Consulting reference sources is a natural first step in your research process. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and similar sources can provide a brief overview of a topic to help your basic understanding of a subject and to help you decide whether a topic is interesting to you! It can also be valuable to review citations in reference entries, since these are often important sources of information on a topic.
In searching reference sources, and in all your research, keep in mind that music is a global art, despite the fact that most of our library resources are in English. Spellings may vary for names and terms that are not originally in English, especially those transliterated from non-Latin alphabets. For example:
Having trouble deciding on a topic, even before you get to reference sources? Try these articles from the library's Frequently Asked Questions:
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, all 29 volumes of it, is a good first stop for almost any musical topic. While most of its articles cover Western classical music, it also contains a wealth of information on musical traditions around the world, early Western music, jazz, and popular music. There are also several Grove dictionaries on specialized topics, such as musical instruments. These titles and others can be found in print in the first floor reference area:
The content of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the dictionaries on opera and jazz is available online through Oxford Music Online. The electronic version is regularly revised with new and updated articles, and so it is worth checking the online version even if you have checked the print volumes.
Note that the default search for Oxford Music Online is by keyword, meaning that you will get results for every article that contains the terms you enter. You may wish to change the "Term" option to search by "Article title." This will narrow things down to entries that include your search terms in the article title, which is more like the experience of looking up an article in the print version.
The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music covers music from around the world in ten volumes organized by geographic regions. The print version is located on the lower level in the oversized books section. There is a CD of recordings to accompany each volume, which you can request at the circulation desk.
The text and recordings from The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music are also available online through Alexander Street's Music Online database.
RISM stands for Répertoire International des Sources Musicales, or International inventory of musical sources. It's an ongoing project to catalog primary sources related to music, including music manuscripts, early printed editions of music, and writings on music, that are held in libraries and archives worldwide. Once you know where sources are held, you can research the holding library to see whether they can provide photocopies, microfilm, or digital copies of the source you are interested in.
There are many volumes of RISM, each covering different subjects such as:
The Library does not own every volume of RISM, but you can browse the volumes we have by using OneSearch to search for "Répertoire International des Sources Musicales" as a title. The individual volume titles are in many languages. You can read the entry for each volume for more information, or use Google Translate to get the title in English.
Some content from RISM volumes can be searched online. In some cases, these search results point to digitized versions of the sources described in RISM!
Music reference and research materials: an annotated bibliography, by Duckles and Reed, is a reference work that lists reference works about music. It may be useful if you want to see whether there is a reference work that covers information relevant to your topic area. If you are interested in recordings of folk music from the 1920s, for example, you might check to see whether there is a discography that lists those recordings.
The chapters are:
The previous edition can be read online at the Internet Archive. You will need to install Adobe Digital Editions software and create a free account with the Internet Archive.