Music – as many of the contributors to this special issue of Urban History point out – is an important component of the urban experience and can play a significant role in the construction of a civic identity, and yet it is a topic that urban historians have tended to overlook. There are some parallels with the case of the fine arts, to which a special issue of this journal was devoted in 1995, both in the causes for this neglect – which similarly include ‘the intimidating traditions of connoisseurship associated with the field’ and the difficulty we have with analysing the ‘aesthetic experience’ – and in the developments which are helping to overcome such inhibitions. So far, the impulse seems to be coming from musicologists and music historians, who, inhabiting a fairly small corner of the academic field, are fully conscious of the need to forge connections with other disciplines and historiographical traditions. The importance of contextualizing and historicizing not only the composition but also the production, transmission and reception of music has been recognized for some time, but so far urban historians have not responded as perhaps the music historians thought they might to the insights and openings that a musical ‘new historicism’ seems to offer. But there is clearly an opportunity – indeed, a pressing need – to develop a broadly-based cultural history of towns and cities in which music will take its place. The aim of this special issue is to promote that objective by illustrating the state of the art and suggesting some of the ideas, tools and methodologies with which it might be developed in future.