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Subdisciplines Of Musicology

The principal subdisciplines of musicology are as follows, briefly defined in the most general terms:

Music history: the careful construction of the historical record on the basis of available data from the past and the subsequent application of a historiographical methodology to that record. Traditionally, scientific historicism, which involves the postulation of historiographical categories such as causal relationships, periodization, and musical styles, has been the preferred methodology of music historians, whose field of investigation has generally been confined to the study of Western classical music (as noted above).

Performance practice and historically informed performance: the investigation of modes of musical performance that are particular to a specific time or place within music history, including methods of interpretation, tuning of instruments, types of musical ornamentation and improvisation, instrumental techniques, and performance conventions. An important late-twentieth-century development within this sub-discipline has been the increased interest, within the Western classical music tradition, in the historically informed performance of early music—that is, music for which an appropriate style of performance must be reconstructed on the basis of historical evidence.

Textual scholarship: generally, the systematic study and description of manuscripts and printed books, and the construction of scholarly editions that, assuming the existence of a most correct or "best" text, list and reconcile variant readings between two or more versions of the text in question. The study of manuscripts involves paleography, the science or art of deciphering and dating handwritten texts; within musicology, this frequently includes the study and transcription of early music notations.

Archival research: the study, for music-historical purposes, of documents issued by governments, churches, or any administrative authority in order to establish an important part of the historical record.

History and theory of music notation: the analysis of the process of translating the acoustical phenomenon of musical sound to the written page, employing both comparative and historical methodologies. (See the sidebar on "Music Notation.")

Music theory and analysis: the historical study of generalized descriptions of the structure of music and musical sound, both within and outside the Western classical-music tradition. Analysis, which is the detailed examination of individual pieces of music for the purpose of validating existing theoretical constructs or developing new ones, differs from music theory in that its object of investigation is music that has already been composed or performed, rather than the properties of the elements of musical sound or abstract musical principles.

Aesthetics of music: the study of issues of a primarily philosophical character connected to the art of music. Of principal concern is the question of whether or not music has either affective or semantic content. At issue also, given the ephemerality of music, is the ontological status of the musical work of art: does it exist as an ideal object, perhaps the faithful realization in performance of a musical score, or is it better conceived of as a sort of process, without any assumptions of an ideal existence?

Sociology of music: the systematic investigation of the interaction of music and society. This includes not only the ways in which music functions within a particular social context, but also the influence of that social context on characteristics of the musical work (such as genre, structure, form, and harmonic organization) or of the musical process (such as modes of performance and musical values).

Psychology of music: the scientific investigation, using psychological tools, of human musical behavior and cognition, with emphasis on the perception of various properties of musical sound, musical memory, performing and creating, learning and teaching, and the affective processes stimulated by aspects of musical sound. The three principal research orientations are psychophysics, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology.

Criticism: the evaluation, description, and interpretation of an individual work of music, or of the musical process, according to a wide range of criteria drawn principally from the study of the aesthetics, psychology, and sociology of music. Criticism differs from analysis in its emphasis on music as it is actually heard, rather than on properties of music that can be ascertained in a written score, for example, but not necessarily easily perceived by an audience during the course of a performance.

Acoustics (the physics of musical sound): the science of sound and of the phenomenon of hearing applied to the description of the physical basis of music and to the determination of the nature of musical sound.

Organology: the scientific study of the history of the design and construction of musical instruments. This subdiscipline also addresses the extramusical functions of instruments in historical contexts, technology, and general culture.

Iconography: the study of the visual representation of musical subjects—such as musical instruments and musicians—in texts, works of art, coins, and other media as a source of historical information about musical instruments, performance practices, biography, and the social and cultural roles of music.

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