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Studying world music, understanding ethnomusicology - MUS00127C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Neil Sorrell
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module summary

This module will introduce students to the ideas surrounding ‘world music’ and ‘ethnomusicology’, and explore a number of different musical cultures and traditions. Issues such as the labelling and conventional ways of studying music from these traditions will be interrogated, and alternatives explored.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

To disentangle the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the terms ‘world music’ and ‘ethnomusicology’ and propose some working definitions to be put into action during the module. This will enable students not only to venture beyond the known into the vast unknown (unknowable?), but also to think critically about how we label music and consider how we should study it. Students will also be asked to engage with transcription, as a means not only of heightening aural perception skills but also to demonstrate their understanding of the music and its priorities.

Initial teaching sessions will lay the groundwork by proposing and debating some definitions, and posing a set of short research questions to inform subsequent study. The main focus of the module will be the introduction and discussion of a number of ‘case studies’, as terms like ethnomusicology are only tools (hammers without nails) and must be applied to specific musical cultures; these will include a number of traditions from SE Asia (including gamelan) and South Asia (in particular North Indian classical music). Where appropriate, the music will be accessed practically, with some of the sessions devoted to performance and / or composition. Each student will also be expected to deliver a presentation: although based on their own choice of area (or it could just be on one piece of music) – subject to the module leader’s approval – each one should aim to answer the research questions outlined at the start of the module. These presentations will be managed individually and should be illustrated by audiovisual material where possible; there will also be sessions where students involve the rest of the class in short workshop-style activities to provide additional practical experience of the music being studied.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the module all students should:

  • understand and engage creatively and critically with the scope of music available on this planet and the principal methods for studying it;

  • apply critical thinking and question underlying assumptions;

  • gain a new understanding of how more familiar musical traditions function through comparative studies;

  • acquire and extend techniques of manipulating musical material, through performance and composition as well as the written word.

On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate learning outcomes A1-A12.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2500 words
N/A 90
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation: 20 - 30 minutes
N/A 10

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Assessment is through:

  1. A presentation of c. 20-30 minutes (10%);

  2. An extended write-up of 2500 words or the equivalent including the non-verbal elements of the presentation in essay form, and at least one example of transcription. The content and balance of these elements will be discussed in tutorial (90%).


Task Length % of module mark
Re-assessment essay, 2500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Report form with marks to student no later than 4 weeks from submission of assessment.

Indicative reading

Given the range of materials available, there may be a temptation to rely on internet sources but remember that the content may be unmediated and therefore not always reliable and often misses the vital contextual information.

More traditional resources include readily accessible reference volumes such as the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

General single-volume books include:

  • Philip Bohlman. World Music: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Bruno Nettl (ed.). Excursions in World Music. Upper Saddle River, N.J :Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • Michael Tenzer (ed.). Analytical Studies in World Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Further library resources will be available within specific repertoire areas. Other sources will be discussed during the module.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

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