Guide to Music Research  

This site will help you find and use music-related materials located at the Ross Pendergraft Library and on the Internet.

Music research is commonly associated with writing term papers for a history or music appreciation class. Yet, research is fundamentally about formal, systematic investigation of a given topic. Thus, music research can be as simple as searching for biographical information on a composer or looking for a specific music recording or edition of a score. Developing good research skills will benefit your future career irrespective of specialization in music education or performance.

In addition to print and electronic resources, consider consulting a music teacher, a specialized scholar, or a librarian during your research process. They can often recommend the best sources immediately, saving you a lot of time and effort which can be devoted to reading and writing the paper. Keep in mind, however, that they will not do all the research or write your paper!




Music Research in Four Easy Steps

Step One: Clarify & Consult

Step Two: Identify & Evaluate

Step Three: Refine & Redirect

Step Four: Note & Cite


Step One

Clarify the main question or topic of your research and identify its subject, author or musician, the title of a specific work, and/or keywords.

Consult a general reference source, either print or electronic and search by subject, author, title or keyword.


I want to learn more about J.S. Bach's masterpiece The Well Tempered Clavier. What is the meaning of "Well Tempered" and what is a clavier?

Search:"Bach" (author)"Well Tempered Clavier" (title)"piano music" (subject)"Bach" "piano" (keywords)

General Music Reference sources:

New Grove Encyclopedia of Music (print)780.3 G91n, 2001 (RPL first floor, Reference)

Music Online (electronic database)


Step Two

Identify relevant articles and books from the search results. You may also be limited by the physical and virtual (Web-based) materials available in the library's collection. However, one can also order books, articles, CDs, and DVDs from other libraries through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Evaluate the sources. This step is a critical yet often overlooked part of the research process.

Many of us obtain information from popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo. While these sites are indeed powerful tools, they often do not include vast amounts of information located in printed materials or in the "Dark Web" (i.e. Internet sources and pages that search engines cannot track).

Furthermore, many students are attracted to popular online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. While this latter site can be an excellent source of information, especially for current events, there are often gross errors in this type of "open content" source in which any person can change the information at will. The same holds true for many Web pages found through Google: the information is often not authored by scholars and can contain many factual errors.

When you evaluate a given source of information for your research paper, consider the academic background of the author, the publication source, and the presence of references or citations in the work. If in doubt about something that you have obtained from the Web, you can always speak with a librarian or your professor who can readily provide guidance.


Step Three

Refine your search based on the general sources that you have read. Articles from reference works like the Grove Encyclopedia of Music are excellent starting points for research but often do not explore one topic in great detail. It is important to explore the references that general sources cite.

It is quite common that one will redirect their research to more relevant sources such as specific articles that deal with the topic in greater depth.


General article from Music Online:

Kassel, R. (Ed.). (1997). Well-Tempered Clavier, The. In Baker's Dictionary of Music (p. 1158). New York, NY: Schirmer Reference. Retrieved from Music Online: Classical Music Reference Library database.

Books from the second floor stacks of the ATU Library:

Ledbetter, D. (2002). Bach's Well-tempered clavier : The 48 preludes and fugues. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kirkpatrick, R. (1984). Interpreting Bach's Well-tempered clavier : A performer's discourse of method. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Specific article from ATU Library research databases:

Larissa Paggioli de Carvalho. (2016). Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: Pedagogical Approaches and the Different Styles of Preludes. Per Musi, 2016(33), 97-115.


Step Four

Note taking is an important research technique for collecting information, understanding the material, and citing the article in your paper. One should be careful about writing too much from the original article which almost amounts to rewriting the article itself. Instead, one should note important concepts, facts, and quotes along with the page numbers from where the information is located in the article.

Cite your source following a standard bibliographic format. There are several to choose from and your professor may request that you follow a specific format. See the section on bibliographic styles: Bibliography

Once you have completed the four-step research process, you are ready to begin writing your paper. Here is a useful section on the writing process: Writing About Music

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Further questions concerning music research?

Please contact Lowell Lybarger, Multimedia Librarian, 479.964.0584.