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MUS 600: Musicology: A scholar's journey

Research guide for Music 600 taught by Philip Hoch, Fall 2022

This page will help you understand...

  • How scholars develop their ideas through conversation with peers, communicating their findings through lectures, presentations, and in published articles and books.

Braxton D. Shelley timeline

Research is a process of growth, discovery and change. Every scholarly source that you come across in your research is itself the product of a process of discovery for the source's author(s), shaping the intellectual content of the article and that source's relevance for your own research questions.

Search tools like Google or library databases obscure this crucial aspect of research. They answer your search queries by showing you one document at a time, without regard for how that item relates to the author's other publications or similar works by different authors.

To better understand how scholarly sources relate to the ideas and development of their authors, let's look at one exemplary scholar, Harvard Associate Professor Braxton D. Shelley.

Shelley, a music minister and noted Gospel scholar, published an article, "Analyzing Gospel" in the April 2019 issue of Journal of the American Musicological Society. The article discusses the "vamp", a passage of text sung repeatedly at the end of a Gospel song, as a crucial element of worship in many Black church traditions. Shelley proposes that the vamp allows worshipers to "coproduce sonic environments that facilitate the communal experience of a given song's textual message."

Here's an example of a vamp. Richard Smallwood's "Healing" ends with the repeated phrase, "There's healing for the soul" sung by the choir under Smallwood's solo. 

Let's look at the path Shelley followed in his scholarship leading up to this article, and after its publication.

At this time, Shelley embarked on a new research agenda studying Bishop G.E. Patterson (1939-2007), leader of the Church of God in Christ, the nation's largest African-American Pentecostal denomination with over 6 million members as of 2007. Shelley wanted to understand how Patterson used music, technology and broadcast media to expand the scope of his ministry. 

According to his Yale bio, Shelley has signed a book contract with University of California Press to produce a second book to be titled An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G.E. Patterson and the Afterlives of Ecstasy. Shelley will "analyz[e] the great preacher’s musical style, his use of radio and other media, and the digital reverberation of his ministry after his death in 2007."

Summing it up

Shelley's story illustrates several important aspects of research.

He developed his interests over time, repeatedly asking questions about the function of musical content such as the vamp in Gospel music, and gradually developing a theory of how these musical devices contributed to deeper spiritual meaning.

He developed his ideas in dialogue with other scholars interested in these topics. At different stages in his research, he communicated his findings in various formats, including:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Dissertations
  • Conference presentations
  • Lectures

He underwent peer review repeatedly in order to get conference proposals accepted, get articles published in scholarly journals, and secure book proposal contracts from academic publishing houses. The knowledge he produced is considered more authoritative within scholarly communities because it was vetted and shaped through feedback from editors, anonymous article reviewers, conference planners, and fellow scholars.

How do the sources you are finding -- and your own research -- relate to broader conversations and a shared intellectual community?

Our example

Photo of Harvard Associate Professor Braxton D. Shelley

Our example is Braxton D. Shelley, Associate Professor at Harvard University and a practicing music minister, pianist, composer, choir director and musicologist.

For further learning

To learn more about conference proceedings, theses and dissertations, see Finding early-stage research on the Music research guide.

To learn about how scholarly books are produced, see Academic books and the publishing process in my Open Educational Resource.

For more about scholarly journals, see Academic journals and peer review in my Open Educational Resource.