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MUS 781 Introduction to Music Bibliography

The purpose of this guide is to organize the most relevant USD Library resources for participants in MUS 781.

What is primary research and secondary research in Music?

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document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works.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.




Primary sources reveal information about the production and performance of music, aural traditions, histories of musical composition, notation, and technique, information about music theory and about individuals’ and cultures’ technological advancement, economy, education, cognition, and more.

The types of primary resources used in research include:

  • Manuscript music scores
  • Musical instruments
  • Sheet music
  • Composer’s notes, correspondence or autobiographies
  • Musical performances / recordings / films/videos of live performances
  • Historical and contemporary sound recordings on LP and disc  

Secondary sources, on the other hand, offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources. Some secondary sources not only analyze primary sources, but use them to argue a contention or to persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion.  

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • dictionaries, 
  • encyclopedias
  • textbooks
  • books and articles that interpret, analyze, or review research works


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