Developing Theories of Music—An Introduction to Systematic Musicology

October 1, 1982

Systematic musicology is the study of the various systems which function in music. Although it has existed for over a hundred years as an academic discipline in Europe, it is a relatively new one in the United States. Its emergence is due in part to the growing awareness that a wide variety of factors combine to influence the way that music is composed, performed, perceived, and learned.

The principal goal of systematic musicology is the acquisition of knowledge of those various influencing factors in order to refine our theories of music: music of different eras and music of different cultures. The typical systematic musicologist is a person with considerable musical background, as one would expect of any musicologist. But in addition to this musical background, the systematic musicologist will be a person with strong interests in such areas as acoustics, psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, aesthetics, therapy, instructional processes, and human physiology.

Because the number of institutions of higher education which have programs in one or more of the areas of systematic musicology is still relatively small, it seemed valuable to present to the membership of the College Music Society an inspection of the nature of this research effort. To do this, three persons representing musical acoustics, psychomusicology, and sociomusicology were invited to present abbreviated reviews of some of the research literature in their respective fields, and to discuss what contributions the findings made to theories of music composition and performance. A music theorist was invited to read those papers and to provide a response. Those papers were presented at a session of the College Music Society in Denver in 1980. We are pleased that SYMPOSIUM is making it possible to disseminate those papers to the membership in this issue.

In his paper on acoustics Glenn White explores some of the research in room acoustics, critical band widths, free-field vs. earphone transmission of sound, and musical instrument acoustics. Jack Taylor provides theoretical models for the composing and performance processes. His examination of the research in psychomusicology is limited to melodic structures and their perception, including such issues as tempo, tunings, contour, and tonality. Barbara Lundquist provides a comprehensive overview of the theories underlying sociomusicology and lines out their implications for musical theory development. David Butler's paper addresses several problems indigenous to systematic musicology, including research method and procedure, overestimation of the generalizability of test results, and proper identification of "musical" subjects in music perception testing.

It is with appreciation for the leisure which the four authors gave up in order to prepare their papers during the summer of 1980 that I personally thank them. Their papers are not intended to be definitive or inclusive. They provide, rather, an initial perspective which may stimulate interest, inquiry, and exchange of ideas. If they do that, much has been accomplished.

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