How to Research Just About Anything

How to Research Just About Anything

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.

Think Big

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.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Tips


  • Tom Leary
    Tom Leary

    This is an interesting post… combining bibliographies, wikipedia, google, libraries to get information!

    By the way I heard you’re doing a PhD so this post makes sense from that perspective.
    Do you have a PhD thesis topic (I’d be interested in hearing the theme), or are you just doing some research for a paper?


    • Christopher Davis

      I am doing a doctorate. No research topic yet — you actually have to complete all the coursework, then take your qualifying exams and pass orals, and then you can submit a proposal.

      I have a few ideas, but nothing really set in stone yet — still two years of coursework to go.

    • Dennis Harris

      Speaking as a Classical guitar teacher with a Masters in Music Education, I make way more money than all my friends who have equivalent or higher degrees, and I LOVE going to work everyday. I almost feel guilty charging for something I enjoy doing so much, which is playing and talking guitar. So is the degree worth it… absolutely!!! Any degree is going to cost a lot of tuition, but this is so much more fun than sitting in a cubicle everyday.

      • Marc M.

        Hi Dennis!

        You’re kidding right. “Way more money” ?
        You want to tell me you earn more than engineers and people in controlling?
        Please can you explain this better.
        It just does not seem realistic to me: how much do you teach?
        Or are you lucky enough, that you’re on some faculty where you get a normal constant salary additionally?

        Thank you.

        PS: What about some insurance costs, such as retirement insurance. People working for companies in some cubicles, often have those costs handled automatically: automatically subtracted from their salaries. Are you paying insurance at all?

        • Dennis Harris

          Not trying to get this thread too far off subject since I was responding to Tom…
          In my city, average income is 31K. I am in the teaching profession, and (if I remember right), the professors at the university make ~54k and local school teachers with masters start at 43K.
          I charge $40 and hour (which is a fair value in my city). If I have 20 students (part-time job), and work 48 weeks a year, I would net 38k. 40 students (equivalent of a full time job) 48 weeks a year = 76K. This should be close to engineer pay in my area.
          If I wanted to compare people who are not me, I know guitar teachers with masters that charge anywhere from $80-$125 per hour. I am sure this would be more inline with some of the higher pay-scale learners, but I am sure there are exceptions to the rule.
          But, back to the major point of my response… I don’t want to work in a cubicle. I don’t want to work at a job where I am on call for days straight. I don’t want a job where I stress all day. I don’t want to work in 100+ degree temperatures.
          I love what I am doing. I love teaching guitar to students. I love talking guitar, which is why I am on this blog. The money is just a bonus for doing what I love.

    • Christopher Davis

      Not the same perspective really. Simon is a student who came from another country to study here. As such, he couldn’t really ‘work’ outside of campus. In that sort of situation, one’s loans will be higher.

      For those of us from here, its less of a big deal. Want to go all the way to DMA? If you’re good at networking and finding teaching gigs, it’s not too bad. Especially for state schools.

  • Dennis Harris

    Great advice on the Wikipedia suggesting of using the references that support the listing. I also do this with the SoundBoard magazine that the GFA sends out. Whenever I find an interesting article, I inter-library loan the references and read them. For example: I found references about Segovia in books that were not about Segovia, such as books about “Music in Spain,” and articles about Music Festivals that Segovia attended.

  • Geoff

    Your public library card may grant you online access to resources like ProQuest or Academic OneSource.