobs as secondary and postsecondary instructors, as well as enter careers in museum curation, research, archiving and more. Ethnomusicology isn't often a particularly lucrative field, so it's probably best that you're personally passionate about the subject matter.

Many graduates of ethnomusicology programs become secondary teachers or university professors. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for secondary teachers is below average, with a job growth of seven percent projected from 2010-2020. The employment projection for postsecondary school professors during the same time period is 17%, which is about average. The job growth for museum-related work is 16%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in studying and possibly teaching about ethnomusicology for a living People who want to work as university professors or professional researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Secondary school teacher ($56,800)*
- Museum curator/ archivist ($51,000)*
- University professor/researcher ($72,400)*
- Academic researcher/archivist ($58,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after the master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - 20-15 required credit hours
- 10-20 elective credit hours
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Foreign language requirement
Most or all of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- 4-8 more graduate courses
- PhD qualifying exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Foreign language requirement (sometimes a second)
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in musicology or a related field
Bachelor's or master's degree in musicology or a related field
Online Availability None found at this time None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Ethnomusicology

A master's program in ethnomusicology will typically cover the interrelation of music, history, culture and religion. The goal is to develop a scholarly worldview that is an expression of culture through music. You'll also usually learn how to study musical instruments as a means of cultural expression. You can expect to gain a detailed knowledge of ethnographic theory, an understanding of traditional Western and non-Western musical cultures, and in certain programs, even increased musical performance skills. However, you'll probably need further education to find employment.

Pros and Cons


  • Many ethnomusicology master's degree programs are part of a larger PhD program, so you'll already be on track to earning your doctorate degree
  • You'll often make valuable connections in the field of ethnomusicology that can help you start your career
  • Once you choose your specialization, you can focus completely on your interests


  • If you want to go into research or academia, you'll probably need to complete a doctoral degree
  • The job market for secondary school teachers can be quite difficult to navigate
  • Getting into a master's program in ethnomusicology can be intensely competitive and time-consuming

Courses and Requirements

As a student in an ethnomusicology master's degree program, you'll often take courses that give you practical musical performance knowledge, as well as a deep comprehension of the historical impact of music on world cultures. Courses may include:

  • Ethnomusicology introduction
  • Research and ethnomusicology
  • Musical anthropology
  • Instruments around the world
  • World music and early music collectives

In addition to general ethnomusicology courses, you'll also study particular areas involving Latin American music, Indonesian instruments, African American musical culture and much more. Your elective courses will typically lead to the research that you complete for your thesis.

Online Degree Options

Because it is so research intensive and hands-on, ethnomusicology is not a discipline with many online options. However, there are online resources that are useful when used in conjunction with on-campus and fieldwork. There are a variety of online, peer-reviewed journals that you can access covering ethnomusicological areas of interest like African instruments, Turkish folk music, American immigrant music and much more.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

To get ahead with a master's degree in ethnomusicology, it's often best to first determine your career aspirations. What you choose to specialize in will almost certainly determine the path of your career. Volunteer for organizations that relate to your area of expertise. You can also get additional degrees or certifications related to ethnomusicology to broaden your career prospects. For example, if you also have a degree in music, you may be able to teach in a university's music department.

PhD in Ethnomusicology

A PhD in Ethnomusicology is what you'll need to become a postgraduate professor or researcher. Some PhD programs are better for certain areas of expertise than others, so it's best to keep this in mind before enrolling. For example, one program may be strong for those who wish to study Northern Africa, while another may be better for South American music. Enrolling in a PhD program can be expensive and time consuming and few career paths are available outside of academia.

Pros and Cons


  • As is the case with a master's degree, you'll probably make numerous connections that may help you enter your career
  • A PhD in Ethnomusicology will give you the expertise you need to pursue your life's work
  • As a university professor, you can eventually earn tenure, ensuring career and salary stability


  • There are not many job options outside of academia for this field
  • Getting your PhD can be very expensive and few of the career paths available to an ethnomusicologist are particularly high paying
  • Gaining tenure can be a difficult and intensely competitive process when working in academia

Courses and Requirements

The courses that you'll be required to take largely depend on your chosen area of expertise. For example, your courses, fieldwork and research may vary greatly between the study of Southeast Asian instruments and Appalachian folk songs. The following are courses and topics you might encounter:

  • Ethnomusicology research seminar
  • Ethnomusicological thinking and history
  • Southeast Asian music
  • Caribbean music and cultural heritage
  • American gospel choir music

Of course, you'll be in charge of what kind of music and culture you focus on in your coursework. You'll need to present a dissertation proposal before a board. Once your plan is accepted, you'll have to research and write a dissertation on your area of expertise.

Online Degree Options

Like with the master's program, there are few, if any, online options for this degree. Although you may be able to accomplish bits and pieces of your research through online archives and journals, you'll need to work closely with actual ethnomusicologists in the real world. You'll also need to perform a great deal of on-campus research and may even need to travel depending on your area of expertise.

Stand Out With This Degree

How you choose to stand out with a PhD in Ethnomusicology depends entirely on your career goals. The following are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Earn a degree related to the music business in conjunction with your degree in ethnomusicology. Various record labels, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Library of Congress are all known to employ ethnomusicologists.
  • As part of your PhD program, request an internship with an organization for which you'd like to work.
  • Try to get your dissertation or any other related written work published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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