How Do I Become a Musicologist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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Someone who wants to become a musicologist will need to obtain a post-graduate degree in this field. This requires developing a research topic for a master's thesis and/or graduate dissertation. With educational credentials, it is possible to begin a career as a musicologist, performing work that can vary from expert witnessing in intellectual property cases to developing a music program at a college or university. Musicology careers can vary, depending on your degree and personal areas of experience.

The first step for someone who wants to become a musicologist is an undergraduate degree in music. Some schools offer musicology, history of music, music theory, and related degrees. This degree lays the foundation for graduate research. Undergraduate students should plan on taking instruction with musical instruments and may want to pursue internship and research opportunities they can apply in graduate school.

Graduate programs in musicology are available at a number of universities. A student who plans to become a musicologist may want to visit several programs to learn more about their offerings and the type of work the graduate faculty support. This can help students decide where they want to go to school. Someone interested in ethnomusicology and the study of traditional instruments, for example, needs a more multidisciplinary program. Students who want to study the evolution of hip hop, on the other hand, need to find a school with experts in this area.


Students applying to graduate schools to become a musicologist typically need test scores and may need a portfolio of work along with letters of recommendation and a strong personal essay. Candidates that look interesting will receive interview requests. They visit the school to meet faculty and students, undergo an interview, and discuss their planned research topics. It is important to show how research is unique and will contribute to the field, and to demonstrate adequate preparedness for graduate level coursework, which can be demanding.

A master's degree can provide many opportunities for someone who intends to become a musicologist, but a doctorate level degree can be better. The higher qualification may be advantageous on job applications as well as in other settings where people need to have professional credentials. It is also possible to pursue post-doctorate work to expand upon research and develop more publishing credits while getting a chance to work with leading members of the field. More training and experience can be valuable when graduates apply into available positions on college faculties and in other settings, like music libraries and record companies.


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