Get some background on music-related topics and history

Once you've identified your topic, you should start by gathering some background information on it. Keep the following points in mind when you're reading through background sources like encyclopedias and reference books:

  • Brainstorm a list of 6-8 keywords associated with your topic. These can include key composers or theorists, music terms, or any other words that come to mind. These keywords will give you a something to watch for when you're reading your background sources.
  • Your list of keywords might change, and that's ok! Keep track of new keywords you identify as you explore the background on your topic. These keywords may get narrower or broader as you learn more about your topic, and it's important to stay flexible - you never know what path your research may take.
  • Don't forget to look at the end of the encyclopedia article you're reading - there may be a great bibliography that can point you toward additional relevant resources!


Where can you get some background on music-related topics? Try music-specific encyclopedias!

Encyclopedias and reference books can help you to get some background on a topic, genre, style, person, etc., and they'll provide context to help you to better understand the information you find in primary sources like interviews and recordings. Our suggestion is to start with Bloomsbury Popular Music:

Bloomsbury Popular Music doesn't just cover popular music that you'll hear on the radio - it has information about musical traditions from cultures all over the world. This resource is made up of scholarly entries that are short, easy to read, and include excellent bibliographies and discographies that will lead you to other useful resources.


Not finding what you're looking for in Bloomsbury Popular Music? Try some of these other music-specific encyclopedias:

Looking for some music-specific primary sources?

Text-based primary sources are a great way to explore what people were writing, saying, and thinking about music when it was created and released. Check out these databases for access to music-specific primary sources:


Exploring primary sources like letters, photographs, and other archival materials might give you more context for the information you find in interviews, concert reviews, and record reviews. Check out the resources linked from the Music-Related Databases Guide's Find Primary Sources page.

Check out our streaming audio resources

Why use streaming audio and video (or CDs and DVDs) from the Music Library instead of YouTube?

  • Trustworthy metadata: The content you access through the Libraries is what it says it is. The performers, dates, and descriptions in our resources are all accurate (as opposed to YouTube, which might not be).

  • Liner notes: These can be fantastic sources of information about the music, its historical context, and its performers!

Explore primary sources you can't find on YouTube, with metadata about the performers, date, location, etc. you can trust:


Looking for more streaming audio databases? Check out the Find Streaming Audio page of the Music-Related Databases Guide!

Find streaming video resources

YouTube is a great source for video recordings, but it's important to know that you can trust the information about the recordings you're using (who's in them, what content they include, when they were recorded). Using Libraries streaming video resources is a great way to be sure you're using trustworthy primary sources for your research!

The links below will lead you to a number of helpful Libraries streaming video resources:

To get started with searching the Digital Content Library: Click the link above or visit the Digital Content Library (or DCL) at Once there, sign in with your University ID and password by clicking on the small yellow sign-in icon. After you've signed in, use the search box to search for "JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance":

An image of the Digital Content Library homepage, with the places to sign and search the resource highlighted. The spot to click to sign in is circled and includes a note that says "Step 1: Sign in with your University ID and password." The search box is circled with a note that says, "Step 2: After signing in, enter your search terms in the small box here!"

After receiving your search results, explore the many musical traditions represented by these streaming videos!


Looking for more streaming video databases? Check out the Find Streaming Video page of the Music-Related Databases Guide!

Want to learn more about finding and accessing music materials like books, scores, and recordings?

Check out our Finding Music Materials Guide, which will help you to navigate our digital and physical collections of music-related materials. Want to learn more about the Music Library and its collections? Don't miss our full list of Music Research Guides, and reach out to Music Librarian Jessica Abbazio at for help!

Last Updated: Oct 4, 2021 2:03 PM