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Library Research Guides

Music

Guide to finding music materials & getting started with music research.

Researching a Musical Topic

1. Find basic information in reference sources such as encyclopedias. For instance:

  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the premiere encyclopedia on music, with articles written by experts in their fields. Print volumes can be found in Music Reference: ML 100 .N53 2001. It may also be accessed online through Oxford Music Online. Articles include bibliographies, which may get you started on your research.
  • The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music is an excellent source on music of all the world's peoples. The print volumes can be found in Music Reference: ML 100 .G161 1998. It may also be accessed online.

2. Books

  • Search the Library Catalog for books that discuss your topic. If your topic is somewhat broad, a 'Subject' search will probably be most effective. If you were studying the genre salsa, a 'Subject' search on "salsa" with the format limited to books would retrieve around 30 results. If you're not sure what the appropriate subject heading would be, try an 'All Fields' search using logical keywords. If your results are overwhelming, look at a few relevant items to see what subject headings are used. Then try a 'Subject' search on those terms to retrieve more relevant results.
  • Search Tip: Try a 'Subject' search if your topic is broad or if an 'All Fields' search yields too many results. Try an 'All Fields' search for more focused or obscure topics, as this will look for the word(s) anywhere within the record. For instance, 'All Fields' searching looks within Tables of Contents when they're available, while 'Subject' searching looks only at the assigned subject headings.

3. Articles

  • If you don't find enough information in books, try searching for articles in databases.
  • Try the database RILM first -- it's scholarly and is the most comprehensive database of music literature.
  • JSTOR has full-text articles from core journals in all fields. It's great for finding music literature published before 1967, when RILM coverage starts.

Researching a Composer

1. Encyclopedias

  • Try The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians first. This 29-volume set is the premiere encyclopedia on music, with articles written by experts in their fields. Print volumes can be found in Music Reference: ML 100 .N53 2001. It may also be accessed online through Oxford Music Online. Composer articles can be extensive. Also useful are the works lists included for most composers— these are arranged by genre & provide identifying information, dates of composition, and the location of the work within the composer's complete works (when applicable). Articles also include bibliographies that can help you get started with your research.

2. Books

  • Check the Library Catalog for book-length studies of the composer. Begin with a 'Subject' search, as this will find the most relevant sources. Most composer biographies will be located in the call number ML 410, which is arranged alphabetically by composer.
  • If there aren't many books devoted to your subject, also try an 'All Fields' search on the composer's name, while limiting the format to books. This will retrieve books that, for instance, have a chapter devoted to the composer.
  • The call number ML 134, most of which is in the reference section, has thematic catalogs and bibliographies for individual composers. Thematic catalogs attempt to list all the works of a particular composer and include incipits and basic information such as date of composition and first performance, location of the manuscript, early editions, and more.

Researching a Composition

1. See above regarding composers.

2. Books

  • Look at biographies about the composer to find information about his/her works. Check the index to see if a particular piece is discussed.
  • Search the Library Catalog for other books that discuss the work(s). For instance, if you're writing about a Mozart string quartet(s), do an 'All Fields' search for mozart AND quartets. Be sure to limit the format to books, or you'll get all of the scores and recordings of the quartets too. Try alternate search terms as well— in this case, mozart AND chamber would yield additional results.
  • Two reference books provide citations for analyses of musical works:

3. Articles

  • If you don't find enough information in books, try searching for articles in databases. Articles tend to be more specific in their focus than books, so they can be a great source of information on particular compositions.

  • Try the database RILM first— it's scholarly and is the most comprehensive database of music literature.

  • JSTOR has full-text articles from core journals in all fields. It's great for finding music literature published before 1967, when RILM coverage starts.