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Music Library 101: Finding & Accessing Materials

Need to do some music research but aren't sure where to start? Look no further! This guide will get you started with the basics of how to search for books, articles, scores, and recordings.

Search Tool Comparison Chart

The chart below briefly compares the search tools detailed in the boxes below. 

Searching for Materials

Searching the library catalog is the best way to locate books, musical scores, or A/V  materials such as CDs, DVDs, or LPs.

Find the library catalog on the Music Library Homepage

Types of Searches

Author Search

If you are looking for a specific item and know the author, an Author Search is a good place to start. When searching by author, remember to use the following format Last Name, First Name (ex. Schumann, Clara). This will locate all works in the collection by that author. 

For musicians, it is important to note that when you are looking for scores or recordings by a particular composer, the composer will be listed as the "author" of that work. 

Title Search

Title Searches are used to find a work with a distinctive title, and also can be used to find all available versions of a work. While a Title Search for a known item is more specific, there is more room for errors of typing and spelling, or of memory.

In title searches, be sure to IGNORE INITIAL ARTICLES like "the" "a" and "an" in English or the following in other languages commonly used for classical music: French: Le, La, L', Les; German: Der, Die, Das; Italian: Il, Lo, L', La, Gli, Gl', I, Le; Spanish: El, La, Lo, Los, Las.

Because the original title for many musical works is in a language other than English, searching for the correct title in the original language is key to finding all available versions of that work in the library catalog.

If you are having trouble finding a specific work using a title search, you may need to adjust your strategy and try an author search instead. And when in doubt, you can always ask a Librarian!

Subject Search

Subject Searches are the most effective way to find information about a topic in the Library Catalog. So while you will use an Author Search to locate scores and recordings by a composer, you will want to use a Subject Search to locate books about a composer. 

The Library offers numerous music-specific databases that you have access to as AppState students. While this guide only covers a few of them, many of the concepts presented here can be applied to other databases as well. 

Find the full list of music databases here:

Using the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians also called Grove Online is a great place to start your music research. This database contains articles about any number of music-related topics including composer biographies, specific works of music, instrument history, and more! When starting your music research journey you can use Grove Online to: 

  • Gather basic background information about your topic
  • Locate a list of complete works by a specific composer (ex. Copland, Aaron)
  • Mine additional academic resources on your topic by searching the bibliography section at the end of each article
Using Music Index and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature

Music Index and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature are both great places to begin looking for Academic Journal Articles on music-related topics. 

Although the interfaces for these two databases look similar, Music Index and RILM provide different content. While Music Index has articles going back to the late 1970s and will often link directly to full-text articles, RILM indexes and abstracts scholarly music literature and very rarely provides full-text links. RILM is also a European source which means that a good many of the articles listed there may be in a language other than English. 


Accessing Journal Articles

Sometimes, when trying to access journal articles in library databases, you might run into a few bumps in the road. 

If you try to access an article and end up on a page that says "We did not find your article or book. Please try the following option:", then do not despair! This page contains links to the library catalog, Google Scholar, and Interlibrary Loan. Before you give up, try exploring each of the links to see if there is another way to get access. And if all else fails, it is never a bad idea to Ask a Music Librarian

AppSearch is a Discovery Service that has the ability to search multiple databases as well as the library catalog. However, it is a search tool that casts a wide net so if you are searching for a printed book or a musical score, the library catalog is a better starting place. AppSearch is better used as a tool for locating academic articles, but keep in mind that even though it searches quite a few of our databases, it doesn't search all of them.

AppSearch is located in a tab on the Music Library Homepage right next the the search bar for the library catalog, so be sure you are selecting the option you want to use! 


Google Scholar can be useful for searching periodical content and has the advantage of being a familiar search to most current student users. The big disadvantage is that it is NOT music-specific database, so you may have search results that are irrelevant to your topic.

The main thing to remember with Google Scholar is that you are searching the web, but linking back to the AppState library collection for materials that we have in either electronic or paper format. 

This video will give some further information on some other pros and cons of this resource: