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Primary Sources for Music - Digital Collections: Home

Links to selected primary source materials for music, including manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, sheet music, and more.

What Are Primary Sources?

A primary source is either an original work or evidence provided by a direct observer of an event. The best research relies heavily on primary sources. Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Creative works (paintings, musical manuscripts, novels, sculptures, etc.);
  • Personal correspondence, diaries, and autobiographies;
  • News reports and reviews;
  • Photographs, videos, and sound recordings;
  • Physical artifacts.

Secondary sources provide commentary on or interpretation of an event after it has occurred. Secondary sources are used to supplement primary sources when doing research. Some examples of secondary sources include:

  • An analysis of a musical work;
  • Journal articles and books;
  • Book reviews.

Primary Sources for Music:

  • Manuscripts;
  • Early printed editions;
  • Sketches;
  • Scores and parts used in early performances (markings by performers can be very useful);
  • Reviews of performances;
  • Early sound recordings;
  • Field recordings (often the only source material for ethnography or ethnomusicology);
  • Film footage of rehearsals, masterclasses, and performances;
  • Correspondence from composers and performers;
  • Programs and press clippings;
  • In the case of dramatic works and dance, photographs, notes on choreography, staging, costume design, and sets.