Are you one of those people who connect with music by researching the piece and the composer? If you find it interesting to read up on what you’re playing, keep reading, because this post talks about how to get started.
Wikipedia gets a lot of flack because anyone can edit it. Therefore, one must assume that wikipedia is only as good as the lowest common denominator: the angry dude to who edits without concern for the facts or anything else.
The reality is that wikipedia is mostly written by a lot of folks with a lot of knowledge on specific subjects. Can you cite it as a source on your latest research proposal? No (not yet, anyway). But you can certainly use it as a starting point.
The real strength of wikipedia and other dictionaries, like Oxford/Grove Music, are their bibliographies (or works cited, if you prefer). They provide a starting point for your research.
Let’s use Fernando Sor as an example. If you head the >bibliography section of his wiki page, you’ll see a list of sources.
How good are those sources?
Guitar music is a bad example, but you can check to see how “good” a source based on how much other research cites the work. Google Scholar is great for this.
To continue to use Sor as an example, one source that pops up at the top of the list on Wikipedia (and on Grove Music Online) is Brian Jeffery’s book Fernando Sor: Composer and Guitarist. And it’s cited by 17 other works of scholarhip. Of course Google Scholar is not a complete list, and the field of guitar music relatively narrow. In other words, don’t expect that every source you find will be widely cited.
Check Your Local (College) Library for the Books
Next up, find a university or college near you and search their catalog for the sources you came up with on Wikipedia. You can also search you local library, but they probably aren’t going to have the scholarly selection that a university library has.
If all else fails, and you don’t want to buy the book, try to get it via inter-library loan. Or check to see if there’s a substantial preview on Google Books.
Find Articles and Dissertations
Jstor is a great place to start your search for articles and dissertations, as is google scholar.
Even if you don’t have access, you can take the citations you find and check for the hardcopy at the local university library. Almost every collect library has a ton of old journals in storage some place, just don’t be afraid to ask — you might even get to use those awesome moving bookshelves.
Dissertations are a bit of a different animal. Open Thesis is a good place to start. If you have a subscription, the Proquest dissertations and theses database** is awesome. You can also just use google scholar to find dissertations. Once you have a title and author, a few google searches will often reveal where they studied and wrote the dissertation. Head to that school’s library website and see if they make any of their dissertations available online. Florida State does. If all else fails, contact the dissertation’s author or request it via inter-library loan.
Prepare for the Dryness
So far I’ve suggested a lot of ways to find scholarly resources. One warning: get ready to read some of the driest, uninteresting prose in the world (sort of like this post). Research can be fascinating, but a lot of dissertations and articles and books are written in dense, academic jargon.
Photo by Errol ImagesMedia
**Proquest is awesome and lame at the same time. It’s great they digital store a lot of works of scholarship, but it’s amazingly lame that they don’t at least open the database search up to the general public. If anyone from Proquest happens to read this and thinks such openness would be crazy, you should get in touch and we’ll talk about how it would bring a lot more business.