Skip to Content

Music Research: Where Do I Begin?

You've been assigned to write a research paper about a topic in Music. (Perhaps it has to be about "the history and current landscape of piano instruction methods.") What if you don't have much experience with college-level research and writing, especially about music? Where in the world do you begin?

[First, if you wish to review a general how-to guide for conducting research about any subject, our handy Roadmap to Research is a great start.]

The gold-standard encyclopedic reference source on music is The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition.  (The 29-volume set is available in the Reference section of the Schneider Music Library).  This edition is from 2001.  However, an online and continually updated version is available!  Click over to Oxford Music Online (which is now the publisher of the various Grove music dictionaries) and enter a keyword search just like you would in Google.

A Grove article is a terrific place to start. The article itself gives a fine introduction to the topic. But then most articles will conclude with a bibliography that will point the way toward further research, providing you with citations to relevant scholarly books, dissertations, journal articles, and more.  Further, if the article is about a composer, you will find a comprehensive Works list identifying the composer's entire body of work, piece by piece.

Guides to Music Research:

  • A Guide to Library Research in Music (2008: Scarecrow) ML 3797 .B29 2008 (Music Library: Reference)
  • Music Library and Research Skills, 2nd ed. (2017: Oxford U) ML 3797 .G68 2017 (Music Library: Reference)
  • Music Research: A Handbook, 2nd ed. (2013: Oxford U) ML 113 .S28 2013 (Music Library: Reference)

Histories of Music: Historical surveys of music can help give a sense of context and flow to your own narrative of musical lives and events.  Below are some prime examples to get you started (and here's a longer list):

  • A History of Western Music, 9th ed. (2014: W.W. Norton)
    ML 160 .G872 2014 (Music Library: Reference)
  • The Oxford History of Western Music (2005: Oxford U)
    ML 160 .T18 2005 v.1-6 (Music Library: Reference)
  • Source Readings in Music History (1998: W.W. Norton)
    ML 160 .S89 1998 (Music Library: Reference)

Guides to Writing About Music: You've done (most of) your research, and now it's time to write that paper! These books can help you make the best choices about the organization, style, and format of your papers:

  • Music in Words: A Guide to Researching and Writing About Music (2009: Oxford U Press), online
  • A Short Guide to Writing About Music, 2nd ed. (2007: Longman)  ML 3797 .B4 2007 (Music Library: Dictionary Stand)
  • Writing About Music: A Style Sheet, 3rd ed. (2014: U of California) ML 3797 .W54 2009 (Music Library: Dictionary Stand). Also available online.