Year of Music Research Guide

Research Guide Music

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives 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 Library Locations have materials related to music to support active research in their museums and facilities. From the scientific to the sacred, the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives’ musical collections stand out.

To search our collections, use the OneSearch box located on Library Research Tools. You can also browse our digitized materials and collections about Music from the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. Have questions? Contact Us or click on a library linked below to contact them directly.


At the root of all musical endeavors are people: individuals or groups who created sound or sought to understand it better. Biographies on both musical legends and lesser-known influencers are crucial to understanding music in its context. The National Museum of African American History and Culture 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, National Museum of African American History and Culture 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? The African Art Library has over 50 items related to the Afrobeat king.

The American Art and Portrait Gallery Library is an excellent place to visit if you’re looking for a broader collection of biographical books.

Find more 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? The Museum Support Center Library has books like Binding and care of printed music and if you need help repairing your heirloom violin, books like How to repair violins and other musical instruments. From restoring historic musical boxes, to how to properly ship an instrument, check out the Museum Support Center Library’s collection to learn more.

Find more 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.  Examples from our collections include:

Find more 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. The National Museum of African American History and Culture Library's 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 the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library to Traditions of gamelan music in Java: musical pluralism and regional identity in the 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 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library, based in New York City.

Find more 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 and Archives collects materials related to music around the world.

Find more 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? Music-related dictionaries and bibliographies can help.

Find more 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 American Art and Portrait Gallery 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 the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library to Foundations of modern art at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library. Also in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design 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 Museum and Sculpture Garden Library should be one of your first research stops.

Find more 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 library locations. The African Art Library alone has over 300 items related to musical instruments! The 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 the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Library, best known for tropical biology research, has material like Musical instruments of the Indians of the Americas

Find more 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. This publication is both online and in print at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Libraryhighlife

Want to delve into the history of the West African dance music highlife? The African Art Library has over 80 related items.

For a more commercial take on the subject check out the Trade Literature Collection for hundreds of early 20th century original advertisements of music boxes, instruments, books, and scores. The National Museum of American History Library also has a substantial of related reference material like Tin Pan Alley; a chronicle of American popular music.

Find more 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 the National Museum of Natural History Libraries. Turn to the 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. The Bird Library collection of the National Museum of Natural History Libraries 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 the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Library in Panama.

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 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 and Archives’ collections. The National Museum of American History Library is a great place to start. Centuries old medieval bishopchurch music can be found alongside handwritten military musical scores in the Dibner Library

Find more 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 National Museum of American History Library is a great place to start an investigation in American musicology. In that collection are 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. The Anthropology Library includes titles like Theory and method in ethnomusicology, and Time, place and music: An anthology of ethnomusicological observation c.1550 to c.1800.

Find more 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 National Postal Museum Library , to the more general, like The Etude, an educational magazine in the Smithsonian Libraries Research Annex collection and African Music, the major journal on the subject published in South Africa since 1954 in the African Art Library

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

Music Theoryjava

Music theory 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 collections. From general theories of music evolution in the Smithsonian Libraries Research Annex, such as Margaret Glyn’s Theory of musical evolution to pinpointed discussions like Music in Java: its history, its theory, and its technique, in the Freer/Sackler Library, knowledge related to music’s theoretical foundation across cultures can be found in our collections.

Find more 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 library locations have relevant holdings. From Preaching on wax: the phonograph and the shaping of modern African American religion in the National Museum of African American History and Culture Library, to The music of Yoruba gods in the African Art Library.

Find more 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 the African Art Library to biographies of the greatest musical inventors in the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library, the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives have the resources you need to spark your own discoveries.

Find more 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 the National Air and Space Museum Library is freely available to all those interested in the soundtrack of early aviation. The Anacostia Community Museum 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 NMAH Archives Center's De Vincent Collection of American Sheet Music is another great resource for American songbooks.  A few songbooks are digitized in the NMAH Library's De Vincent digital collection.  Contact the National Museum of American History Library for research on these and other traditional folk music.

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

Last Updated March 10, 2023