The following text attempts to define the somewhat controversial terms musicology, musicologist, discipline, and interdisciplinary. Although the Conferences on Interdisciplinary Musicology accept and respect the diversity of different definitions of these terms and promotes their discussion, we also wish to approach a consensus on working definitions.

Musicology is musical scholarship. It is the academic study of any and all musical phenomena. It addresses the physical, psychological, aesthetic, social, cultural, political, and historical concomitants of music, musical creation, musical perception, and musical discourse. It incorporates a blend of sciences and humanities, and is grounded in musical practice (performance, composition, improvisation, analysis, criticism, consumption, etc.). It involves a wide range of non-musical disciplines and corresponding research methods.

It follows from this widely accepted approach to defining or describing musicology that any academic who is qualified (e.g. with a doctorate degree) in any important area of musical research is a musicologist. Ethnomusicologists are, or should be, both musicologists and anthropologists or ethnologists. Music acousticians are, or should be, both musicologists and acousticians. Music psychologists (or psychomusicologists) are, or should be, both musicologists and psychologists. Music historians (or historical musicologists) are, or should be, both musicologists and historians. Music sociologists are, or should be, both musicologists and sociologists. These examples suggest that a musicologist is a scholar with a deep knowledge of one of the central areas of musicology and a broad acquaintance with other areas.

An academic discipline generally has a common research object and common ways of describing and investigating it. These include terminology, methods, approaches to and techniques of analysis, and ways of thinking and perceiving. CIM's usage of the word "discipline" corresponds not only to this generally accepted meaning but also to the original Latin disciplina, which means teaching, instruction, tuition, (military) training, or education in the broadest sense. Disciplina can also refer to the content or results of teaching, which can itself be divided into two aspects. The first involves (self-) discipline or an ordered way of life, and associated habits, customs, and culture. The second involves learning in general: bodies of knowledge in fields as diverse as science, art, morals, and politics, and rhetorical or philosophical schools, systems, and doctrines. This final meaning corresponds to the academic meaning of the word "discipline" in different modern languages (including, for example, the German Disziplin).

Interdisciplinarity may be defined as an interaction between or among academic disciplines (as just defined). This definition is problematic because neither "interaction" nor "discipline" is clearly defined. There are many different levels of interaction between disciplines, ranging from superficial reference to relevant work done by another discipline without incorporating its findings (weak or pseudo interdisciplinarity) to the far-reaching review of the fundamental assumptions and methods of one discipline on the basis of a thorough examination of the assumptions and methods of another (sometimes associated with transdisciplinarity). Moreover, some disciplines such as physics and history are old and well-established, while others such as cultural studies are still so new that some scholars do not acknowledge their identity or autonomy. A further problem is the fuzziness of the boundaries of disciplines. Is music analysis a separate discipline from music history – because if it is, research involving both is interdisciplinary! Does psychoacoustics belong to acoustics or to psychology, or is it independent of both? If it is independent, when did it become so, and is "truly" interdisciplinary research between it and its "mother" disciplines (acoustics or psychology) possible?

CIM avoids trying to offer clear yes/no answers to such questions – although sometimes such decisions cannot be avoided, for example when drawing up a table of disciplines for administrative purposes. Instead, CIM regards interdisciplinarity as a continuously variable parameter. The interesting question is not whether a given research project is interdisciplinary or not, but the extent to which it is interdisciplinary. The answer is subjective and depends on a number of criteria, such as the extent to which the interaction crosses the larger interdisciplinary borders between and among the "supradisciplines" of sciences, humanities, and musical practice (another possible meaning of the term "transdisciplinarity"), and the degree to which the interaction is new, unusual, creative, or otherwise especially promising. CIM's solution to this problem is to ask expert reviewers to rate the degree of interdisciplinarity of each abstract submission on the basis of a list of such criteria. This rating is an important part of the conference's review procedure and aims to prevent CIM from falling into the trap of claiming interdisciplinarity when it is not warranted.

The Latin etymology presented above suggests that interdisciplinarity is an interaction between different kinds of academic training, and between the results of that training - that is, not only different bodies of knowledge, but also different ways of approaching and thinking about academic questions or methods. At some level, research is always based on assumptions that that cannot be proven or disproven and may be either explicit or tacit. Familiar examples from musicology include: In what sense is it possible for westerners to understand the music of non-western cultures? Is it ethically responsible for them to try to do so? Is there such a thing as "great" music? If so, is it possible to recognize it? One could argue that it is impossible to do musicology without clear answers to these questions. But the truth is that clear answers do not exist, and the result of this lack of clarity is that different scholars think differently about these and many other such questions, which leads to important and sometimes quite fundamental differences in their approaches to research and ways of thinking about research problems. Differences of this kind are felt directly at the level of everyday research tasks and discussions, and may be the biggest stumbling block to interdisciplinary interaction.

In its original sense, disciplina may be applied to different levels of academic disciplinary hierarchies. The only condition is that different disciplines involve significantly different kinds of training. At the highest or broadest level, the humanities, the sciences, and musical practice may also be regarded as "disciplines", just as subdivisions of these groupings such as history, physics, or musical performance practice may be regarded as disciplines. Even smaller further subdivisions such as ancient history, quantum mechanics, or performance and interpretation on brass instruments may also be regarded as disciplines, provided that experts in these areas have significantly different training from experts in neighboring areas such as medieval history, relativity, or tuba performance and interpretation, respectively. For similar reasons, subdivisions of musicology such as the music of the North India, western bourgeois music of the 19th-century, or the developmental psychology of music may be regarded as separate disciplines. For example, an expert on the music of North India would normally need to spend many years performing and writing about the music of that tradition. It follows that any interaction between experts in such areas may be regarded as interdisciplinary.

Can we specify the size of a discipline more precisely than that? A discipline can be quite small if we accept that the topic of any reasonably sized, serious academic conference or journal is a discipline – consistent with the meaning of the Latin root. But the word is more often applied to intermediate levels in the hierarchy of academic knowledge, such as anthropology, musicology, psychology, or history. If the use of the word is confined to that level, and we accept that that level is clearly defined (which is of course problematic – every university is different, and the internal organisation of a university occasionally changes), then the term "interdisciplinary musicology" is self-contradictory: interactions within musicology are by definition not inter- but intra-disciplinary. The trouble with this objection is that the subdivisions of musicology (e.g. historical, ethnological, systematic) are more closely related in their methods, training, and ways of thinking (disciplina) to the corresponding "mother disciplines" history, anthropology, physics, psychology, sociology (and so on) than to each other. For example, any interaction between music history and music psychology is also an interaction between history and psychology, because it involves an interaction between the methods, training, and ways of thinking of history and psychology. Thus, an interaction between music psychology and music history can properly be regarded as interdisciplinary, even though music history and music psychology are also part of a single discipline called musicology.

Is collaboration between different researchers a prerequisite for interdisciplinarity? Clearly it is not, given that many individual scholars have produced excellent interdisciplinary work. Depending on one's definition of "discipline", one may nevertheless argue that "true" interdisciplinarity can only be achieved through collaboration, as follows. To become an expert in a given discipline takes roughly 10 000 hours of deliberate work (Ericsson et al., 1993). Since disciplines are carried forward by individual researchers, all of whom are more or less subject to this constraint, one might define a discipline as a coherent field of research whose size is limited by that same constraint. This idea can explain why, when a field of research becomes too big for one person to keep track of latest developments, the field tends to split into smaller fields. A relevant example is the field of "systematic musicology": no-one in the world is an expert in music acoustics, psychology, and sociology at the same, not to mention other aspects of systematic musicology such as philosophy and aesthetics, the musical neurosciences, computing in musicology, and so on. In this sense, a project involving both acoustics and psychology of music may be regarded as "interdisciplinary". If the concept of discipline is defined in this way, it becomes clear that one person cannot be an expert in two disciplines at once. A scholar who makes such a claim is bound to be significantly less capable than leading experts in at least one of the two disciplines, and could therefore benefit from collaboration with one of those experts.


Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100 (3) , 363-406.

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