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Degrees and Programs

Program Descriptions: Music | Ethnomusicology | Folklore
Music Theory Requirements

Program Options:


Detailed information will be forthcoming in the Academic Calendar. Program description follows below.

  • 4 year Major Degree (BACS only)


For detailed information, see the Academic Calendar (pdf)

  • 3 year General Degree
  • Minor
  • Certificate in Ethnomusicology


For detailed information, see the Academic Calendar (pdf)

  • 3 year General Degree
  • 4 year Major Degree
  • Double Major
  • Area Major
  • Minor

For help, contact:

Heather Sparling, Ethnomusicology
563-1242 or

Ian Brodie, Folklore
563-1418 or

Music at Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University’s Bachelor of Arts Community Studies (BACS) Music Major is like no other music program in Canada.  The program focuses on traditional and tradition-based popular music, with particular emphasis on local musical traditions (especially Celtic and Acadian music) and is designed for students who have a passion for music who want to work in the multi-billion dollar global music industry.

Several things set CBU’s BACS Music Major apart from other music programs. Through the BACS core courses and two work placements, students acquire work experience, and are able to make contacts and network within the music world.

The program offers unique course offerings in a variety of musical traditions (Celtic, Gaelic, Acadian, First Nations) as well as popular music, world music, and music theory.

A variety of performance options are offered each year (e.g., step dancing, Gaelic song, percussion, etc.) in addition to performance courses taught by some of Cape Breton’s best known traditional musicians (Stan Chapman, who taught Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster; Kyle MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils).

In addition to academic and applied courses, students have the option of taking a minor in business. This allows students to develop skills in financial management, marketing, tourism, and other business-related topics.

No audition is required, as the BACS music major is a primarily academic study of music, and is not for students who are interested in being a music teacher in the public school system.

Students have the opportunity to become involved in local music-making contexts where they will learn playing techniques and repertoire in a very community-based way.

Folklore at Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University is the only Maritime university to offer a program in folklore, and one of only a few Canadian universities to do so. The Tier One Canada Research Chair in Intangible Culture, Dr. Richard MacKinnon, is the program leader. The Beaton Institute, a community and university archive that specializes in the social, economic, cultural, religious, political, labour, industrial, environmental, and rural history of Cape Breton Island, enriches the CBU folklore programme. When conducting research, students can access the Beaton Institute's thousands of personal and public documents.

Students majoring in folklore take preparatory courses in the discipline, introducing students to fundamental concepts, issues, and methods in the discipline of folklore. Students have opportunities to conduct their own fieldwork projects, engaging with ethical issues while developing skills in interviewing, observation, archival and library research, analysis, and synthesis in writing.

CBU’s program specializes in folklore of the Atlantic provinces, offering courses such as Cultural Heritage of Cape Breton and Folklore of Atlantic Canada, while providing a broader perspective and ample opportunity for cross-cultural comparison in courses such as Folklife Studies: Regional Ethnology; Oral Literature: Storytelling and Other Verbal Genres; Urban Legend; Vernacular Architecture; Food and Culture; and Gender in Traditional and Informal Culture.

Upper-level seminar and thesis courses provide an opportunity for the student to do in-depth directed research. Taking a minor in folklore at CBU is a unique opportunity for students to complement their studies in a ‘mainstream' discipline with a fresh perspective gleaned from the study of informality.

Cape Breton Island is an ideal location in which to study folklore because of the myriad cultural groups to be found there, including English Loyalists, Irish, Acadian French, Ukrainian, Italian, Polish, Czechoslovakian, African-American, and Jewish communities, amongst others.

The island is additionally home to five Aboriginal First Nation communities. Cape Breton was also settled by more than twenty-five thousand Gaelic-speaking Scots in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, to this day, remains the only place outside of Scotland where Scots Gaelic is still spoken.

To varying degrees, these groups have maintained their distinctive languages, customs, and oral and creative traditions. In addition, the Island has drawn these cultural groups to its industries, from farming and fishing to steel and coal and now to government and information technology: cultural groups encountering each other through occupations generate new traditions.

Cape Breton's multicultural context provides ample opportunity for students to observe and study folklore directly, and to see how folk groups relate to and affect one another.

CBU is also pleased to provide the opportunity for students to take a minor in ethnomusicology, or to take ethnomusicology courses as part of their folklore degree.

Ethnomusicology at Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University offers one of the few opportunities to study ethnomusicology at the undergraduate level anywhere in Canada. We are pleased to offer a specialty in Celtic music, although students may choose to investigate a broader array of cultures and issues.

Ethnomusicology students do not require any prior musical training; however, there are performance courses available for practicing musicians. An ethnomusicology minor can be combined with any major offered. It may be paired with a major in a related discipline, such as folklore, anthropology, sociology, or Mi'kmaq studies, or paired with any other major, including Communication, English, History, Philosophy, Political Science, or Psychology, for a broader, multi-disciplinary program.

An ethnomusicology certificate may be taken instead of a degree; alternatively, certificate courses may count as part of a degree.

Students taking any ethnomusicology program at CBU must take three required courses: Experiencing Music, which develops listening and musical analysis skills, Musics of the World, which introduces a range of musics in diverse cultures, and Music and Culture, which introduces students to issues of particular interest in the discipline of ethnomusicology, such as the intersections between music and everyday life, migration, worship, dance, memory, identity, politics, and the music industry.

Certificate students must also complete an independent study in ethnomusicology. Students are then free to take at least three more courses from a variety of electives (a minor requires at least three more courses while the certificate requires at least four more).

We are pleased to offer a specialty in Celtic music, offering courses such as Celtic Music, Canadian Celtic Music, Celtic Performing Arts, Performance Analysis of Celtic Arts, and performance courses in traditional Cape Breton music. However, students may also choose to investigate a broader array of cultures and issues through other courses such as Popular Music and Culture, Protest Song, or Folk Music and Culture.

Cape Breton University

P.O. Box 5300, 1250 Grand Lake Rd.

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Canada B1P 6L2

Toll Free: 1-888-959-9995 (Canada/US)

Tel: (902) 539-5300

Fax: (902) 562-0119