Music: Reference Works

Why Reference Works?

Reference works are an excellent first stop in your research and are incredibly useful for the following:

  • Getting an overview of a topic
  • Getting topic ideas for a paper topic or narrowing your topic
  • Brainstorming keywords for searching and learning the vocabulary used by authors in that area
  • Learning the key works on a given topic
  • Discovering the key authors on a given topic

Reference works are a good starting off point, but should not be cited in your research as they are not considered primary or secondary sources. The only exception is when reference works contain primary and secondary sources (like collections of documents and essays).


Bibliographies point you to the key works on specific subjects. Those with a call number starting with REF are on the 2nd floor and all others are in the stacks by their call number. Anything without a call number is an electronic resource.

Search the Portland State Library Catalog with terms: Music and Bibliography in the Advanced Search mode for further results.

Featured Electronic Resources

Reference sources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries provide background/overview information on a topic. They typically contain articles written by experts for a general audience. They are often a shrewd place to begin your research because they can acquaint you with key concepts and terminology associated with a topic, as well as provide initial bibliographies that point to more specialized scholarly resources.

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Baker's biographical dictionary of musicians
ML105 .B16 2001. 6 volumes | 2nd Floor Reference

Encyclopedia of popular music / comp. & ed. by Colin Larkin
ML102 .P66 G84 1998. 8 volumes | 2nd Floor Reference

Garland encyclopedia of world music
ML100 .G16. 10 volumes | 2nd Floor Reference

Harvard dictionary of music. 4th edition / ed. by Don Michael Randle
ML100 .A64 2003 | 2nd Floor Reference

Irvine's writing about music / by Demar Irvine
ML3797 .I79 1999 | Shelves - 3rd Floor

Music analyses: an annotated guide to the literature / Harold J. Diamond
ML128 .A7 D5 1991 | 2nd Floor Reference

Music reference and research materials: an annotated bibliography / Vincent H. Duckles
ML113 .D83 1997 | 2nd Floor Reference

The New Grove dictionary of American music / ed. by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie
ML101 .U6 N48 1986. 4 volumes | Shelves - 3rd Floor

The New Grove dictionary of musical instruments / ed. by Stanley Sadie
ML102 .I5 N48 1984. 3 volumes | 2nd Floor Reference

General Online Reference Sources

These are reference works paid for by the library but available online. They tend to be more general in nature.