An Introduction to Four Music Periodical Indexes
David A. Day
Updated 18 January 2022
At present, most university music students have access to a variety online periodical indexes when gathering sources for research papers and other class assignments. By default, many students will begin with general resources, possibly even a simple Google search. With some basic training in music specific periodical indexes, students can be more productive and save time locating the most valuable sources. They can also avoiding less reliable research that often results from general internet browsing. An understanding of the coverage and strengths of the most common music periodical indexes will enable a student to identify and assemble the best resources for any given research need, be that a paper, background reading in performance preparation, or simply locating reviews of recent recordings and musical editions.
The indexes covered in this survey include RILM Abstracts, The Music Index (Ebsco), Music Periodicals Database (ProQuest), and RIPM. Not every school of music or library is fortunate enough to have access to all four of these databases, but most are commonly available. The coverage and strengths of each of these indexes is constantly evolving over time. The information provide below was updated in September 2021 and efforts will be made to update the information on a regular basis. Collectively RILM, ProQuest, and the Music Index provide extensive coverage of music research from the second half of the 20th century forward. The amount of retrospective indexing for the first half of the 20th century varies in each of these three indexes (see details below). RIPM currently offers impressive coverage from the 19th century with increasing representation from the first half of the 20th century.
Admittedly, the research projects and term papers assigned to most music students do not require in-depth searching of the periodical literature. In many cases, students may be encouraged to focus on the most recent publications for their assigned topic. Still an informed knowledge of what each of the indexes offers and their strengths of coverage will help students identify the most relevant and useful sources more efficiently. As students eventually move on to more advanced research that requires an exhaustive examination of past and present research this background will become increasingly useful.
*Note that the statistical overviews provided below are based in part on the publishers own advertising, their own lists of journal titles, and substantially from an analysis of the actual database content.
RILM Abstracts is perhaps the most useful index for serious researchers. Given its broad international coverage, it presupposes a willingness and ability to work with non-English materials. Given the increasing availability of full text articles and the improved performance of translators like DeepL (deepl.com), there is no reason why students should be afraid to approach foreign language materials. Indeed, of all disciplines, music majors should be encouraged to broaden their horizons and seek exposure to the best research, regardless of the language. It is only common sense, the best research on French music is usually published in French. The same would apply to most nationally oriented music research.
RILM excels beyond most of its competitors in the number of journals that are indexed. Unlike other indexes, RILM is not limited to a set list of music journals. Through its international offices and numerous volunteers, RILM brings together a vast body of music research found in publications that are not limited to the discipline of music. For example, Monumenta nipponica is a periodical devoted to the history and culture of Japan and Asia more broadly. It is not a music journal, but occasionally it publishes articles dealing with Asian music topics and articles like these are indexed in RILM. RILM also excels in its coverage of non-periodical research. It includes articles published in Festschriften, congress or symposium reports, and other collections of articles published as books.
It is important to note that RILM offers two different index; RILM Abstracts of Musical Literature (which now includes two previously separate products RILM 67+ and RILM Complete) and RILM Abstracts of Musical Literature with Full Text. The RILM website offers statistical information on both products combined.
- Years of coverage: began publication in 1967 and continues to the present. Citations from congress reports and Festschriften date back to 1835.
- Number of journals indexed: RILM’s official website states some 2000 music journals and more than 11,000 non music journals; the complete list provided online shows 14,959 total journals, but does not designate which are core and which are supplemental.
- Number of citations: The RILM website gives a total of 1,462,619 as of January 2022. 416,261 of these citations come from the Full Text product.
- Retrospective indexing: available through “RILM Complete” for conference proceedings beginning in 1835, Festschriften with entries dating back as early as 1785, and select pre-1967 journals that continue publication beyond 1967. This is the basic criteria separating pre-1967 coverage in RILM vs. RIPM
- Access to full text online: RILM (excluding RILM with Full Text) does not offer full text directly, but through EBSCO host random titles may appear in full text depending on the licensing of your specific institution.
- Quality and/or presence of abstracts: RILM offers the best abstracts, they are found in most records.
- Coverage of foreign language sources: 143 languages from 178 countries.
- Coverage of non-periodical publication types: RILM indexes much more than just articles in journals and magazines. A complete list of document types is available here.
- Coverage of scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications: focus on scholarly.
- Quality of online search interface: the Ebsco interface offers the ability to combine searches with The Music Index and RIPM.
- Coverage of reviews: focused on scholarly and substantial.
- Distinctive or unique contributions or strengths: strong abstracts, truly international, coverage of non-music journals with music content, many other document types.
The Music Index is a more popularly oriented index with a broader coverage of pedagogical writings and extensive indexing of reviews. It began as a print publication in 1949 and was published by Harmonie Park Press. Ebsco is the current publisher for the index and their publicity states that the online citations date back to 1964. Ebsco further claims cover-to-cover indexing and abstracts for more than 660 journals and select indexing for an additional 200 titles. A close examination of the data, however, suggests the very limited information about the database published by Ebsco does not tell the full story.
Ebsco recently announced a full text version of The Music Index. It appears to be basically the same index and differs only in the additional advantage of access to full text for 180 journals (actually 213 according to the latest spreadsheet of titles).
- Years of coverage: advertised as 1964 – present, but some citations date back as early as 1874 (see retrospective indexing below).
- Number of journals indexed: 876 total journals; about 671 complete/core; about 205 selective/priority. Of these total tiles, 409 are no longer currently indexed. Effectively, only 467 titles are currently indexed.
- Number of citations: 2,785,151 on 18 January 2022.
- Retrospective indexing: 2,411 entries pre-date 1964. They are random with no program, plan, or explanation.
- Access to full text online: there are numerous PDF links (650,573) apparently from Ebsco. This access to full text may vary by institution. Also a new product with additional fees is advertised to offers full text to 210 journals.
- Quality and/or presence of abstracts: growing coverage, but most are brief and rarely present.
- Coverage of foreign language sources: 51 languages are identified in the search menu, but the vast overwhelming majority of sources are in English followed by a much smaller percentage of German then French. Beyond these three languages, coverage is very sparse.
- Coverage of non-periodical publication types: just academic journals and magazines & trade publications. 591 books are identified in a search of the entire database, but no explanation is given for why they are included. Many are in fact only periodical articles and some are only citations for specific chapters in books.
- Coverage of scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications: broad coverage, more for popular and pedagogical writings.
- Quality of online search interface: the Ebsco interface offers the ability to combine searches with RILM and RIPM.
- Coverage of reviews: extensive coverage of reviews, 737,492 sources currently flagged as such.
- Distinctive or unique contributions or strengths: extensive reviews, coverage of pedagogical writings.
ProQuest Music Periodicals Database
The ProQuest database for music periodicals is similar in coverage to The Music Index. Short reviews of books and media are very common. There is a mix of both popular and scholarly writings. Perhaps the best selling point for the ProQuest index is a healthy representation of full text titles. As with The Music Index, the official advertisement description for ProQuest is somewhat misleading. The information on the number of journals indexed and the number of citations in the database appears to be badly outdated. The claim that the index is an ” unrivalled resource for music research” is overstated in comparison with RILM. A claim like this depends on what kind of information is most important for your research. A comparison of the statistics can help guide which index is best for your research needs.
- Years of coverage: officially began in 1995 and continues to the present.
- Number of journals indexed: advertised as “more than 600 titles plus full text for 220 journals.” The actual count is 896 titles, 351 of which are full text to some degree (based on the ProQuest spreadsheet for journal titles in January 2022).
- Number of citations: advertised as “more than 1.3 million,” but actually 2,195,933 on 18 January 2022 (down from September 2021).
- Retrospective indexing: Based on the ProQuest 2020 spreadsheet of titles, 249 titles include citations that pre-date 1995. ProQuest advertising indicates that around 200,000 citations pre-date 1995.
- Access to full text online: Based on the 2022 spreadsheet, 351 titles include some full text.
- Quality and/or presence of abstracts: common in most recent entries, but lacking in retrospective, most recent abstracts appear to be full text excerpts, not true abstracts.
- Coverage of foreign language sources: advertised as representing 20 countries. There are 46 languages based on journal list. This is the least international of the four indexes.
- Coverage of non-periodical publication types: journals, magazines, trade journals, with very few blogs and books.
- Coverage of scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications: mix of scholarly, popular, and pedagogical writings.
- Quality of online search interface: ProQuest, common interface. Useful in that it can be combined easily with other ProQuest databases devoted to the arts. The extent of connectivity depends on the license of the local institution.
- Coverage of reviews: 826,712 reviews on 18 January 2022 (down from 30 September 2021).
- Distinctive or unique contributions or strengths: the ability to combine with other arts, lots of full text, and retrospective indexing for 249 journals
Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals (RIPM)
RIPM or the Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals is distinct in comparison with the other major music periodical indexes in that it is entirely devoted to the mission of retrospective indexing.
Like RILM, RIPM offers several different products. These products can be separated into two major categories: the Annotated Series and the Preservation Series. The basic difference between the two series is that the annotation series is based on indexing that places searching in the context of indexes or content descriptions prepared by scholars. The Preservation series is an economical production process that enables full free text searching of each journal title through a common interface. The Preservation Series consists of two separate data sets: I. European and North American Music Periodicals and II. Jazz Periodicals. It is unlikely that most institutions will have access to all data sets of both series.
RIPM indexing is valuable and unique in several regards. Most students and scholars should come to RIPM for primary source information. Rather than offering current secondary research, RIPM offer research that is best understood and reinterpreted in its historical context. RIPM is the only music index which offers true cover-to-cover indexing in that images, musical scores, and even advertising are all included.
Statistics Overview (Annotated and Preservation Series combined)
- Years of coverage: 1759-1968 (officially 1760 to 1966).
- Number of journals indexed: 565 relatively rare titles, 462 of which are complete runs in full text.
- Number of citations: 1.2 million as of July 2021.
- Retrospective indexing: all retrospective.
- Access to full text online: Most institutional subscriptions to RIPM may be limited to the Annotated Series. At present not all of the titles in this series can be accessed in full text (83 titles lack full text). The Preservation Series is entirely full text.
- Quality and/or presence of abstracts: Indexing information in the Annotated Series relies on editorial notes. There are no abstracts per se.
- Coverage of foreign language sources: 20 languages (based on the list of journals provided on the RIPM website).
- Coverage of non-periodical publication types: only historical magazines and journals.
- Coverage of scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications: intended for scholarly research from a historical perspective.
- Quality of online search interface: the Ebsco interface offers the ability to combine searches with RILM and The Music Index.
- Coverage of reviews: includes everything, especially performance reviews.
- Distinctive or unique contributions or strengths: primary source, historical perspective, indexing and full text for advertising.