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Music Research

Primary and Secondary Sources

Most serious research uses a mix of primary and secondary sources. Both types of sources have their own value, and you should learn to distinguish between the two.


  • Primary sources are original documents or first-hand accounts
    • Interviews
    • Letters
    • Manuscripts
    • First-hand accounts
    • Performances, recordings, scores
  • Secondary sources comment on and interpret primary sources
    • Biography
    • Analysis
    • Interpretation
    • History
Advantages of primary and secondary sources
  • Primary sources are closer to the events
    • They may give us an unvarnished view of people and developments
  • Secondary sources provide perspective
    • They take into account differing viewpoints and later scholarship
Some helpful resources
Compilations of primary sources in music
  • Oliver Strunk, ed. Source Readings in Music History. Rev ed. Leo Treitler, ed. New York: W W Norton, 1998.
  • Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Schirmer Cengage Learning, 2008
  • Michael L. Mark. Music Education: Source Readings from Ancient Greece to Today. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Nicolas Slonimsky. Music Since 1900. 6th ed. New York: Schirmer Reference, 2001
  • Thomas Forrest Kelly. First Nights: Five Musical Premieres. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000