Rural Musicology


  • Students will explore rural musicology by examining the history, cultural significance, performance, and construction of musical instruments made in the High Plains region through investigation and personal connection.
  • Course work includes research of folkloric traditions, documenting trends of cultural traditions, identifying community assets related to music and culture and videography.
  • Students will gain introductory videography skills in order to provide a virtual field trip into the world of musical culture on the high plains with a broad audience.


The course will be a combination of classroom work, field study and independent study. Working in the classroom students will delve into researching folkloric traditions and develop first-hand experience with videography. On site field trips will take place at Mullen Guitars in Flagler, Rik Chance Instrument Maker Studio in Yuma, Wray Museum and Amphitheater, and a community center’s music sessions where students will engage in face-to-face learning— listening, looking, recording, questioning — important steps to engaging our 21st century students.


Rural Musicology is a semester-long  project. One hour per week, with the material provided below, will fulfill a semester long class. Adapt this to best fit into your needs, based on time and available resources. Much of the lesson ideas included below can be independent study or classroom time.

Identify what music related projects are happening in your community. We have an amazing local business that is internationally known but virtually unknown by the locals; Mullen Guitar. We contacted Mullen Guitar months before the class began to make plans that would allow the students to learn about the business and the process while finding out what we could do for them in exchange. They were excited about the possibility of getting a video about their business, for free, that they could use to promote their work. This became a mutually beneficial project which increased the engagement of both the students and the business. We also contacted other musical related projects including a local music night at a community center, an independent artist and carpenter who makes his own auto-harps and the local museum who has an exhibit on the history of music and bands in the area. We contacted each resource early to see how to best engage them in the project and then planned times for the students to meet and film them while playing, building, touring etc. that would also allow time for the students to interview them.

For the video component we hired a local videographer (this person doesn’t have to be a professional: anyone with video experience can teach) to help teach this portion. Understandably, this is not always an available resource. We have shared some on-line tutorials to help with this. There are tons of tutorials on-line to help you teach this. Remember, the student videos don’t have to be professional, you can tell a compelling story using very simple video and editing techniques if you have a plan.

We invite you to see our videos to inspire you:

Lesson Plan

Introducing the Lesson

Facilitate a discussion with the students

What is Rural Musicology?

Musicology — The study of music as an area of knowledge or as a field of research

  • The scope of musicology may be summarized as covering the study of the history and phenomena of music, including (1) form and notation, (2) the lives of composers and performers, (3) the development of musical instruments, (4) music theory (harmony, melody, rhythm, modes, scales, etc.), and (5) aesthetics, acoustics, and physiology of the voice, ear, and hand.

Rural Musicology — ethnomusicology

  • Defined either as the comparative study of musical systems and cultures or as the anthropological study of music.
  • Some ethnomusicologists consider their field to be associated with musicology, while others see the field as related more closely to anthropology. Among the general characteristics of the field are dependence on field research, which may include the direct study of music performance, and interest in all types of music produced in a society, including folk, art, and popular genres. Among the field’s abiding concerns are whether outsiders can validly study another culture’s music and what the researcher’s obligations are to his informants, teachers, and consultants in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Over time, ethnomusicologists have gradually abandoned the detailed analytical study of music and increased their focus on the anthropological study of music as a domain of culture. With this shift in emphasis has come greater concern with the study of popular musics as expressions of the relationships between dominant and minority cultures; of music as a reflection of political, social-ethnic, and economic movements; and of music in the context of the cultural meanings of gender.


  • What is Rural Musicology? What do you know about music in your community – past and present? Why is music important? Does music play a purpose in local communities?

Introductory Ethnomusicology Research

History of recording & documenting music traditions – Alan Lomax

“Make it all available to anyone, anywhere in the world.”

  1. Read article — Alan Lomax’s Massive Archive Goes Online
  2. Explore website — Alan Lomax Archive
    • Listen to 3 sound recordings
    • Watch 5 video recordings (they are short)
    • Choose 1 video recording to share during next session
  3. Journal thoughts and ideas about Alan Lomax and the recordings you reviewed.
    • Is this material important? Why or why not?
    • What did you most enjoy? Did you learn anything?
    • Think about how the recorded footage you reviewed.
      • How were shots framed? Did the camera move? Were there a lot of edits? Interviewing technique; what sort of questions were asked?

Folklore, Culture & Video Documents

PBS Learning Videos – write a response


  • think about content and editing of materials – write response

Interviewing skills

  • Read or watch an interview with a musician you like – write a response and prepare to present
  • Shooting an interview

Introducing Videography

Videography – how do we tell stories using video?

  • Loop back to the audio and visual examples supplied above and critique them as a group: what worked? What didn’t? How can we apply these techniques to our projects?
  • One main factor is, what is the type of video/film you are creating.

Both fiction and documentary films can use a script. Having a script beforehand is a great way to make sure you accomplish what you need to have a concise story. Even if you go “off script” from time to time.

  • Not using a script can lead to the issue of needing to craft the story after all the footage has been collected. This isn’t always a bad issue, but it definitely can be a challenge. I was working on a film where the director shot 7 year’s worth of footage, but didn’t really know where he wanted to go with the story. As we were working through the editing we discovered there were multiple ways we could take the film. So many different parts to the story that we needed to decide to include or not. It has been overwhelming, because which way is right!? What to include or not to include was very challenging.
  • One approach with shorter videos is to make the interviews your script. That is what we did with Mullen Guitars. We wanted to decide what aspects of Mullen we wanted to tell and craft the interviews around that. When you have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your story you must make sure you achieve the answers to tell that story in your interview. So, when you conduct the interview you have to ensure they are staying on the track you need them to. If the interview strays, you just have to make sure it gets back to what you need it to be.
  • When you have an idea of what story you want to tell you also make sure to capture relevant footage outside of interviews, known as B-roll.
    • B-roll supplements the interview footage (A-roll), increasing the interest and helps the viewers understand the place the video is about; visually showing the story that is being told.
    • When it comes to shooting video—whether for a documentary, news, feature film, or television purposes—it is always a good idea to shoot extra footage, which you can use in a number of ways. Incorporating B-roll video footage can take your video from amateur to professional with just a few extra scenes and transitions.
    • B-roll footage help define the place where you are telling the story
    • Learn About B-Roll Footage: Definition, and How to Use It in Video Production
    • A Roll and B Roll Explained

Get to Work

Make your movie:

Make a plan!

Camera etiquette

  • Can be intimidating for people to have a camera on them. Challenge to make them feel comfortable and natural and safe.
  • Empathy  — Be gentle —
    • To get that folks must feel comfortable with you
  • Journalism and telling a compelling story

Examples of storytelling:

Share It!

  • Post your movies on-line using you-tube or vimeo
  • Link to other websites
    • School & district
    • Business or musicians existing on-line sites
    • Local newspaper
    • Send it to us and we’ll post it on this website