Musicology is the scholarly study of music, its processes, applications, its components, origins and influences. In Australia, musicology is a considerable area of research that has been driven by universities and academia even though it was not a widely taught subject in these institutions until the 1980s.1 A type of musicology is now also included as a component in higher school syllabi across Australia.

Musicological research in Australia tends to be an all-encompassing field incorporating historical, ethnomusicological, semiotic, narrative, theoretical and analytical approaches. Feminist, gender, sexual, and cultural positions are now also common in musicological studies. The areas referred to within this article only are starting points on musicological research in Australia, rather than an exhaustive list.

Musicology attracts a range of investigators to its field. Some have been educated in music or a musical instrument, while others come to musicology through an interest in music or its associated cultures. Experience in playing a musical instrument is not necessary, though it can assist the traditional analyst in reading Western-notated scores, or provide insight into how music is performed. A researcher may want to enter musicology for many reasons including: to bring meaning to a score; to bring a new interpretation to a work; to discover the context of a work or a musician/composer; to document cultural sentiment that may be related through musical works; to uncover meaning in music and music practices within a culture; to disseminate unknown or forgotten music; to highlight an unacknowledged area of music; to reveal behaviour or thought that may be conveyed or understood through music. These approaches in research are undertaken in order to increase understanding about the discipline of music and its situation, locally and/or internationally.


The earliest musicologists in Australia consisted of musicians, composers, conductors, and teachers, who had a scholarly interest in writing about music. Some of these as listed by Wild (2003) include Isaac Nathan (1849), W. Arundel Orchard (1952), Harold Davies (1927-1930), and Percy Grainger (1934-35), who collected folk-music and Australian Indigenous music.2 Grainger also established the Grainger Museum at The University of Melbourne, providing material for future musicologists to investigate.

Musicology in Australia became popular through research into Indigenous music and this tradition has remained strong in current research. Other areas of musicological research have included: Early music, Western music (local and international), folk music, jazz, popular music, music of other cultures including neighbouring countries of Australia, collaborative music such as film and dance. These numerous and varied choices of music research reflects Australia’s history, that is of Aboriginal origins, with strong links to Europe through colonial settlement and an English speaking population, as well as its location south of Asia.

Musicologists on Musicology

Key discussions such as Covell’s studies into Australian music in the 1960s motivated researchers to examine Australia’s relationship with music. The growth of musicological studies in Australia has been documented by researchers such as Andrew McCredie (1979), Margaret Kartomi (1984, 1997), and Stephen Wild (2003). Specific approaches investigating musicological research have been undertaken by researchers including John Phillips (on queer musicology, 2005), Kathryn Russell and Elizabeth Mackinlay (interaction of music education and musicology, 2005).

Musicological Areas

Examples of areas of musicological interest given below are divided up into music types rather than musicological approaches. This is because within each type of music, researchers may undertake specific approaches; for example feminist positions can be used as an approach in any form of music including popular music, local music, and international music.

Indigenous music

Indigenous music continues to be an important musicological area for many scholars, with major work still being carried out in Indigenous communities. Early researchers in this field include the musicologists Alice Moyle, Trevor Jones, and Catherine Ellis, whose work began in the 1950s. Alice Moyle recorded many Indigenous songs and instruments and her recordings remain important resources today. The University of Sydney and Monash University have continued to be important institutions for Indigenous music research, and Aboriginal music is a subject commonly taught to students in most Australian tertiary institutions today.

Musicological studies into Indigenous music practices have revealed many important cultural findings that have impacted on other areas of research and understanding of Indigenous society within Australia; for example, the important link between Indigenous songlines and law (eg Fred Myers); and the relationship between music and social organisation (Jill Stubington). Studies have also observed and recorded Indigenous instrumentation and performance practices of these instruments such as Trevor Jones’ cataloguing of didjeridu sounds (1963). Social justice and other cultural issues have been documented through the study of Indigenous music, demonstrating how music remains an important focal point of Indigenous society. Peter Dunbar-Hall and Chris Gibson’s book Deadly Sounds, Deadly Places (2004) discusses contemporary Aboriginal music in all its forms including popular music styles and music for dance.

Specific locations and societies within Indigenous Australia have been studied by musicologists; for example, Central Australia’s music has been documented by Stephen Wild (from 1975), while the North-East Arnhem Land clansongs have been researched by Jill Stubington (from 1978). Musicologists in this area undertake fieldwork, living in Indigenous communities, and use ethnographic methods to gather material from these communities for research.

The issue for musicologists interested in Indigenous music has been the respectful negotiation of cultural relationships owing to the importance of music within these cultures as well as the lack of status of these communities. Some recordings of Indigenous music can now only be accessed by specific people owing to the sacredness of the music. Partnerships in research are now considered an important practice in the study of Indigenous music. One example is the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia which currently involves researchers from universities including Aaron Corn, Allan Marrett, Linda Barwick as well as representatives of Indigenous organisations, such as Mandawuy Yunupi?u of the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

Early Music

Early music’s revival in Australia can be seen through the popularity of ensembles such as the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Pinchgut Opera. However, these types of ensembles rely on local and international research to inform their performance methods. Early music research often uses iconographical methods to reveal types and shapes of early instruments, and to provide assistance on how these instruments were played. Examination of treatises also provide research material and musicologists who have uncovered new findings on these include Carol Williams (eg on Grocheo’s treatise, 2005). Jennifer Neville has researched music and dance in 15th century Italy, as documented in her volume The Eloquent Body (2005). Performance practices of early music have been analysed, including the study on Baroque dotted-rhythms by Dorottya Fabian with Emery Schubert; Jason Stoessel has researched the cultural context of music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Early music composers have been researched by musicologists such as Catherine Jeffries (the music of Hildegard von Bingen) and Rosalind Halton (the keyboard music of Alessandro Scarlatti). Specific genres have been examined by musicologists including John Griffiths (vihuela/lute music) and Kathleen Nelson (Spanish medieval sacred music). The way that Australia has embraced the early music movements has also been documented by researchers such as Michael O’Loghlin.

Western Music – Local

Australian concert hall composers that follow Western music traditions, from Grainger through to current composers, have occupied researchers’ interests. Musicological studies have often followed composition trends as well as rediscovered individual composer outputs. Essential studies into local Western music have documented composer styles and works. Composers that have been discovered and rediscovered include Percy Grainger (Kay Dreyfus and Kathleen Nelson), Margaret Sutherland (David Symons), Anne Boyd (Sally Macarthur, on feminist aesthetics). Peggy Glanville-Hicks has been researched by James Murdoch in Peggy Glanville: a transposed life (2002); Larry Sitsky by Jim Cotter in Sitsky: Conversations with the Composer (2004). Much has been written on Peter Sculthorpe and the influence he has had on local composition and composers. One such example is by Graeme Skinner in his recent publication Peter Sculthorpe: the Making of an Australian Composer (2007). Similar studies have followed the composer’s search for Australian identity in sound and the need to place local music within a global context. Books on Australian composers have included Composer to Composer: Conversations about Contemporary Music by Andrew Ford (1993); 22 Australian Composers by John Jenkins (1988); and Sound Ideas edited by Brenton Broadstock (1995). In addition to composer studies, movements and composer trends such as the Jindyworabak period have been recognized and researched by musicologists including David Symons.

Russell Smith’s work on baritone Peter Dawson is one example of music research into Australian musicians. Music and arts collaborations such as Australian ballet and dance-music have been researched by Joel Crotty and Rachel Hocking, while Australian theatrical music has been detailed by John Jenkins and Rainer Linz. Australian piano music has been researched by Larry Sitsky, Australian Piano Music of the 20th Century (2005), as well as Jeanell Carrigan: her publications have included an annotated database of Australian piano music as well as recordings of selected works. Local religious music has also been an area of interest for researchers, including Dianne Gome who has documented hymnody in Australia.

The Australian Music Centre in Sydney remains an important source for researchers’ information. Here composer biographical archives are held, including media cuttings, grant applications, personal letters, as well as numerous theses not yet available online. Composer biographical cuttings and articles are also available from the National Library of Australia.

Western Music – International

The long-established European tradition of concert hall music continues to attract researchers from Australia. Musicological studies in this area often bring new findings to old scores and reveal new interpretations. Some composers studied include Chopin (Deborah Crisp), Bartok (Malcolm Gillies), Ligeti (Richard Toop) and Debussy (Nicholas Routley and Roy Howat). Howat has used his research of Debussy’s music to inform his performance of Debussy’s piano music, and has been an editor for publications of French music, including the Complete Debussy Edition. Genres within European music have also been examined. For example, David Tunley has worked on French cantatas of the 18th century.

Folk and Community Music

Folk club groups and music traditions within Australia have been researched by musicologists including Jill Stubington (Australian folk traditions), Linda Barwick (Italian folk music), and Graeme Smith (Celtic music). In community music, musicologists have documented the rise and fall of types of ensembles, and their cultural significance at a local level. The histories of these ensembles have been researched by musicologists such as Kay Dreyfus (all-girl bands and orchestras) and Peter Richardson (Australian military music).

Jazz and Improvised Music

Studies into jazz music and performance in Australia have been undertaken by researchers such as Bruce Johnson and John Whiteoak who has explored improvised music. Recently Roger Dean’s monograph Sounds from the Corner (2005) has provided a resource for modern jazz and improvised music in Australia. Local jazz histories, including the documentation of festivals and ensembles, have been undertaken by musicologists including Timothy Stevens. International jazz music has also been an area of interest and has attracted researchers such as Frank Murphy who has investigated the music of Grappelli.

Improvised music in Australia has also been associated with electro-acoustic music, the more ‘avant-garde’ area of music. In this area, often composers have written musicological articles on their own works. These include Ros Bandt on sound installations and Warren Burt on numerous issues concerning electronic music.

Musicological work into popular music has produced the field’s own journal Perfect Beat. This journal has encompassed areas including Indigenous popular music, world music and jazz. Popular music has been documented by researchers such as Kenneth Snell who compiled a database of pop composers and lyricists. Other areas of study include women’s country music (Shirley Tucker), hip hop music (Tony Mitchell, Ian Maxwell), Indigenous popular music (Philip Hayward, Peter Dunbar-Hall), world music (Huib Schippers, Karl Neuenfeldt), and cross-cultural collaborations in pop music. As copyright and technological issues arise, such as the provision of music over the internet, these issues will affect and impact on the type of research undertaken by popular music researchers.

Film Music

Film music has been well-documented in musicological studies. The publication Reel Tracks: Australian feature film music and cultural identities edited by Rebecca Coyle (2005) includes intertextual, gender, and cultural studies, by researchers such as Michael Hannan, Mark Evans and Michael Atherton. The way existing music is used in film and implications have been researched by academics such as Roger Hillman.

Music of Other Cultures

Asian music, its traditions and practices, has been an increasingly popular area of musicology, reflecting Australia’s location within the world. This area of research has produced a number of performer/researchers who have specifically learnt to play foreign instruments to inform their research. Javanese Gamelan orchestras have been introduced into some tertiary institutions and subjects on Asian music are now taught to undergraduates. Music and instruments of these cultures are now regularly heard in local compositions as musicologists seek to impart their knowledge through performance.

Examples of musicologists who have undertaken research in music of other cultures include Margaret Kartomi (Indonesian music), John Napier and Reis Flora (North Indian classical music), Allan Marett (Japanese music), and Gordon Spearritt (music of Papua New Guinea).

Musicological Societies and Events

The Musicological Society of Australia is the foremost society for musicologists. Its members number around 200, as of September 2007. The society’s aims are “to foster greater understanding and valuing of music, musical thinking and music life by:3

  • Providing an Australian forum for communication about music
  • Encouraging excellence in music research and research training
  • Facilitating the dissemination of the outcomes of music research.

The topics researched by the society’s musicologists represent a wide range of interests and approaches. The MSA is seen to be more inclusive than its counterparts overseas owing to the small musical community within Australia. This is exemplified by the forums of the MSA that include Gender and Sexuality Forum, Music Technology Forum and the Think Tank on Indigenous Music and Dance Research. The MSA is also associated with the International Council for Traditional Music and the International Musicological Society. The MSA has chapters in every State and the ACT, including a new chapter in Tasmania (2007). Currently there is no chapter in the Northern Territory. These chapters run research gatherings where musicologists can present their research in the form of a paper. The MSA produces annual journals titled Musicology Australia as well as regular newsletters. The MSA conference is an important annual event for musicologists. Around 200 researchers gather to present papers, disseminate current research, and to meet other musicologists. Recent conference themes have included: ‘Music and Social Justice’; ‘Music as Local Tradition and Regional Practice’; and ‘Music and Locality’. The MSA has combined with the New Zealand Musicological Society to stage conferences, including the 2007 conference on ‘Islands’ (in the metaphorical and literal sense).

Recently musicologists have had opportunities to present their research at other gatherings including music festivals (for example the 2006 Aurora New Music Festival and the National Festival of Women’s Music in 2001), conferences held by the Australian Music Centre (for example the New Music Conferences).

Musicological Publications

Musicological journals are the foremost publications to read about musicological research. Journals are peer-reviewed, which means that articles within the journals have been subjected to a process of scrutiny by other musicologists. Many publications are increasingly available online as well as in hard copy. Most of these are available to purchase through subscription or can be read in libraries.

These journals include:

  • Australasian Music Research from the Centre for Studies in Australian Music at the University of Melbourne, 1997 to current date.
  • Australian Studies in the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Music published in Sydney by Currency Press, 1991 to current date.
  • The Canon, 1947-1966, documented Australian musical life. From this journal, Musicology Australia was founded.
  • Context: a Journal of Music Research is a peer-reviewed journal (from 1991) researched by the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne. Its last issue was in 2005.
  • Miscellanea Musicologica founded by Andrew McCredie and published from 1966 to 1990.
  • Music Monograph Series.
  • Musicology Australia – the official journal of the MSA, published annually since 1985.
  • Studies in Music published by the University of Western Australia, from 1967 to 1992.

Pathways to Study

Musicology is currently included in school syllabi as an elective component of higher school music. For example, the NSW HSC syllabus includes musicology as an elective amongst other components: performance, composition and aural. Examples of musicological studies in schools include the study of music history and analysis of a score of Western music. Students submit an essay or provide a viva voce on their chosen topic. This is often a student’s first contact with the concept of the academic study of music.

Musicologists usually have a university degree and have undertaken postgraduate research, for example a Masters thesis or a Doctoral thesis, in their chosen area of interest. Some places to study musicology are given in a list below and are mainly from music departments within universities. However, musicology can also be studied in other departments of universities; examples of these include English, Media, and Cultural Studies.

  • Australian Catholic University
  • Australian National University
  • Griffith University
  • Monash University
  • University of Adelaide
  • University of Queensland
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of New England
  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of Sydney
  • University of Tasmania
  • University of Western Australia


Musicologists often find that they cannot be employed fulltime in research. Many musicologists combine their research with other relevant positions such as: musician, conductor, university lecturer, teacher, private instrument tutor, music librarian, arts administrator, critic, journalist, or writer. Often these positions inform or bring applicable experience to a musicologist’s research and so are usually seen as a positive experience.

The Future of Musicology

Musicology will continue to remain vital in the understanding of music providing musicological studies remain relevant to music-making. However, the musicologist’s skill area and research methods will need to adapt with changes in how music is created, performed and heard. The increased availability of technology (such as computers, music composition and recording software, and the internet) in the home has made music creation and performance less dependent on traditional music training. Increasingly, musicologists will need to be able to study music that is not reliant on scores or notation, but rather is transient and more immediate, distributed through music files posted on the internet.

With globalization, the issue of ownership of music within a culture will also continue to be an important area of negotiation for researchers, as it has become regarding Australian Indigenous music. Funding of musicological activities and its current reliance on psychological approaches will impact on how music is discussed and studied. Lastly, musicology will continue to expand as a field, incorporating collaborations in research and different philosophical approaches as they arise.


All sites listed within the article, last accessed 13th September, 2007 .

  1. Bridges, Doreen. More than a Musician. A Life of E. Harold Davies. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2006.
  2. Drummond, Philip. J (editor). Australian directory of music research. Sydney: AMC, 1978.
  3. Hayward, Philip. Riding the Rhythm: a short survey and critique of Australian popular music studies and its relationship to mainstream Australian ethno-/musicology. Musicology Australia. Volume 23, 2000, 176-186.
  4. Kartomi, Margaret J. Musicological Research in Australia 1979-1984. Acta Musicologica. Volume 56, No. 2, 1984, 109-145.
  5. Kartomi, Margaret J. Musicology. The Oxford Companion to Australian Music. Ed. Warren Bebbington. Oxford UP: Melbourne, 1997. 412-415.
  6. Mackinlay, Elizabeth, Collins, Dennis and Owens, Samantha eds. Aesthetics and Experience in Music Performance. Cambridge Scholars Press, 2005.
  7. McCredie, Andrew. Musicological studies in Australia from the beginnings to the present. Canberra: Sydney University Press for the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1979.
  8. Musicological Society of Australia: members publications. Last accessed 3rd November, 2007.
  9. Register of theses in Australian music. Melbourne: Centre for Studies in Australian Music, University of Melbourne, c1996.
  10. Wild, Stephen. Research and writing: Musicology. Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia. Ed. John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell. Currency Press: Sydney, 2003. 577-580.


Dr Rachel Hocking. Last revised 4 November 2007.


  1. Kartomi, Margaret J. Musicology. The Oxford Companion to Australian Music. Ed. Warren Bebbington. Oxford UP: Melbourne. 412.↩︎
  2. Wild, Stephen. Wild, Stephen. Research and Writing: Musicology. Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia. Ed. John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell. Currency Press: Sydney, 2003. 577↩︎
  3. Last accessed 12th September 2007↩︎

Dr Rachel Hocking continues teaching in music education at the Australian Catholic University, piano/music teaching and teacher training in my home studio and at Homebush West Public School, working as a piano examiner with the Australian Music Examinations Board, and serving on the council of the Music Teachers' Association, the professional body for music teachers.

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