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MUSIC 310: Intro to World Music

Choosing and Exploring your Topic

After you've chosen a region to study, you'll need to learn enough background information about music of that area to select and understand a more specific topic. You want to learn what the music is like, what is interesting about it, and what conversations scholars and other creators are having about the music. The boxes below explore a few helpful approaches to learning more about a new topic. 

Research isn't a linear process. After selecting a topic and beginning your research you may find your topic doesn't work, needs to be refocused, or relies on terms you didn't know about. But no research is wasted--picking your topic is research, and research can help you pick your topic.

Reference Sources for World Music

A great first step when exploring a new topic is to read reference books or general introductions. Search for interesting areas or genres in encyclopedias like the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, to figure out what some of the major subtopics are. If you're interested in India, for example, what are the major regions, genres, and religious traditions found in India? This will give you an idea of the landscape so that you have context for what you read.

Reference sources, including dictionaries and encyclopedias, are useful for getting a general sense of your topic, what might be interesting about it, and what kinds of terms might be useful in searching for more sources. While Wikipedia can serve this purpose for some topics, you'll find more reliable and in-depth information about many topic through scholarly edited encyclopedias and websites, like those below. 

World Music Recordings

You should also begin with listening. The goal of studying music is, in part, to answer questions we have about how music is made, how it works, and what it means to the communities around it. So figuring out what music is intriguing to you is an important step. Through the library, you have access to thousands of recordings, including LPs, CDs, and streaming music. As you're deciding on a topic, listen to music you're thinking about studying, and see what strikes your interest. What questions arise about the music and the people who make and listen to it? A good starting point in the Smithsonian Global Sounds database.


A lot of our world music recordings are in streaming databases, but we also have CDs and LPs. If you want to listen to those, you can ask for CDs at Media & Reserve Services on the lower level, and LPs can be requested in Search@UW. We also have CD and LP players available both for use in the library and for check out! Just ask at Media & Reserve Services if you need equipment.

In Search@UW, you can use the same systems to search for recordings that you would use for books. This will search physical media and recordings in streaming databases. A couple of tips for finding audio and video resources on music from a specific region:

  • In the search boxes, use the name of the country or region, rather than a phrase: music AND Java works better than Javanese music.
  • use the "Resource Type" filter along the left side of the window to limit your results to "Audio."         

Search@UW interface with an arrow pointing to "Audio" filter