In 1851–2 the Trustees of the Reid bequest at the University of Edinburgh undertook an investigation into music education. Concerned that the funds which supported the Chair of Music should be spent as efficiently and effectively as possible, they consulted professional and academic musicians in search of new forms of teaching music at university level. The investigation itself and the resulting correspondence illuminate the problems inherent in defining music for the academy. They reflect the difficult position of music as a profession, as well as its uneasy relationship with science and ideas of craft and genius. For modern music educators, such an investigation invites an opportunity to consider the basic tenets of music as an academic subject. The questions posed by the Edinburgh Trustees go to the heart of what it means to teach and study music and demonstrate the value of historical perspectives for interrogating present-day norms and practice.