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Music research essentials

Last Updated: 22-Jan-2016

An overview of music research resources at the Stanford Music Library.

Subject Librarians

Ray Heigemeir, Music Library
Public Services Librarian for Music
(650) 384-9985
Jerry McBride
Head Librarian, Music Library, Head Librarian, Archive of Recorded Sound
(650) 725-1146
Music Bibliographer
(650) 725-1144

Getting started

This guide lists important tools for music research, compiled by scholars, and examples of the different kinds of resources available to music researchers at the Stanford Music Library.

See also these brief printable guides:

Music Research Online, highlighting resources on this website
Tips on using GROVE and RILM
Types of resources for musicologists


  • Quality and reliability of information is paramount, and will be reflected in your work: with few exceptions, these tools are better than Wikipedia!

  • Be mindful of format (book, printed music, CD & DVD, microfilm, online database, archival item) and location (Music Reference Room, book and score stacks, Archive of Recorded Sound, online database, SAL3 storage).  Most titles in this guide are in the Music Reference Room. Title links take you to the full catalog record listing item status and locations; database links take you directly into the database.

  • Look at the Library of Congress M Classification scheme to see how music is physically arranged in the library.
  • Get to know your librarians! We're here to help you succeed.

Below are three research handbooks and five essential tools that you should know:

Music research handbooks

These books provide overviews of the different tools available for music research, and tips on using them effectively.

Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson Prentice Hall, c2009.
Music Library » Reference » ML3797 .G68 2009
Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press, 2008.
Music Library » Reference » ML3797 .B29 2008
2nd ed. New York : Oxford University Press, c2013.
Music Library » Reference » ML3797 .S26 2013

Five essential tools

Of the dozens of resources for music research that may be considered essential, or "core", these titles represent four enduring classics and one (soon-to-be-classic) newcomer.

[Oxford, England] : Oxford University Press
Stanford University Libraries » Online resource » eResource
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, part of Oxford Music Online, is the premier resource for music scholarship. Online, linked above. The print edition of Grove is shelved in the Referrence Room at ML100 .G833.
Centennial ed. / New York : Schirmer Books, 2001.
Green Library » Information Center » ML105 .B168 2001 V.1
Baker's Biographical provides capsule data on musicians, from the famous to the obscure. Not everyone survives the cut from edition to edition, so checking several is recommended when the latest doesn't suffice. Students of biography will find fascinating essays on how this work was compiled in the introductions to the 5th through 8th editions (reprinted in the Centennial Edition and online), by the wry musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky. Online, linked above.
5th ed. / New York : Schirmer Books, c1997.
Music Library » Reference » ML113 .D835 M9 1997
Though somewhat out of date, "Duckles" still provides a reliable starting point for identifying resources available for a given topic. Use the index to guide you.
4th ed. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
Music Library » Reference » ML100 .A641 N5 2003
A reliable dictionary that includes both encyclopedia-length and brief entries on all aspects of music. Images and musical examples are included.
New York : Oxford University Press, 2005.
Music Library » Stacks » ML160 .T18 2004 V.1
Taruskin's Oxford History has quickly become one of the most-used items in the Music Library, "...a magisterial survey of the traditions of Western music by one of the most prominent and provocative musicologists of our time" (~publisher). Online, linked above. A  circulating copy is in the stacks.

Encyclopedias & dictionaries

Encyclopedias and dictionaries provide highly-organized, compactly-written entries on all aspects of music, including people, places, historical movements, theoretical concepts, major and minor works, and more. Browse in the Music Reference Room at ML100 (general works) and ML102 (by topic). Important general works are listed below, followed by several topical examples.

See also these in-depth Grove articles:

Musicology (the study of music history and musicianship)

Historiography (the writing of music history)

[Oxford, England] : Oxford University Press
Stanford University Libraries » Online resource » eResource
Articles in Oxford/Grove Music Online represent the highest form of music scholarship in a reference source. Entries include bibliographies for further reading; entries on composers are particularly useful for their accompanying lists of musical works. The print of Grove edition is in teh Reference Room at ML100 .G833.
10 volumes cover music around the world. Arranged geographically, and includes audio examples and bibliographies. The print edition is shelved in the Music Reference Room.
[Oxford, England] : Oxford University Press
Stanford University Libraries » Online resource » eResource
The Oxford Companion to Music includes essays that elaborate on typical dictionary entries. Included in Oxford Music Online; the print edition is in the Music Reference Room.
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c1989.
Music Library » Reference » ML108 .T481 1989
Each entry includes plot synopsis, musical analysis, discussion of characters, and more.
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, c2008.
Music Library » Reference » ML102 .M88 H593 2008
Rev. ed. London : Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Green Library » Information Center » ML102 .R6 R64 2001


Bibliographies are lists of writings about a particular topic. There are hundreds of bibliographies available in the Music Library, as stand-alone reference sources; as sections in books; and at the end of scholarly encyclopedia articles.  These works point you to further sources for exploration.  Below is a sampling of bibliographies of literature and other writings, and of printed music.  You may also browse in the Reference Room at ML112 - ML132.

New York : Garland, 1993.
Music Library » Reference » ML116 .B265 1993
Berkeley, Calif. : Fallen Leaf Press, c1992.
Music Library » Reference » ML112 .K94 L7 1992
Hillsdale, NY : Pendragon Press, c2007.
Music Library » Reference » ML128 .T5 W55 2007
5th ed., rev. and enl. New York : Dover Publications, 2000.
Green Library » Bender Room » ML113 .F8 2000
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1998.
Music Library » Reference » ML128 .P3 H534 1998
Roslyn, PA : Emusicquest.
Stanford University Libraries » Online resource » eResource
This database provide access to all 14 Music in Print volumes, organized by instrument.

Composer guides & thematic catalogs

Research guides for individual composers summarize source materials including lists of compositions, writings by the composer, and books and articles about the composer and his or her works.

Thematic catalogs list a composer's works, including an incipit to aid identification. Both types of guides may be browsed in the Reference Room at ML134.  Examples are listed here:

2nd ed. New York : Routledge, 2009.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .B4415 W55 2009
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2002.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .C42 P69 2002 V.1
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2000.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .G29 C37 2000
This work includes a discography of more than 1150 items, and a descriptive filmography.
2nd ed. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2008.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .I9 A2 2008
2., überarbeitete und erw. Ausg. Wiesbaden : Breitkopf & Härtel, 1990.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .B1 A35 1990
A classic work of thematic bibliography.
Kassel ; New York : Bärenreiter, 2012.
Music Library » Reference » ML134 .S38 A33 2012
Contains entries on each of Schubert's 634 songs.

Articles and reviews

Search the following indexes to find current journal articles, book and recod revoews, dissertations, essays, and more. Each of the three music indexes cover some of the same content, but each also includes unique content.  Search all three for the most comprehensive results.

Some results link to full text online articles. Some provide citations only; you'll then need to search the journal's title in SearchWorks to find the print copy. Be aware that an article important to your research may exist only in print form!

[New York, RILM]
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » ML118 .R574 V.33 1999 INDEX
Includes articles, reviews, commentary, dissertations. 1967-present.
[Ipswich, Mass.] : Ebsco Publishing.
Stanford University Libraries » Online resource » eResource
Includes articles, reviews, obituaries, dissertations. 1973-present. Earlier print volumes are located in the Reference Room.
Alexandria, VA : Chadwyck-Healey, Inc.,
Music Library » Recordings » MCDI 9
Includes articles, reviews, obituaries. Bulk coverage 1996-present.


JSTOR and Google Scholar provide full text articles online. They are a good, convenient place to begin your search. See also this general guide to finding articles.

An increasing number of journals are online only, including current issues.

We recommend using a feed reader to keep up to date with new online journal issues.

Try X-Search, a federated search engine that covers many disciplines.

Other useful titles

Here are more reference works to suit a variety of needs:

5th ed., expanded & updated. Nashville, TN : Professional Desk References, c2002.
Archive of Recorded Sound » Reference » ML156.4 .P6 G73 2002
Do you need to find a song about a particular make or model of automobile? Do you want to scan a list of 303 song titles related to the color blue? Entries include song title, performer(s), album name, and record label.

1st ed. Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1978.
Music Library » Reference » ML66 .E56
Quotations by famous musicians and non-musicians, arranged loosely by topic.

New York : Universe Books, 1989, c1987.
Music Library » Reference » ML66 .L451 1989
Lists significant (and occasionally humorous, obscure, or just plain odd) musical events that took place on each day of the calendar year.

Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Oceana Publications, 1972-<1980>
Music Library » Reference » ML161 .E36 1972 V.1
From pre-historic times to the present, this work lists (by year) significant musical events interspersed with milestones of Western cultural history.

Provides snapshot summaries of 108 important musical periods/events/composer works, with historical contexts, date links, important works, forms, and characteristics.
10th ed. New York : Billboard Books/An Imprint Of Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007.
Music Library » Stacks » ML3790 .K73 2007
A fact-filled, readable introduction to many aspects of the business side of music. Includes discussion of recording contracts, labor agreements, copyright, licensing, trademarks, taxation, and technology. The 8th edition (2000) includes an accompanying CD-ROM of useful documents and sample forms.

Great Barrington, Mass. : ABC Leisure Magazines,
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » ML12 .M9876 2005
Listings include artist managers, performing group contact information, festivals, competitions, awards, music schools, and publishers. The online version displays daily classical music headlines.
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1996.
Music Library » Reference » ML109 .F73 1996
Developed in response to the needs of classical music radio announcers. Impress your colleagues and friends by correctly pronouncing “Davidsbündlertänze,” “Le bœuf sur le toit,” and “György Ligeti.”

Writing aids

These resources for writing papers often include examples. 

New York : Longman, c2000.
Music Library » Stacks » ML3797 .B4 2000
Bellman's book outlines different types of writing assignments including criticism, concert reviews, program notes and research papers; audience, use of source material, clarity and style are also covered.

2nd ed. Houston, Tex. : Halcyon Press, c2004.
Music Library » Stacks » ML3797 .B68 2004
"...provide[s] music students with some guidelines to assist in the preparation of theses, essays, dissertations, and other papers that may be written as part of their graduate program"

Third edition.
Music Library » Stacks » ML3797 .H65 2014
How do I indicate pitch names in different octaves? What is the proper way to label musical examples? Holoman's book covers format problems encountered when writing about music.

2nd ed. New York : Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale, 2006.
Music Library » Stacks » ML3797 .H69 2006
Includes extensive citation samples, and a chapter on indexing.