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MUS 600: Musicology: A scholar's journey

Research guide for Music 600 taught by Caitlin Carlos, Fall 2021

Learning outcome

After reviewing this module, you will understand:

  • How scholars develop their ideas through conversation with peers, and by communicating their research through presentations, 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 example 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."

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

Shelley has embarked on a new research project studying Bishop G. E. Patterson. He presented his ongoing research at this colloquium for the Harvard Department of African and African American Studies.

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 does 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.