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Researching Music & Musicians

For students researching music, musicals, musicians, composers, etc.

Understand Your Assignment

The content of your paper is dictated by your professor's assignment prompt. Read it carefully, as following the guidelines laid out by your professor is crucial to your success. If the assignment prompt confuses you, consider attending your professor's office hour or emailing them for clarification.  MJC research librarians are happy to help you understand the guidelines laid out in your assignment.

Check out these useful links providing guidance and tips for students tasked with writing about music. These links are meant to serve as a supplement to your professor's assignment prompt and the material in this guide.

Create Some Research Questions to Guide Your Inquiry

Research questions will keep you focused and on task. Sometimes your professor will include specific questions they want addressed within the prompt.  A research librarian can also help you develop questions based on the parameters of the assignment. Below are some generic questions that can help you get started.

  • What biographical/historical information is important to understanding your composer?
  • What or who were the musical influences for your composer?
  • What education & training did your composer receive?
  • What are your composer’s major works?
  • What is the most significant contribution of your composer? Why?
  • Did your composer’s music change over time? How? Why?
  • What specific musical elements does composer incorporate into their work? To what effect?
  • What styles/themes does your composer explore?
  • What other musicians have been influenced by your composer
  • What is the most significant contribution of your composer? Why?

Brainstorm Search Terms

Below are some basic search terms that work well in our databases. A research librarian can also help you identify additional terms supporting your specific assignment.

  • Music -- History and criticism

  • Classical music

  • Music appreciation

  • Music theory

  • World music 

  • Composers and Women Composers

  • music - Combine this subject term with names of specific artistic movements, geographic regions, time periods, etc. (for example: Rap Music  or Music, Africa)

  • names of specific composers/musicians