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Using Tests of Sound Perception in Fieldwork

  • John Baily


One of the crucial lessons that anthropology has taught ethnomusicology is the importance of trying to understand things from the inside, to explore the emic view, the folk view, actor's view, evaluation, explanation, model, representation; there are lots of terms for it. The point was made clearly many years ago by Alan Merriam in The Anthropology of Music, in the contrast between what he termed the folk evaluation and the analytical evaluation (Merriam 1964:31-32). Like other authors, Merriam emphasised the need for the researcher to find out how people define music and distinguish music from non-music:

One of the most important of such concepts is the distinction, implied or real, made between music on the one hand, and noise, or non-music, on the other; this is basic to the understanding of music in any society … If one group accepts the sound of the wind in the trees as music and another does not, or if one group accepts the croaking of frogs and the other denies it as music, it is evident that the concepts of what music is or is not must differ widely and must distinctively shape music sound (ibid. 63).



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1981 “Music and Religion in Herat,” IMS 1981. In Report of the Twelfth Congress Berkeley 1977. Daniel Heartz and Bonnie Wade (eds.). American Musicological Society. Bärenreiter. pp. 387389.
1988 Music of Afghanistan: Professional Musicians in the City of Herat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. With accompanying audio cassette.
Harwood, Dane 1976Universals in Music: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology,” Ethnomusicology 20:521534.
Merriam, Alan P. 1964 The Anthropology of Music. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Nelson, Kristina 1982Reciter and Listener: Some Factors Shaping the Mujawwad Style of Qur'anic Reciting.” Ethnomusicology 26:4147.
Sakata, Hiromi Lorraine 1976 The concepts of music and musician in three Persian-speaking areas of Afghânistân. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington.
1983 Music in the Mind. The Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan. Kent: Kent State University Press.
Zemp, Hugo 1978‘Are'are Classification of Musical Types and Instruments”. Ethnomusicology 22:3768.

Using Tests of Sound Perception in Fieldwork

  • John Baily


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