Rationalization: A Sociological Approach to Music

By Edwin Cordoba


A bunch of scholars out there like to look at music through the lens of “Sociomusicology”- where they examine the social roles of music, musicians and institutions from within. Think of it as an examination of what music does to society. But I think it’s far more interesting to look at Sociological Principles as they apply to music- we can take more things about history into consideration that way!

Let’s look at an example:

Max Webber was fond of looking at music from a Sociological Perspective. He noticed a bunch of different examples of the advancement of music from the “irrational” to the “rational” through history. Examples of this include a change in motivation for composer’s work (financial motivations?), a formation and restructuring of musical academia, and a change in how music performance was publicized. In fancy Sociological terms, it’s the replacement of values and emotions as motivators in behavior to more rational and calculated ones… we call this Rationalization. Him and other sociologists believed the process of rationalization wasn’t necessarily a good thing and essentially culminated in the achievement of capitalism… but that’s for another action-packed blog.


What’s interesting is that rationalization itself is what allows empirical observation to exist! Rationalization leads to bureaucracies… and it is these bureaucracies that allow us to catalogue the church documents, original manuscripts, and the archival documents that lead to sociological observations.


As a music educator, my field is concerned with the development of quality and efficiency in the musical learning process. Unfortunately, there are so many state mandates, standardized tests, and formatted music “contests”, that sometimes it’s easy to forget about the inherently artistic nature of our work. In many ways, our jobs are the culmination of this “Rationalization” that Webber talks about. Fortunately, I can now use this realization to guide me in my work… and use that as a reminder to try and always find beauty, creativity, and musical integrity in my work and in my student’s work.






Konrad Boehmer. “Weber, Max.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/29991&gt;.

Cady, Henry L. “The Sociology of Music: A Perspective.” Music Educators Journal, vol. 50, no. 2, 1963, pp. 25–58. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3390034.

Hildegard Froehlich and Lucy Green. “Music Education, Sociology of.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2103514&gt;.

Turley, Alan C. “Max Weber and the Sociology of Music.” Sociological Forum, vol. 16, no. 4, 2001, pp. 633–653. http://www.jstor.org/stable/684827.


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