Vital Signs: Toward a Tool for Assessing Music Vitality and Viability


The effects of globalisation have challenged the music practices of many peoples, particularly those of Indigenous and minority groups. In the context of renewed scholarly interest in the sustainability of music traditions (and other intangible forms of cultural expression), this article reports on a survey, based on the 12-part “Music Vitality and Endangerment Framework”, which gathered data on the vitality and viability of 101 music traditions around the world. The primary aim of the study was to evaluate the validity, reliability and usability of the survey instrument itself. This article provides an overview of the findings, assesses the advantages and limitations of carrying out assessments of music traditions in this way, and reflects on implications for ongoing efforts to support the sustainable future of music traditions across the world.

Author Biography

Catherine Grant, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

Catherine Grant’s book Music Endangerment: How Language Maintenance can Help was published in 2014 by Oxford University Press. She was awarded an Australian Academy of the Humanities Fellowship in 2014 and an Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Fellowship in 2015 for research in Cambodia, and received a national Future Justice medal for her advocacy and activism on issues of music endangerment and sustainability. She is chair of the Australia-New Zealand Regional Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music.


Averill, Gage. (2003) Cantometrics and cultural equity: The academic years. In: R.D. Cohen (ed.) Alan Lomax: Selected writings 1934–1997. New York, London: Routledge. pp. 230-244.

Bendrups, Dan, and Barney, Katelyn. (Eds.). (2013) Music, Culture and Sustainability [Special Issue]: Musicology Australia 35/2.

Brown, Steven, and Joseph Jordania. (2013) Universals in the world’s musics. Psychology of Music, 41, 229–248.

Cabral, Clara Bertrand. (2011) Collaborative internet-mediated ICH inventories. International Journal of Intangible Heritage 6, 36-43.

Coulter, Neil R. (2007) Music shift: Evaluating the vitality and viability of music styles among the Alamblak of Papua New Guinea. Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University.

Coulter, Neil R. (2011) Assessing music shift: Adapting EGIDS for a Papua New Guinea community. Language Documentation and Description 10, 61-81.

Coulter, Neil R. (2013) Bamboo flutes, music shift, and the end of groove in an East Sepik community. Language and Linguistics in Melanesia 31/2, 27-42.

Dubinskas, Frank A. (1983) A musical Joseph's coat: Patchwork patterns and social significance in world musics. Reviews in Anthropology 10/3, 27-42.

Grant, Catherine. (2010) The links between safeguarding language and safeguarding musical heritage. International Journal of Intangible Heritage [online]. 5, 45-59. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Grant, Catherine. (2011) Key factors in the sustainability of languages and music: A comparative study. Musicology Australia 33/1, 1-19.

Grant, Catherine. (2012) Rethinking safeguarding: Objections and responses to protecting and promoting endangered musical heritage. Ethnomusicology Forum 21/1, 39-59.

Grant, Catherine. (2013) Developing a triage system for sustaining intangible cultural heritage. International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context [online]. 9/1, 11-22. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Grant, Catherine. (2014) Music endangerment: How language maintenance can help. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grant, Catherine. (2015) Music endangerment as a wicked problem. International Journal of Heritage Studies 21/7, 629-641.

Hornbostel, Erich M. von. (1904-1905) Die Probleme der vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft. Zeitschrift der internationalen Musicgesellschaft 7, 85-97.

Keogh, Brent. (2013) On the limitations of music ecology. International Journal for Music Research [online]. 4. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Lewis, M. Paul. (2005) Towards a categorization of endangerment of the world’s languages. SIL International. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Lomax, Alan. (1968) Folk song style and culture. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lomax, Alan. (1980) Factors of musical style. In: S. Diamond (ed.) Theory and Practice: Essays presented to Gene Weltfish, The Hague: Mouton. pp. 29-59.

Lomax, Alan (Ed.). (1976) Cantometrics: An approach to the anthropology of music. Berkeley: University of California Extension Media Center.

Nettl, Bruno. (2010) Nettl's elephant: On the history of ethnomusicology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Nettl, Bruno. (2015) The study of ethnomusicology: Thirty-three discussions (3rd edition). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Marett, Allan. (2010) Vanishing songs: How musical extinctions threaten the planet. Ethnomusicology Forum 19/2, 249-262.

Merriam, Alan P. (1982) On objections to comparison in ethnomusicology. In: R. Falck and T. Rice (eds.) Cross-cultural perspectives on music. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 174-189.

Moseley, Christopher (Ed.). (2009) UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger [online]. Paris: UNESCO. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Randel, Don Michael. (1992) The canons in the musicological toolbox. In: K. Bergeron and P. V. Bohlman (eds.) Disciplining Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 10-22.

Rzeszutek, Tom, Patrick E. Savage, and Steven Brown. (2012) The structure of cross-cultural musical diversity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, 1606–1612.

Sarana, Gopala. (1975) The methodology of anthropological comparisons: An analysis of comparative methods in social and cultural anthropology. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology 53. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press.

Savage, Patrick E., and Steven Brown. (2013) Toward a new comparative musicology. Analytical Approaches to World Music 2/2, 148–197.

Savage, Patrick E., and Steven Brown. (2014) Mapping music: Cluster analysis of song-type frequencies within and between cultures. Ethnomusicology 58/1,133-155.

Savage, Patrick E., Emily Merritt, Tom Rzeszutek, and Steven Brown. (2012) CantoCore: A new cross-cultural song classification scheme. Analytical Approaches to World Music 2/1, 87–137.

Schippers, Huib. (2015) Applied ethnomusicology and intangible cultural heritage: Understanding ‘ecosystems’ of music as a tool for sustainability. In: S. Pettan and J.T.Titon (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 134-157.

Schippers, Huib. (2016) Exploring the ecology of sustainability in music. In: H. Schippers and C. Grant (eds.) Sustainable Futures for Music Cultures: An Ecological Perspective, New York: Oxford University Press.

Schippers, Huib and Bendrups, Dan (Eds.). (2015) Sound futures: Exploring contexts for music sustainability. World of Music special issue 4/1.

Schippers, Huib and Grant, Catherine (Eds.). (2016) Sustainable futures for music cultures: An ecological perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.

Seeger, Anthony. (2013). Is it possible to safeguard intangible cultural heritage? And if so, should we? [Keynote abstract]. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Terralingua. (2011) Langscape: The case for linguistic diversity [online]. 2/8, 1-33. [accessed 25/7/2016].

Titon, Jeff Todd. (2009a) Economy, ecology, and music: An introduction. World of Music 51/1, 5-15.

Titon, Jeff Todd. (2009b) Music and Sustainability: An ecological viewpoint. World of Music 51/1, 119-137.

Titon, Jeff Todd. (2013) Folklore, sustainability, and public policy: A few thoughts on ‘economic man,’ conservation biology and the commonwealth of culture. [Keynote abstract]. [accessed 25/7/2016].

UNESCO. (2003a) Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. [accessed 25/7/2016].

UNESCO. (2003b) A Methodology for Assessing Language Vitality and Endangerment. [accessed 25/7/2016].

UNESCO Culture Sector. (2011) UNESCO’s Language Vitality and Endangerment Methodological Guideline: Review of Application and Feedback since 2003. [Background Paper]. [accessed 25/7/2016].

How to Cite
GrantC. (2017). Vital Signs: Toward a Tool for Assessing Music Vitality and Viability. The International Journal of Traditional Arts, 1(1). Retrieved from