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MUSIC 310: Intro to World Music

Library Search for World Music

Before you start searching, make a list of potential search keywords. Think about what region, country or population you're interested in, and whether there are different terms that might refer to that region. I may discover more of these terms as I search and read, so I can always come back and add to my list. For example, if I want to learn about music in the small European country of Slovenia, I might list other historical or broader names for the area or nearby areas:

  • Yugoslavia and post-Yugoslavia (Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia until the 1990s)
  • Eastern Europe 
  • Southeast Europe
  • the Balkans (a somewhat outdated term for a section of Southeast Europe)

Similarly, make a list of terms that might describe the music you're interested in: genre names, instruments, important performers. You may need to do some background research to compile this list. The tab about Exploring Your Topic can help with this.

When you have a list, try them in different combinations in the library's Search@UW field. Search@UW is a tool for searching the books, articles, and media in UWM's library, as well as physical materials at other UW libraries, which we can request.

Searching databases for books and articles

You can always start with Search@UW, but for bigger projects, you'll probably want to go directly to some of the databases for music and other related fields you've identified. For each relevant subject area, you can start at the Databases and Guides by Subject page to find possible starting points. Not all databases work the same way, but many of them will have similar functions:

As you start exploring and running searches, you might notice that some of the books and articles you see use different terms to talk about your subject, or that you got a lot of irrelevant results. For example, when I searched for Indian religious music in the RILM Abstracts of Music Literature database, I got some results on Native American music, because the database tried to helpfully suggest related sources. You can see that "Native American" is in bold because the database is considering it one of my search terms.

Two result for a search for "indian religious music." One is an article about musical performance in a South Indian temple, and one is a dissertation about Native American Church music. The terms Indian, religious music, and Native American are in bold.

But I'm interested in music from India, so it's not so helpful. Sometimes, instead of using "keywords," it's helpful to find out what the database uses as "subject terms"--they're kind of like hashtags in that they're standardized ways of tagging results so that related entries are brought together.

In my results, I can see that India -- South India -- religious music is a set of search terms that comes up frequently, and it might be better to use that than "Indian," which the database interprets incorrectly. The way search terms are structured may also help you to start narrowing down your topic-- I can see here that work on religious music in India tends to be subdivided by region (South or North), and by religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc.), so maybe I should focus that way. I also see some terms of genres and practices I can start looking out for.