MUSC 801 - Music Bibliography and Research: Primary Sources

Guide for students of Musicology 801 on how to use the library and find resources

Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Related Guides

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources 

Primary sources are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. These original documents (i.e. they are not about another document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works. They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts), photographs, audio or video recordings, research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works. 

Secondary Sources

The function of secondary sources is to interpret primary sources, and so can be described as at least one step removed from the event under review. Secondary sources interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources.

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources in Music

Primary resources in music research

  • Manuscript music scores
  • Musical instruments
  • Sheet music
  • Composer's notes, correspondence, or autobiographies
  • Musical performances, recordings, films, and videos of live performaces
  • Sound recordings

Secondary resources in music research

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Textbooks
  • Books and articles that interpret, analyze, or review research works

Databases for Primary Sources