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Historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and systematic musicology are approximately equal in size. Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its cultural context. Systematic musicology includes music acoustics, the science and technology of acoustical musical instruments, and the musical implications of physiology, psychology, sociology, philosophy and computing. Cognitive musicology is the set of phenomena surrounding the computational modeling of music. When musicologists carry out research using computers, their research often falls under the field of computational musicology. In some countries, music education is a prominent sub-field of musicology, while in others it is regarded as a distinct academic field, or one more closely affiliated with teacher education, educational research, and related fields. Like music education, music therapy is a specialized form of applied musicology which is sometimes considered more closely affiliated with health fields, and other times regarded as part of musicology proper.

Musicology also has two central, practically oriented sub-disciplines with no parent discipline: performance practice and research (sometimes viewed as a form of artistic research), and the theory, analysis and composition of music. The disciplinary neighbors of musicology address other forms of art, performance, ritual and communication, including the history and theory of the visual and plastic arts and of architecture; linguistics, literature and theater; religion and theology; and sport. Musical knowledge is applied in medicine, education, and music therapywhich, effectively, are parent disciplines of applied musicology.

The methods of historical musicology include source studies (especially manuscript studies), paleography, philology (especially textual criticism), style criticism, historiography (the choice of historical method), musical analysis (analysis of music to find "inner coherence"), and iconography. The application of musical analysis to further these goals is often a part of music history, though pure analysis or the development of new tools of music analysis is more likely to be seen in the field of music theory. Music historians create a number of written products, ranging from journal articles describing their current research, new editions of musical works, biographies of composers and other musicians, book-length studies or university textbook chapters or entire textbooks. Music historians may examine issues in a close focus, as in the case of scholars who examine the relationship between words and music for a given composer's art songs. On the other hand, some scholars take a broader view, and assess the place of a given type of music, such as the symphony in society using techniques drawn from other fields, such as economics, sociology, or philosophy.

Music theory is a field of study that describes the elements of music and includes the development and application of methods for composing and for analyzing music through both notation and, on occasion, musical sound itself. Broadly, theory may include any statement, belief, or conception of or about music (Boretz, 1995). A person who studies or practices music theory is a music theorist.

Music psychology applies the content and methods of all subdisciplines of psychology (perception, cognition, motivation, etc.) to understand how music is created, perceived, responded to, and incorporated into individuals' and societies' daily lives. Its primary branches include cognitive musicology, which emphasizes the use of computational models for human musical abilities and cognition, and the cognitive neuroscience of music, which studies the way that music perception and production manifests in the brain using the methodologies of cognitive neuroscience. While aspects of the field can be highly theoretical, much of modern music psychology seeks to optimize the practices and professions of music performance, composition, education, and therapy.

The vast majority of major musicologists and music historians from past generations have been men, as in the 19th century and early 20th century; women's involvement in teaching music was mainly in elementary and secondary music teaching. Nevertheless, some women musicologists have reached the top ranks of the profession. Carolyn Abbate (born 1956) is an American musicologist who did her PhD at Princeton University. She has been described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world's most accomplished and admired music historians".