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Music Resource Guide

This guide provides resources for information pertaining to music and music history.

Music Resources

Researching Music!

This guide provides resources for researching information on Music History

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Defining Music

MUSICOLOGY | Tim Wardrop


Musicology is the scholarly study of music, where music can be considered either as a fixed object of investigation or as a process whose participants are the composer, the performer, and the listener. As a field of knowledge, it encompasses every aspect of the aesthetic, physical, psychological, and cultural dimensions of the musical art.

The principal sub-disciplines of musicology are as follows, briefly defined in the most general terms:

Music history: the careful construction of the historical record on the basis of available data from the past and the subsequent application of a historiographical methodology to that record. 

Performance practice and historically informed performance: the investigation of modes of musical performance that are particular to a specific time or place within music history, including methods of interpretation, tuning of instruments, types of musical ornamentation and improvisation, instrumental techniques, and performance conventions. 

Textual scholarship: generally, the systematic study and description of manuscripts and printed books, and the construction of scholarly editions that, assuming the existence of a most correct or "best" text, list and reconcile variant readings between two or more versions of the text in question. 

Archival research: the study, for music-historical purposes, of documents issued by governments, churches, or any administrative authority in order to establish an important part of the historical record.

History and theory of music notation: the analysis of the process of translating the acoustical phenomenon of musical sound to the written page, employing both comparative and historical methodologies. 

Music theory and analysis: the historical study of generalized descriptions of the structure of music and musical sound, both within and outside the Western classical-music tradition. 

Aesthetics of music: the study of issues of a primarily philosophical character connected to the art of music. 

Sociology of music: the systematic investigation of the interaction of music and society. This includes not only the ways in which music functions within a particular social context, but also the influence of that social context on characteristics of the musical work (such as genre, structure, form, and harmonic organization) or of the musical process (such as modes of performance and musical values).

Psychology of music: the scientific investigation, using psychological tools, of human musical behavior and cognition, with emphasis on the perception of various properties of musical sound, musical memory, performing and creating, learning and teaching, and the affective processes stimulated by aspects of musical sound. 

Criticism: the evaluation, description, and interpretation of an individual work of music, or of the musical process, according to a wide range of criteria drawn principally from the study of the aesthetics, psychology, and sociology of music. 

Acoustics (the physics of musical sound): the science of sound and of the phenomenon of hearing applied to the description of the physical basis of music and to the determination of the nature of musical sound.

Organology: the scientific study of the history of the design and construction of musical instruments

Iconography: the study of the visual representation of musical subjects—such as musical instruments and musicians—in texts, works of art, coins, and other media as a source of historical information about musical instruments, performance practices, biography, and the social and cultural roles of music.


Citation: Sullivan, B. (2005). Musicology. In M. C. Horowitz (Ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Vol. 4, pp. 1537-1543). Charles Scribner's Sons.