Music M401
History and Literature of Music I

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music


Building a Bibliography

Table of Contents

  1. What to Include and Exclude
  2. How to Start
  3. How to Expand Your Search
  4. Periodicals
  5. How to Limit Your Search
  6. Evaluate Your Sources
  7. Get Help

Research Project | M401 Home

How to Write a Music History Paper
Some Suggested Subject Areas
M401: Music History Research Guide
Building a Bibliography | More Help with Research
Sample Prospectus and Bibliography | Music Citation—Chicago/Turabian Style
Research Project Style Sheet


Building a Bibliography

1. What to Include and Exclude

The bibliography you hand in with your paper should include everything you used directly in writing your paper. You do not have to cite an item in the notes to include it. But if you did not read or consult it, leave it off.

You should rely on primary and secondary sources for writing your paper.

Dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and so on are not permissible sources for your paper and do not belong in your bibliography. They are tertiary sources, derived largely from secondary sources, and are often not up to date. But such tertiary sources can help clarify a subject (which is one good reason to start with them), and they often have bibliographies themselves that can lead you to sources you can use (which is another good reason).

(One exception to the "no dictionaries" rule: authored articles in The New Grove Dictionary/Grove Music Online are by recognized experts in that field, and they may be used if they give information not available elsewhere. Make sure you cite the author of the article, and not just the New Grove itself, in your bibliographic citation and footnote.)

2. How to Start

Start with general reading in the subject area and with the bibliographies, indexes, and lists that already exist:

As you go, you will save time if you write down complete information (author, title, call number, publication information, and everything you would need in a bibliographic citation) on the sources you think you will be using. If you forget to do this, you will waste time going back to get missing pieces of information. A good shortcut here is to get to know the formats for bibliographic citation shown in the Music Library guide to Music Citation—Chicago/Turabian Style or their guide to Bibliographic Citations and to put each source in the right format as you go.

The New Grove Dictionary (online as Grove Music Online) may be the single most important starting point in your research. In it, you are likely to find general information about your topic and additional sources to consult. The bibliographies at the conclusion of each article are very useful in locating sources. Many citations are for periodicals whose titles are abbreviated. If you are using the paper publication of The New Grove Dictionary, see the front of the volume for the key to abbreviations. In the online version, Grove Music Online, point to the abbreviated title with your mouse, and the full title of the periodical will appear.

3. How to Expand Your Search

Building a bibliography is a creative process; it is not enough to look up your specific subject. You should also look up related areas. Try to think of all subject headings that might lead to worthwhile information. For instance, material related to Josquin's masses may be found under "Josquin," "Mass," "Church music," "Music--Italy," "Borrowing," and so on. This is easier in the online version of The New Grove Dictionary, which you can search by keyword.

Building a bibliography is also an additive process. Footnotes and bibliographies of books and articles you read or skim through will lead you to additional sources. This is often the best way to find the most useful items; if they were not useful, these writers would not have used them.

The Music Library Consultant assigned to your discussion section will be happy to meet with you and help you develop your bibliography.

There are many helpful resources at the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries Homepage (see especially the "A-Z List of Resources" link) and at the Wells Library at 10th Street and Jordan, including indexes to the literature, web search tools, and many relevant books and periodicals. So do not limit yourself just to what is in the Music Library.

4. Periodicals

Periodical articles are very important sources because they generally present information more specialized and up-to-date than that in books. Together with The New Grove, see The Music Index and RILM Abstracts to locate relevant periodical articles. Use your powers of critical evaluation; like books, articles vary considerably in quality and intended audience.

Most periodicals are available both on the shelf and electronically. When looking for a specific journal, look it up on IUCAT by title, limiting your search to "Serial" (click on "Serial" under "Limit your search" in the upper left corner of the window). This way you can find both the call number for the paper copy and the various ways to access an online copy. Not all journals are on JSTOR, nor are recent issues of many journals, so don't assume that you can't find something if JSTOR does not have it. For example, The Musical Quarterly is available on JSTOR only through eight years ago. More recent issues are available directly through the publisher.

If you cannot get access to an item because there is a firewall (for instance, you are told you have to pay for an item on JSTOR or the Oxford University Press site), go back to IUCAT and look the item up through IUCAT. You have access to all of these materials through the library, and should not have to pay for anything. If you have trouble with this, ask your AI or your Music Library Consultant.

If your bibliography has more books in it than periodical articles, that is probably a sign that you have not become familiar enough with the literature on your subject. It is not always true, but in general, cutting-edge research is found primarily in journal articles and dissertations, and synthesis in books. You will need both.

5. How to Limit Your Search

Most often, controlling the mass of material discovered is more a problem than finding enough material. You can control the material partly by limiting your subject and focusing your paper. You can also winnow the wheat from the chaff by evaluating your sources (see the next item).

Another way is to start with the most recent scholarship on your topic. It usually (though not always!) has the best information and the most current thinking on its topic. Moreover, the most recent articles will likely cite much of the earlier scholarship on the topic, and they can often help you sort out what is and is not useful in earlier writings. When you encounter a bibliography that is in chronological order (as are those in The New Grove) begin at the end and go backwards.

6. Evaluate Your Sources

Evaluate your sources. They will vary enormously in quality. Does the author seem to know the subject thoroughly? Do the facts agree with those cited in other authorities? Are assertions completely documented? For what audience is the book intended: scholars, performers, concert goers, or whom? Is the source worthwhile for serious research?

Hint: Avoid using materials that have not been evaluated by peer review. A book published by a reputable press, or an article in a journal, has been evaluated by other experts in the field and has met certain standards of accuracy and credibility. Except for online refereed journals and Grove Music Online, items on the World Wide Web, for the most part, have not been peer reviewed and should be treated with utmost caution. Books published by vanity presses, such as the Edward Mellen Press, have not been evaluated by anyone and should not be used for your paper. When in doubt, ask Prof. Burkholder or your section instructor.

7. Get Help

Several books offer guidance in writing music history papers.

David Poultney's Studying Music History: Learning, Reasoning, and Writing About Music History and Literature, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995) is on reserve in the Music Library at ML161 .P8 1995.

A book by Richard Wingell, Writing about Music: An Introductory Guide, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2002) offers a guide through the stages of planning, researching, and writing a paper. It is on the permanent reference shelves in the Music Library at REFERENCE ML 3797 .W55 W7 2002.

A similar recent guide is Jonathan Bellman, A Short Guide to Writing About Music (New York: Longman, 2000), on Reserve in the Music Library at ML 3797 .B4.

An older but excellent guide is the brief book by John E. Druesedow, Jr., Library Research Guide to Music: Illustrated Search Strategy and Sources (Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 1982), on the permanent reference shelves at REFERENCE ML 111 .D78. This book takes you through each step of planning, researching, and defining a topic. It will take you perhaps 2-3 hours to read through, but that investment of time may well save you dozens of hours of frustration.

We also recommend that you make use of your Music Library Consultant and of the helpful people at the Reference Desk in the Cook Music Library and at the Wells Library. (Do them and yourself a favor, though, and don't wait until the last minute.)


Research Project | M401 Home

How to Write a Music History Paper
Some Suggested Subject Areas
M401: Music History Research Guide
Building a Bibliography | More Help with Research
Sample Prospectus and Bibliography | Music Citation—Chicago/Turabian Style
Research Project Style Sheet


Last updated: 7 August 2017
URL: http://courses.music.indiana.edu/m401/M401bbib.html
Copyright © 1997-2017 by J. Peter Burkholder