Year of Music Research Guide

Research Guide Music

The Smithsonian Libraries invites you to discover our musical collections in celebration of the Smithsonian’s Year of Music. Music's cross-disciplinary nature means it finds a natural home in almost any library. Most of our 21 branches have materials related to music to support active research in their museums and facilities. From the scientific to the sacred, the Smithsonian Libraries’ musical collections stand out.

To search our collections for yourself, click here.

Have questions? Get in touch using AskALibrarian or click on a branch name to find out how to contact branch staff directly.


At the root of all musical endeavors are people: individuals or groups who created sound or sought to understand it just a little bit better. Biographies on both musical legends and lesser-known influencers are crucial to understanding music in its context. Our NMAAHC Library is a great place to start exploring the history of American music. From The new Negro : the life of Alain Locke to I, Tina, the autobiography of the legendary Tina Turner, NMAAHC Library is collecting the foundational biographies of American music’s most influential people. Want to learn more about Fela, the internationally known music and rebel? Our African Art Library has over 50 items related to the Afrobeat king. Our AAPG Library is an excellent place to visit if you’re looking for a broader collection of biographical books.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Women rock musicians; Musicians -- Biography; Composers; Jazz musicians; music AND biography

Caring for Your Music

careTaking care of your music scores is no easy task, and instruments can be even tougher. How can you ensure they survive? Our MSC Library has literature that can help! Books like Binding and care of printed music are tailored to your bookish needs. If you need help repairing your heirloom violin, books like How to repair violins and other musical instruments are great resources. From restoring historic musical boxes, to how to properly ship an instrument, check out the MSC Library’s collection to learn more.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Musical instruments -- Maintenance and repair; Music -- Conservation and restoration.­­­­­­­­­­­

History of Music in the United States

The story of American music encompasses the entire American experience. The NMAAHC Library has a wealth of resources relating to the intersection of music and humanity, such as Civil rights music: the soundtracks of the civil rights movement. Our NPM Library’s collection of music-related stamp resources, like Music on stamps: an encyclopedic handbook creates a timeline of our long-lasting fascination with music. And of course our NMAH Library’s resources broadly cover the American music experience, ranging from Rolling stone magazine to Ring the banjar: the banjo in America from folklore to factory.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Popular music -- Political aspects; Music on postage stamps; African Americans -- Music -- History and criticism; Popular music -- United States -- History and criticism

Music and Society

Music is an inherent part of society. It can reflect societal unrest, enforce social norms, and even inspire societal change. Our NMAAHC Library music collections have resources that examine the power of music in fighting against racism and tyranny. Also intertwined with music are ideas surrounding gender and identity. From Musical nationalism: American composers' search for identity in our AAPG Library to Traditions of gamelan music in Java: musical pluralism and regional identity in our Freer/Sackler Library, the impact of music on society and vice versa can be explored in depth in many of our libraries. For more musical resources, including this playful 19th century musical children’s book, check out the CHM Library, based in New York City.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Nationalism in music; Music -- History and criticism; Music AND Identity; Music and State; Music -- Social aspects.

Music Around the Worldanthropology

Mirroring the Smithsonian’s global focus, the Smithsonian Libraries collects materials related to music around the world. Take a look at the Freer/Sackler Library’s collections related to music in East Asia, South Asia, and the Islamic World, from grand enormous efforts like The evolution of Indian classical music, 1200-1600 to the more granular Studies in kabuki: its acting, music, and historical context . Our African Art Library has sound recording to supplement their collections relating to music across Africa, like Kuomboka music, musical selections from the 1986 Kuomboka ceremony in the Republic of Zambia, and Myriam Makeba, a recording made of a concert in Conakry, Guinea. Located in Panama, much of our STRI Library music-related collections are in Spanish, like the Danzas folkloricas en la villa de Los Santos. For a more analytical perspective on global musicality, like Musiques migrantes, check out our Anthropology Library.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Rites and ceremonies; Sound recordings; [Place name] AND Music; Ethnomusicology; Music AND Dance

Music Dictionaries and Bibliographies

dictionaryNeed more information about an obscure figure in music history? Need a definition of a word you can’t even spell? The Smithsonian Libraries’ collection of music-related dictionaries and bibliographies can help! Start your search with general music glossaries in our NMAH Library, but don’t forget your subject-specific libraries! Our African Art Library has glossaries for musical terminology relating to cultures across the African continent, like the Glossary of Hausa music. Our Anacostia Library is a great resource of biographical dictionaries devoted to African-American musical artists, like the International dictionary of black composers, and SLRA has a broad range of resources, from a Dictionary of Braille musical terms to more general musical dictionaries from the 19th century to today. Our libraries also provide access to Oxford Music Online, a useful database of musical terms and information.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Music -- Bio-bibliography; Musicians -- Biography – Dictionaries; Music – Dictionaries; Glossary

Music in Art

Our art libraries collect material relating to the creativity and artistry that is inherent in music. Whether on its own or combined with other mediums, music as artistic expression is integral to its existence. The power of music can be conveyed by artist books, like Saâdane Afif’s songbook paroles in the AAPG Library. Materials related to the philosophy of music and art can be discovered across our art libraries, litterfrom The symbolic nature of music in Opera at our AAPG Library to Foundations of modern art at our CHM Library. Also in our CHM Library are music-related pictorial works like Instant litter: concert posters from Seattle punk culture. For videos and exhibitions related to music and art, like Visual music: synaethesia in art and music since 1900, the Hirshhorn Library should be one of your first research stops.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Songs – Texts; Art and music; Music in art; Arts, Modern; Musical instruments in art; Symbolism in music

Musical Instruments

Information about musical instruments can be found across our 21 branches. Our African Art Library alone has over 300 items related to musical instruments! Our NMAH Trade Literature Collection is a great resource for catalogs of musical instruments with over 200 related collections available discoverable through the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center. Even our STRI Library, best known for tropical biology research, has material like Musical instruments of the Indians of the Americas.  Enter the term Musical Instruments in the All Subject Browse search in SIRIS and discover for yourself the diverse materials related to musical instruments in our collections.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Musical Instruments; Musical instruments -- Catalogs and collections; Musical instruments – Construction; Musical instruments -- History.

Music in Popular Culture

Have you heard of the Journal of Popular Culture? Beginning in 1967, it remains an excellent place to begin research into popular culture for both the nonprofessional and the scholar. The Smithsonian Libraries offers this publication both online and in print at the AAPG Library. You can learn more highlifeabout this dynamic field of study in almost all of our library branches. Want to delve into the history of the West African dance music highlife? Our African Art Library has over 80 related items. For a more commercial take on the subject check out the NMAH Library’s Trade Literature Collection for hundreds of early 20th century original advertisements of music boxes, instruments, books, and scores. The NMAH Library also has a substantial of related reference material like Tin Pan Alley; a chronicle of American popular music.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Popular culture AND Music; Trade Literature; Popular Music; Popular Culture

Music in Science

Resources related to naturally occurring music can be found in our Natural History libraries. Turn to our Botany and Horticulture Library for music influenced by nature, like this 19th century Arbor day manual featuring music, digitized especially for the Year of Music, as well as Herbalbum, a music album inspired by nature. Our Birds Library has a significant collection of animal recordings from all over the world, from the Jungles of Borneo to the Forests of Poland. For those keen on underwater creatures, check out The effects of noise on aquatic life and, more generally, the Bioacoustics journal, in our STRI Library in Panama. And for something unique to the Smithsonian, visit the Cullman Library to see a signed presentation copy of a printed score by the composer Virgil Thomson, Ode to the Wonders of Nature, composed especially for the James Smithson Bicentennial Celebration at the Smithsonian Institution, held in 1965.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Art AND Music; Animal sounds; Birdsongs; Bioacoustics; Soundscapes

Music Manuscripts

Descriptive catalogs featuring materials in both private and public collections, permanent and temporary exhibits, and even exhaustive subject based catalogs pulled together by scholars, are available in the Smithsonian Libraries’ collections. The NMAH Library is a great place to start. Centuries old medieval bishopchurch music can be found alongside handwritten military musical scores in the Dibner Library. Whether you’re looking for primary sources (original documents) or secondary sources (information about those documents), the Smithsonian Libraries has you covered.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Music -- Manuscripts; Early works; Manuscripts; Music AND Catalogs


musicMusicology, or research in music, encompasses all of the resources on this list. The NMAH Library is a great place to start an investigation in American musicology. In that collection are reference manuals for historical music research, like the plainly named Historical musicology, and in-depth looks at the study of music, like Musicology and difference: gender and sexuality in music scholarship. Ethnomusicology resources related to the study of music from different cultures can be found in many of our libraries, but be sure to check out our Anthropology Library. Check there for titles like Theory and method in ethnomusicology, and Time, place and music: An anthology of ethnomusicological observation c.1550 to c.1800.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Musicology – Periodicals; Music -- Psychological aspects; Sex in music; Ethnomusicology; Music -- To 1500.

Music Periodicals

Periodicals are the workhorses of the information world. Often issued serially, periodicals are a great place to find the most current research at a specific point in time. From the very specific, like music-related stamp news in the Philatelic Music Circle at NPM Library , to the more general, like The Etude, an educational magazine in our SLRA branch collection (founded by the same person who started the Music Teachers National Association) and African Music, the major journal on the subject published in South Africa since 1954 in our African Art Library, the Smithsonian Libraries has what you need. Try using the “Serials Keyword” search in the Libraries’ catalog to find the music related periodical closest to your heart.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Music – Periodicals; Music trade; Popular music – Periodicals; Jazz -- Periodicals.

Music Theoryjava

Music theory is another instance of music’s cross-disciplinary nature. It is the study or examination of the ways in which music is made. The theoretical underpinnings of the many types of music in our world are explained in books available in our branches. From general theories of music evolution in our SLRA branch, such as Margaret Glyn’s Theory of musical evolution to pinpointed discussions like Music in Java: its history, its theory, and its technique, in our Freer/Sackler Library, knowledge related to music’s theoretical foundation across cultures can be found in our collections.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Music theory; Musical form; Music -- History and criticism; Music theory – Periodicals; Musical intervals and scales; Braille music notation

Religious Music

Just like religious or sacred music can be found in most of the world’s communities, many of our branches have relevant holdings. From Preaching on wax: the phonograph and the shaping of modern African American religion in our NMAAHC Library, to The music of Yoruba gods in our African Art Library, the Smithsonian Libraries’ collections cover a lot of ground. For more focused searches relating to the Middle East and East Asia, our Freer/Sackler Library has titles like Music and musical instruments in the world of Islam. The NMAI Library also has materials related to sacred and profane music, such as Returning: twentieth century performances of the King Island Wolf Dance, which is focused on the Americas. The American religious experience is also discoverable in our NMAAHC Library with resources related to gospel like We'll understand it better gradualeby and by: pioneering African American gospel composers. For more traditional medieval and early modern religious hymnals, check out the Dibner Library’s manuscripts like this Graduale from the 15th century.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Jazz -- Religious aspects; Music -- Religious aspects; Musical instruments -- Religious aspects; Church music; Gospel music; Sacred vocal music

Science of Music

From imaginary musical inventions like the cat piano (in Gaspar Schott’s Magia Universalis) to creations that changed the world, the Dibner Library has the resources you need to discover musical origin stories, whether they relate to the creation of music or its reproduction. Original letters by Edison discussing his latest invention, the phonograph, can be found in the Dibner Library along with manuscript notes from Alexander Graham Bell describing the invention of the telephone. Instruments we take for granted today, from the drum to the electric guitar, have all evolved over time. From the story of the invention of Odu gongs in our African Art Library to biographies of the greatest musical inventors in our AAPG Library, the Smithsonian Libraries have the resources you need to spark your own discoveries.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Acoustics; Physics; Sound; Music -- Acoustics AND physics; Music -- Physiological Aspects; Sound -- Recording AND reproducing

Songbooks and Sheet Music

Whether they are sung, or just simply read, songbooks and sheet music from the past allow us to bring special moments to life once more. Our digitized Bella C. airshipLandauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music from our NASM Library is freely available to all those interested in the soundtrack of early aviation. Our Anacostia Library has early 20th century sheet music related to the African-American experience, like Cabin and plantation songs as sung by the Hampton students, available online with many more on site. The De Vincent Collection of American Sheet Music is another great resource for American songbooks. For the De Vincent Collection and other traditional folk tunes our NMAH Library is a great place to start.

Find more in our catalog using these suggested keywords: Bella C. Landauer; De Vincent Collection; Songbook; Sheet music; Music; Songs AND Music

Click here to discover digitized books relating to music in the Smithsonian Libraries' Digital Library!

This research guide is part of the Smithsonian's Year of Music.