Ethnomusicologist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become an ethnomusicologist. Learn about the job duties, education requirements, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Ethnomusicologist?

Ethnomusicologists study the diverse range of instruments and sounds produced by cultures and people from all over the world. They may work at museums, where they might be involved in acquiring cultural instruments, curating museum exhibitions or holding public workshops to education the public about ethnomusicology. They could also work as postsecondary teachers at colleges and universities, where they would teach ethnomusicology courses and conduct research in a particular area of interest within the field, such as African music, Indian music or jazz studies.

The table below provides an outline of the general requirements for this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's, master's degree (for museum job), Doctoral degree (for postsecondary teaching job)
Education Field of Study folklore, cultural sociology cultural anthropology
Key Responsibilities study the music of different people from various cultures, learn to play their instruments, record your research
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% for all archivists, curators, and museum technicians*
Average Salary (2015) $53,880 for archivists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Ethnomusicologist Do?

As an ethnomusicologist, you will study the way different people make music. You will spend significant time with people from various cultures and areas of the world in order to study the instruments and sounds they use in their music, along with the different activities or performances incorporated into their music-making. In your studies, you may learn to play the instruments you are working with, and you will usually document your process and findings. Additionally, you may decide to write a book, make a documentary film or somehow record your work in order to teach people about the sounds and styles of various musical cultures.

How Do I Become an Ethnomusicologist?

Your focused study of ethnomusicology will probably begin during graduate study. Ethnomusicologists generally hold at least a bachelor's and master's degree because of the amount of specialized knowledge this field requires. A bachelor's degree generally requires 3-4 years of schooling, and you will probably focus on fields such as cultural anthropology, musicology, folklore or cultural sociology. You may choose to specialize in the music of a specific area of the world or a particular culture during your undergraduate education.

During your master's program, you will probably take more general courses in music research techniques, along with specific courses in your area of interest. Some potential areas of interest that ethnomusicologists often study are Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Indonesia. Depending on the program, once you complete your master's work, you may receive your Master of Arts in Music with a specialization in musicology or your Master of Music in Ethnomusicology. You can then choose to work as an ethnomusicologist or move on to further graduate study and obtain your Doctor of Philosophy in Ethnomusicology, which involves several more years of education and field research.

Where Could I Work?

As an ethnomusicologist, you can work in a variety of environments. You may choose to work in a college or university setting as a professor of ethnomusicology. This career track will allow you to perform research in your area of interest and teach students about your research and the specialized knowledge of your field.

You can also choose to work in a museum setting, where you can continue to conduct research but may also be responsible for creating exhibits and special programs that help teach the public about the music of various cultures. As a museum administrator, you could work as either an archivist or curator and be responsible for collecting, preserving and presenting research and artifacts.

Another possibility is to work with a community arts organization or another community-based agency that promotes music education. With these organizations, similar to museum work, you can educate the public about the sounds and musical traditions of different cultures. You may also have the opportunity to create public programs that feature artists from a diverse range of musical cultures.

How Much Could I Earn?

Because ethnomusicologists work in many different fields, it is difficult to provide general salary information for a career in ethnomusicology, but career statistics are available for many of the potential career tracks you could follow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, the middle half of museum archivists earned $37,820-$64,750 annually ( The BLS also reported the average salary for archivists in May of 2015 was $53,880. The same source reported the job growth for 2014-2024 is 7%. You could potentially earn a bit more as a curator. Based on the May 2015 information from the BLS, the middle-half salary range for curators was $37,740-$70,390 annually.

If you decide to pursue a teaching career in postsecondary education, your salary can vary widely depending on your location and your teaching status (instructor, assistant professor, associate professor or full professor). According to the BLS, most postsecondary educators in the art, music and drama fields made between $33,450 and $129,150 annually as of 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in teaching students about music or culture, you could consider a job as a high school music or history teacher. In this position, you would design lesson plans to educate students about one of these subjects, and you would also have supervisory duties inside the classroom and in other school settings, like the hallway or cafeteria. High school teachers need to have a bachelor's degree and a teaching license. Another option is to pursue a job as a performance musician. Although no formal education is required, it you can hone your skills by completing a postsecondary educational program.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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