21M.030 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Introduction to World Music


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Plus two required concert outings, outside of class time

Course Description

This course introduces selected musical traditions from around the world. We will explore the manner in which these musical traditions are both shaped by and give shape to the cultural settings in which they are performed. Since different musical styles have different structures and meanings, we will need to learn new ways of listening to music. Learning to listen to world music means not just learning to hear “characteristics of sound,” but also learning to analyze music from different cultural perspectives.

This course is organized around familiar cultural themes and scenes, and will feature a selection of major case studies. From a disciplinary standpoint, this course serves as an introduction to ethnomusicology, a discipline that draws upon and interacts with several other fields, including historical musicology, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Overall, this course aims to explore music as a form of human expression and as a meaningful aspect of daily life.

This course fulfills both Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences—Distribution (HASS-D) and Communication Intensive (CI-H) requirements for undergraduate degrees. It includes four writing assignments that add up to a minimum of 20 pages (see below for details). Paper 1 will be revised and resubmitted. Students will give two oral presentations during the semester, and significant class time will be devoted to discussion.

The class size is limited to 25 students.

Course Requirements


Students are expected to complete weekly listening and reading assignments. Classes will be primarily devoted to in-class listening and discussion, supplemented by guest lecture/demonstrations and performance workshops. These workshops include instruction in Senegalese drumming, Balinese gamelan, and Hindustani music and dance. Please note that lectures and hands-on workshops will cover information beyond the content of your textbook; you are responsible for all information from lectures and workshops, assigned readings and listening, on the exams. Regular attendance of all class meetings is required, as students are expected to actively participate in discussions and other in-class activities. Missing more than three class periods will result in a failing grade for the class. If you miss class due to illness or for personal reasons, please email me to explain your absence. If your illness or other issue is affecting your attendance or performance in class, be sure to contact the counseling deans at Student Support Services.

Required Listening Materials and Texts

The required text, packaged with three audio CDs, is:

[Soundscapes] = Shelemay, Kay Kaufman. Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World. 2nd ed. W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN: 9780393167139.

Please bring your Soundscapes textbook to lectures. Some additional required listening and reading materials will also be assigned. You will be responsible for knowing all required listening and reading materials (i.e., on exams).


Four written assignments are required:

  1. a personal musical ethnography
  2. a discussion the Ana Moura concert
  3. a musical analysis
  4. a final essay on a research or ethnographic project

All papers are to be submitted in hard copy at the beginning of class on the due date. Any work submitted after class will be considered late and may be downgraded for lateness.

Oral Presentations

Oral presentations are a significant part of the Communication Intensive component of this class. Throughout the semester, students will give short presentations on materials from listening and reading assignments. At the end of the semester, students will give formal oral presentations on their final projects.


Two exams will be given in class (see dates below); there is no final exam given during finals week. The exams will cover material discussed in class, as well as materials from assigned reading and listening. Occasional quizzes may be given in class throughout the semester.

Required Outings

Students are also required to attend two world music concerts that take place outside of class time. If you are unable to make one of the required concert outings, you must contact the professor at least 2 weeks in advance to make alternate arrangements.


Grades will be calculated as follows:

Papers 1–3 35%
Final project (Paper 4 and final presentation) 20%
Class participation and attendance 15%
Two exams 30%

Students must receive a passing grade for each component of the course in order to pass the course as a whole. Any student who misses three or more classes will receive a failing grade for attendance, and thus receive a failing grade for the class.



Introduction: What is a Soundscape?

The concept of soundscapes and its application to the study of world music in North America.

Tuvan throat singing (khoomii)    

Sound: The Materials of Music

Building a cross-cultural musical vocabulary, with attention to quality, pitch, rhythm, and intensity.

    Paper 1 due Session 4

Setting: The study of Local Musics

Exploration of a composite “cityscape,” the music of greater Boston.

Boston, including musics of ethnic communities; the “folk music scene”; the “early music” world, and others. Musical instruments and vocal styles.

Guest lecture & demonstration: Cory Pesaturo, accordion


Significance: Music’s Meaning in Everyday Life (Part I)

The role of drumming and dance in Senegal, West Africa.

Sabar Workshop: Senegalese drumming  
10 Catch-up / review     Paper 1 revision due
11 Exam 1      
12 Required concert: Ana Moura at Berklee Performance Center      

Significance: Music’s Meaning in Everyday Life (Part II)

Occasions of daily life as primary contexts for music making and musical markers of the life cycle.

Scottish and Irish Bagpipes Guest lecture & demonstration: bagpipes  

Music, Mobility and the Global Marketplace

Materials, media, and economics of world music. Composing and improvising world music in America. Translocal connections and crossing between soundscapes.

New music for gamelan Workshops: Balinese gamelan and kecak

Paper 2 due Session 15

Final project proposal due Session 17


Required concert: MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology CAST Marathon

Features renowned guest artists Hauschka, Pamela Z., and Dewa Alit performing solo works and with students in MIT’s own Gamelan Galak Tika, Glass Lab Orchestra, Lamine Touré and Rambax.


Music and Dance (Part I)

The union of music with expressive movement. The dance as rhythm, cultural expression, and popular culture.

Primary case study: Tango    

Music and Dance (Part II)

The union of music with expressive movement. The dance as rhythm, cultural expression, and popular culture.

Primary case study: Kathak Workshops: Hindustani music, Kathak dance Paper 3 due Session 20

Music and Politics

Music in political life, as an instrument of power and symbol of resistance.

Primary case study: national anthems    
24 Exam 2      
25–27 Final presentations     Paper 4 due Session 26
28 Conclusions      

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments