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Unit of study_

MUSC3629: Music and Everyday Life

Semester 2, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

What can we learn from non-textual approaches to understanding music? The primary goal of this unit of study is to study music not as a composer, producer, performer, listener or audience member, but as an ethnographer. That is, analysing music through an observational, experiential and intellectual understanding of how people make and take meaning from music.

Unit details and rules

Unit code MUSC3629
Academic unit
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Charles Fairchild,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Final Project
You will complete a fieldwork-based project
40% Formal exam period
Due date: 30 Nov 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 10 Dec 2020
3000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment Analytical Essay
You will turn an analytical essay based on the readings from Weeks 2-6.
30% Week 06
Due date: 28 Sep 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 12 Oct 2020
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Assignment Weekly Diary of Musical Experiences
You will keep a diary of musical experiences you have during semester.
20% Week 10
Due date: 05 Nov 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 19 Oct 2020
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO6 LO4
Participation Class Participation
Contributions to class discussion.
10% Weekly Weekly contributions
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2

Assessment summary

Final Project

You will be required to undertake a small-scale fieldwork project which you will design and implement yourself. The goal is to choose a musical phenomenon appropriate to a small-scale fieldwork project, documenting and analysing this musical phenomenon in relation to a clear and specific set of goals and ideas. You will need to choose a topic fairly early in the semester and complete a research proposal which concisely explains your research aims and plans. You will submit a project proposal first. Your project proposal will explain the aims of your project and how you plan to complete these aims. You will undertake fieldwork including observation and interviewing informants. You will need to keep adequate field notes and keep an ongoing log recording all of your interviews, documenting all fieldwork activities, including interview dates, important events and contact information. You will make a short class presentation during the last few weeks of class during which you will summarize your research proposal and present your findings and conclusions.

  • You are NOT doing survey work nor are you trying to assess any form of public opinion on a music related issue.
  • You are NOT trying to demonstrate the statistical validity of a hypothesis.
  • Above all else, you are trying to find out how people make meaning from music by asking them about it and observing what they do to make these meanings.

Analytical Essay

You will turn an analytical essay based on the readings from Weeks 2-6. You will write you essay in answer to this question: How does ethnographic writing 'construct the subject'? This essay should deal with the ways in which the authors of the readings argue for their ideas and against others. The main task is to present an understand of what ethnography is and how its helps to ‘create’ a type of ‘other’ we call the ‘research subject.’

Weekly Diary of Musical Experiences

You will maintain a diary of musical experiences you have during the semester. Think of this diary as a set of micro fieldwork projects and reflections on how you can understand music using ethnographic description. It is not a set of reviews of music, but penetrating descriptions of the context in which the music you experienced is made and becomes meaningful. You are to describe such things as where the performance happened, the people in attendance, the kind of music that was performed and how the two are related. Your goal is to extract and express specific, organised meaning, both musical and social, from this event through ethnographic analysis. The goal is for you to write a creative, interpretive essay based on direct observation, of the purpose and use of music in public setting. This diary should act as an analytical bridge between your fieldwork and the readings.

Assessment criteria

Assessment Criteria for Written Work.

• High Distinction (85%+): Work of exceptional standard.

Written work demonstrates initiative and ingenuity in research and reading, pointed and critical analysis of material, innovative interpretation of evidence, develops abstract or theoretical arguments on the strength of detailed research and interpretation. Properly documented; writing characterised by creativity, style, and precision.

• Distinction (75-84%): Work of a superior standard.

Written work demonstrates initiative in research and reading, complex understanding and original analysis of subject matter and its context; makes good attempt to ‘get behind’ the evidence and engage with its underlying assumptions, shows critical understanding of the principles and values underlying the unit of study. Properly documented; writing characterised by style, clarity, and some creativity.

• High Credit (70-74%): Highly competent work.

Evidence of extensive reading and initiative in research, sound grasp of subject matter and appreciation of key issues and context. Engages critically and creatively with evidence, and attempts an analytical evaluation of material. Some evidence of ability to think theoretically as well as empirically. Well written and documented.

• Low Credit (65-69%): Competent work.

Written work contains evidence of comprehensive reading, offers synthesis and critical evaluation of material on its own terms, takes a position in relation to various interpretations. In addition, it shows some extra spark of insight or analysis. Demonstrates a coherent and sustainable argument, some evidence of independent thought.

• High Pass (60-64%): Work has considerable merit.

Written work contains evidence of a broad and reasonably accurate command of the subject matter and some sense of its broader significance, offers synthesis and some evaluation of material, demonstrates an effort to go beyond the essential reading, contains clear focus on the principal issues, understanding of relevant arguments and diverse interpretations, and a coherent argument grounded in relevant evidence, though there may be some weaknesses of clarity or structure. Articulate, properly documented.

• Medium Pass (55-59%): Work of a satisfactory standard.

Written work meets basic requirements in terms of reading and research, and demonstrates a reasonable understanding of subject matter. Offers a synthesis of relevant material and shows a genuine effort to avoid paraphrasing, has a logical and comprehensible structure and acceptable documentation, and attempts to present an argument.

• Low Pass (50-54%): Work of an acceptable standard.

Written work contains evidence of minimal reading and some understanding of subject matter, offers descriptive summary of material; makes an attempt to organise material logically and comprehensibly and to provide scholarly documentation. There may be gaps in some areas.

• Fail (50% and Below): Work not of an acceptable standard.

Work may fail for any or all of the following reasons: unacceptable levels of paraphrasing and quotation; irrelevance of content; presentation, grammar or structure so sloppy it cannot be understood; submitted very late without extension.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

As per the Sydney Conservatorium of Music resolutions, (Item 11): (1) It is expected that unless an application for Special Consideration has been approved, students will submit all assessment for a unit of study on the due date specified. If the assessment is completed or submitted within the period of extension, no academic penalty will be applied to that piece of assessment. (2) If an extension is either not sought, not granted or is granted but work is submitted after the extended due date, the late submission of assessment will result in an academic penalty as follows: (3) For every calendar day up to and including ten calendar days after the due date, a penalty of 5% of the maximum awardable marks will be applied to late work. (4) The penalty will be calculated by first marking the work, and then subtracting 5% of the maximum awardable mark for each calendar day after the due date. (5) For work submitted more than ten calendar days after the due date a mark of zero will be awarded. The marker may elect to, but is not required to, provide feedback on such work.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introduction – What Are We Doing? Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1
Week 02 Inventing the Musical ‘Other’ Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1
Week 03 Observing the Social Life of Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 04 How to Speak to People About Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 05 Having a Personal Relationship With Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3
Week 06 Watching People Make Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3
Week 07 Understanding Musical Places Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 08 Listening to Music in Public Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 09 Listening to Music in Private Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO3 LO4
Week 10 Experiencing Live Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO3 LO4 LO6
Week 11 A Model for Personal Writing About Music Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO4 LO6
Week 12 Feedback on Fieldwork Project Proposals Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO4 LO6

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Week 1–August 25: Introduction – What Are We Doing?

1.) Sahlins, Marshall. (2013) ‘Human Science.’ London Review of Books, 9 May.

Week 2–September 1: Inventing the Musical ‘Other’

2.) Ames, Eric. (2003) ‘The Sound of Evolution.’ Modernism/Modernity, 10(2): 297-325.

Task: Reflect on and make a list of as many of the most basic assumptions about what music is and what music does as you can. We like to think we know what music is. However, when we read the story of two researchers from the early 20th century try to define music by their own standards, they discovered they had a lot to learn. What can we take from their story?

Week 3–September 8: Observing the Social Life of Music

3.) Beaudry, Nicole. (1997) ‘The Challenges of Human Relations in Ethnographic Inquiry: Examples from Arctic and Subarctic Fieldwork.’ In Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, New York: Oxford University Press, 63-83.

4.) Behar, Ruth. (1999) ‘Ethnography: Cherishing Our Second-Fiddle Genre.’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 28(5): 472-484.

Task: Start to develop your fieldwork project. Write down a set of ideas about who you might wish to talk to and what musical practices you may want to observe. You need to start thinking about how you will go about ‘observing music.’

Week 4 – September 15: How to Speak to People About Music

7.) Smith, Gavin. (1999) ‘Politically Engaged Social Enquiry and Images of Society.’ In Confronting the Present: Towards a Politically Engaged Anthropology. New York: Berg, 19-49.

8.) Heyl, Barbara Sherman. (2001) ‘Ethnographic Interviewing.’ In The Handbook of Ethnography. Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage Publications, 369-83.

Task: This week you need to develop you interview agendas. You need to work out who to talk to and what you talk to them about. You also need to develop interviewing strategies. How do we listen, watch and speak when we are studying music ‘ethnographically’? What are we listening for? What are we trying to learn?

Week 5–September 22: Having a Personal Relationship With Music

5.) DeNora, Tia. (2000) ‘Music as a Technology of the Self.’ From Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6.) Lincoln, Sian. ‘Feeling the Noise: Teenagers, Bedrooms and Music.’ Leisure Studies. v. 24, n. 4, 2005.

Task: Choose the musical practice you wish to study for your project. Work out what this music does music for the people who take part of it in their everyday lives. How can we think about music through the experience of other people?

Week 6–September 28: Watching People Make Music

9.) Nash, Jeffrey. (2012) ‘Ringing the Chord: Sentimentality and Nostalgia Among Male Singers.’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 41(5) 581–606.

10.) Burnim, Mellonee. ‘Culture Bearer and Tradition Bearer: An Ethnomusicologist's Research on Gospel Music. Ethnomusicology, vol. 29, no. 3, 1985.

Task: You need to start working out a research agenda for your project. The first thing you need to do is figure out what activities you want to observe and what you will be looking for. What can we learn when we watch people make music? How can we watch ‘analytically’? What do we look for? How can we know what might be important?

Week 7– October 13: Understanding Musical Places


11.) Prior, Nick. (2015) ‘“It’s a Social Thing”: Popular Music Practices in Reykjavik, Iceland.’ Cultural Sociology, 9(1): 81-98.

12.) Cohen, S., and B. Lashua. (2013) ‘Liverpool Musicscapes: Music Performance, Movement and the Built Urban Environment.’ In B. Fincham, et. al. (eds.) Mobile Methodologies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 71-84.

Task: This week you need to start to understand the places in which the music you are studying gets made. You need to look very closely at them, describe them, and explain how they may shape the musical practices you are studying.

Week 8– October 20: Listening to Music in Public

13.) Novak, David. (2008) ‘2.5 x 6 Metres of Space: Japanese Music Coffeehouses and Experimental Practices of Listening.’ Popular Music, 27(1): 15-34.

14.) Walsh, Michael. (2013) ‘Musical Listening at Work Mainstream Musical Listening Practices in the Office.’ In Baker, S., et. al. (eds.) Redefining Mainstream Popular Music. New York: Routledge.

Task: Listening is what academics call a ‘situated practice.’ This means that listening is shaped by the circumstances in which we approach, experience, and recall our musical experiences. Make some detailed notes about the typical circumstances in which the people you are studying will listen to the music you are studying.

Week 9–October 27: Listening to Music in Private

15.) DeNora, Tia. (2002) ‘The Role of Music in Intimate Culture: A Case Study.’ Feminism and Psychology, 12(2): 176-81.

16.) Hennion, Antoine. (2001) ‘Music Lovers: Taste as Performance.’ Theory, Culture and Society, 18(1): 1-22.

Task: Listening to music alone in private may not seem to be an anthropologically rich act, but it is. These readings explain how and your task is to link them to your own experience.

Week 10-November 3: Experiencing Live Music

17.) Cavicchi, Daniel. ‘Does Anybody Have Any Faith Out There.’ In Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans. New York: Oxford University Press.

18.) Drew, Rob. ‘Once More, With Irony: Karaoke and Social Class.’ Leisure Studies, v. 24, n. 4, 371-83.

Task: Both readings this week are about ways in which people claim a sort of ownership over music through various practices. Seek out these sorts of claims in your fieldwork.

Week 11– November 10: A Model for Personal Writing About Music

19.) Diawara, Manthia. (1997) 'The Song of the Griot.' Transition, 74: 16-30.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Understand how to approach the analysis and understanding of music from an ethnographic perspective.
  • LO2. Understand the scope of ethnographic research methods through the reflections of practitioners.
  • LO3. Understand the social, spatial, and experiential aspects of music through prevalent theories in ethnomusicology
  • LO4. Write reflectively and analytically about your own experiences of music and the experiences of others.
  • LO5. Conduct interviews about and observations sessions of musical activities
  • LO6. Incorporate theory and methods into a formal project based on fieldwork and reflections on your own experiences.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

This subject has been adapted in response to new conditions.


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