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MUS 381 - Reference and Research Materials in Music

Research Tips

Research a Topic

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 Fine Arts Library - Reference ML100.N48 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 a "Keyword" search. Select Advanced Search and set "Resource Type" to book. Once you have limited the format to books, search the composer's name using a "Any Field" and "contains". 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.

1. See information tab Researching a Composer.

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 AND, OR, NOT (Keyword Boolean) search in the Library Catalog for Mozart AND quartets. Be sure to set a search limit 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 analysis of music 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. 

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 Fine Arts Library - Reference ML100.N48 2001. It may also be accessed online through Oxford Music Online. Articles also include bibliographies that can help you get started with your research. 
  • The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music is an excellent source on music of all the world's peoples. It can be accessed online at Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.

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're not sure what the appropriate subject heading would be, try a 'Keyword' or 'Boolean' 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. Remember to set search limits to format: book.
  • Search Tip: Try a 'Subject' search if your topic is broad or if a 'Keyword' or 'Boolean' search yields too many results. Try a 'Keyword' or 'Boolean' search for more focused or obscure topics, as this will look for the word(s) anywhere within the record. For instance, 'Keyword' searching looks within the 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. 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. 

General Library Search Tips

  • Develop a list of keywords: Brainstorm a list of synonyms and related words to expand your search.
  • Use double quotes: When searching with phrases, be sure to join them together by using double quotation marks.
    • For example "rhapsody in blue" or "appalachian spring"
  • Use truncation: Truncation allows you to search for a root word and all of its various endings.
    • When using the search bar on the KU Libraries homepage or searching in library databases for articles, be sure to use a * to indicate the search should accept any letters that follow.
      • For example: symphon*, sonat*
      • Just keep in mind when truncating that some common musical terms, especially when truncated, are common outside of music: organ* includes organism, organization, organic; opera* includes operation, operator
  • Use AND/OR/NOT: Boolean keyword searches link multiple search terms and return more efficient search results.
    • For example: brahms AND quartets AND henle

Finding a Topic

Topic Finding and Thesis Formation

  • Follow your interest
  • Look for tensions, anomalies and unanswered questions
  • What assumptions have been made in previous scholarship surrounding a topic? 
  • What critical approaches have and haven't been taken with certain topics?
  • Narrow or broaden an area of interest, and look for ways you can situate an argument within a larger argument, or in opposition to another argument
  • Look outside of music at other influences and factors that are related to your topic

Attribution

The text and examples for Research a Topic on this page are courtesy of the University of Michigan Music Library.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.