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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.
Originally launched in 2017, this remarkable project continues to grow in depth and substance. This collaborative and critical edition of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire consists of a fully digitized and searchable version of the original text and images supplemented with extensive critical commentaries. A team of more than 120 research from all walks of life aim to enrich research on the Enlightenment in a manner that Diderot himself advocated.
A summary of the project offered on the website highlights nine key objectives:
1. A first original and complete copy
2. Editorial enhancement of the original work
3. Easy navigation through the volumes of plates
4. Exploring the Encyclopedia’s network of links
5. A detailed description of the contents of the book
6. Access by nomenclature, by contributor and by domain
7. An advanced search engine, adapted to the Encyclopedia
8. A lighting of the work on several scales
9. A collaborative, dynamic, long-term oriented edition
As a primary source for numerous detailed aspects of music, the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire offers a wealth of information concerning instruments, genres, terminology, and style valuable for research on the history of music during the Enlightenment.
Music research is greatly facilitated by “dossiers” and “domains” that help guide the researcher through the vast content of all 28 volumes. As an example of a dossier, see Christophe d’Alessandro’s concordance of information related to the clavichord, which brings together associated articles and related modern research. To explore domains for topics such as musique, danse, or opéra, navigate to the “documentation” page and then click on the pink button “Domaines.” From the drop-down menu that appears select a topic of your choice. A pop-up screen will then help you navigate all of the articles and plates related to your topic. Links take you to the full text transcription and the digital facsimile of the article. The transcription of each article also offers links to other related texts. It is also possible to search by contributor, for example, click on the blue tab “Contributeurs” and select Jean Jacques Rousseau.
To help fully appreciate the wealth of information now accessible through this digital edition, a booklet offering information on how to maximize its research opportunities titled OSER l’Encyclopédie. Un combat des Lumières is available as a free PDF download online. Also worth noting is Édith Weber’s brief review of the booklet.
David Daniel’s popular reference volume Orchestral Music: A Handbook served as the parent book for the Music Finders Series from The Scarecrow Press. This installment in the series, Orchestral Pops Music: A Handbook by Lucy Manning, is also designed as a programming resource for music directors and orchestra conductors. Currently in its second edition, it is a helpful source of repertoire information for orchestral librarians, too.
Manning includes orchestral “pops” compositions and arrangements that are currently available for purchase or hire. Organized alphabetically by composer name, entries provide composer birth and death dates, title of selection, approximate performance duration, instrumentation, different versions available, themes (dance, travel, films, Christmas, etc.), publisher, and “rental” designation. In the appendixes, works are listed by instrumentation, duration, theme, title, and publishers/sources. These extensive appendices provide valuable information for concert programming.
Abraham Myler, research assistant
Organized chronologically by recording session date, each entry provides recording session format, date of recording, studio, location, studio time, session number, producer, artist’s name and credits, artist’s album title and credits, personnel, master number, track duration, track title, catalog numbers, known radio transcriptions, additional credits, and call numbers for associated scores available in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University (to which Capitol Records donated their archives of music manuscripts in 1967).
Abraham Myler, research assistant.
Phyllis Kinney’s survey of the traditional music of Wales is the first such book to be published since 1932. It simultaneously fills a notable void in musicology and provides us with a fresh look at a rich tradition.
This detailed, chronological history spanning from the fourth century to the present is a unique resource, with many potential applications. Scholars will find in it helpful explanations of events and historical figures associated with the music of Wales. It also contains many song transcriptions (and a list of printed music collections) that will be of interest to folk-culture enthusiasts, singers, and collectors. The index of musical examples is especially valuable for those interested in the songs themselves.
Kinney, though not Welsh by birth, has effectively adopted this tradition as her own, and is a leading authority in this area. Her husband, Meredydd Evans, is a celebrated performer of traditional music.
Abraham Myler, Research Assistant
The diversity of online music periodical databases contributes to research ease and accessibility. A comparison and contrast of the relative strengths and weaknesses of RILM, RIPM, IIMP, the Music Index, and BMS Online illustrates the areas of research each is best suited for. Drawing upon the strengths of each database leads to quality contributions in the field of scholarship. Knowing the unique characters of each helps to make research more effective and efficient.
Each periodical has unique criteria for its coverage by year and the number of sources it contains. The indexing for RILM began in 1967 and continues into the present. It boasts 12,014 indexed journals (as of February 2013) and over 700,000 citations. New citations are added every month. This database has the widest coverage and range of journal sources out of all the periodicals. This is in part due to the fact that RILM indices are compiled by committees in 60 different counties that index music articles from a wide range and variety of periodicals. Thus it contains music topics from a variety of periodicals both within and outside of strict music journals.
Additional periodicals provide areas of coverage that are not indexed by RILM. For example, RIPM covers a span of about 150 years before RILM indexing begins. RIPM is primarily focused on the historic preservation of journals roughly from 1800 to 1950. RIPM contains 189 journals and 684,000 citations. The only other database that offers retrospective indexing into the 1800s is IIMP, which provides select coverage for specific journals. RILM offers retrospective coverage in two areas only: it indexes conference reports to the year 1835 and Festschriften to 1840. RILM has the most extensive coverage for academic sources, while RIPM is the best source for historic research before the 1960s.
The Music Index indicates cover-to-cover indexing of 480 journals, with select coverage for an additional 200. This database begins in 1970, although on its list of periodicals there are a handful of journals that have a few years of retrospective indexing extending into the 1960s. BMS online begins its coverage in the year 1950 and continues to the present. It pulls sources from over 600 journals and holds over 300,000 individual citations. One of BMS online’s unique strengths is its coverage of the gap between the end of RIPM indexing in 1950 and the start of RILM in 1967.
The bulk of IIMP’s coverage is very recent. Most articles referenced begin and 1996 and continue to the present. It covers about 425 journals; on the website listing there were 502 titles of individual periodicals. Finally, IIMP’s citations number over 770,000. 200,000 of these feature articles that were published before 1996, and a few may extend as far back as 1874. IIMP covers a wide variety of popular and classical sources, so it may best benefit a research attempting to over a popular genre such as folk music from the last ten years.
These databases’ contribution to retrospective indexing, access to full text, and quality of abstracts varies as well. As before stated, RILM indexes conference reports and festschriften retrospectively. The Music Index has a few journals with coverage before 1970, but such are very rare. IIMP provides selective access for specific journals for as far back as 1874. However, its main focus is on very recent periodicals. Currently BMS does not have retrospective sources, although its website announces that projects are underway to index articles from the early 20th century. RIPM is entirely retrospective with its analysis from 1800-1950. These periodicals, RILM, The Music Index and RIPM provide full text access to the BYU community through BYU’s subscription to EBSCO host and its holdings. IIMP provides full text access to 140 of its sources, while RIPM allows full text browsing on its online archives. BMS online offers some links to full text articles.
The quality of abstracts differs as well among the periodicals. RILM by far has the best quality of abstracts. Sometimes the abstract is as many as 250 words, and they are often written by the article author or by RILM staff writers. IIMP’s abstracts are generally made up of one to two sentences. The Music Index generally does not include abstracts, although it may rarely have a single sentence description. When BMS online does include an abstract they are generally brief and are predominantly in the German language. RIPM does have some abstracts, although they are not as detailed and thorough as those of RILM.
Some of the databases provide indexing to non-periodical literature. BMS online includes references to scores, festschriften, conference reports, monologues and anthologies. RIML also includes essay collections, conference reports, facsimiles, and festschriften. The Music Index references dissertation abstracts, while RIPM and IIMP are exclusively devoted to periodicals only.
Of the five databases, RILM, BMS and RIPM prove to be the most scholarly in their selection of sources. BMS online is the German contribution to RILM and so the two are similar. RIPM is unique in that advertisements in the journal are indexed for historical research. In contrast, IIMP and he Music Index reference more popular magazines and include many types of reviews. RIPM includes every review for its historical merit. RILM and BMS online are selective, and include only the most scholarly reviews with academic research interest. The Music Index and IIMP are the best sources to find coverage of reviews.
Foreign language sources are most abundant in RILM, which covers 214 languages and 151 countries. BMS online has decent language representation, although it is focused primarily on Western European languages. For its focus on retrospective journals RIPM seeks wide coverage. Its website states that it has indexes in fourteen different languages. From a brief survey of the Music Index periodical titles, it seems that about 100-150 of its journal titles are in different languages, although the exact number is not known. The International Index of Music Periodicals (IIMP) has by far the least extensive foreign language holdings with its claim to journals from only twenty different countries.
It is helpful to know the most outstanding feature of each database. RILM has by far the most extensive international coverage. It contains the best quality abstracts and is unique in its inclusion of music articles from sources outside of core music journals. RILM is generally the best starting point for research.
The Music Index’s strength lies in its extensive coverage of reviews. IIMP also holds a substantial number of reviews, as well as access to full text. For sources between the years 1950 and 1967, BMS online is an essential database as it partially fills the gap between the coverage of RILM and RIPM. BMS online also provides reference to unique sources that may not accessible through other databases. RIPM is unique as the only fully retrospective journal with all its articles being taken from past journals. Thus, RIPM is the perfect source for historical research. In addition, it is the only database that includes the advertising as well as articles and is the only periodical that is indexed journal-by-journal rather than year-by-year.
It is clear from the different dates of coverage, article types, and strengths that each database makes a unique contribution to the body of available research. Selecting the database that is best suited to your specific query will result in more effecient and effective research.
A result of the collaborative of efforts of Robert Lamar Weaver, John Karr, and Caterina Pampaloni, edited by Susan Parisi The Music Library of a Noble Florentine Family (2012) is a catalogue raisonné of the Ricasoli Collection acquired by the University of Louisville in 1989, which consists of music and pedagogical books collected by the Ricasoli family during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This particular catalogue builds upon the work of nineteenth-century inventories already completed for this collection; therefore, while the majority of the collection is housed at the University of Louisville, the catalogue will occasionally items not in the University’s possession either because they’re been lost or separated from the collection as a result of private sales before the acquisition.
The Beethoven Gateway is a free online resource that helps direct people interested in Beethoven to books, articles, scores, and other sources on the composer. Although it functions primarily as a catalog of the collections of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, its also serves the broader purpose of providing a comprehensive and fully-indexed bibliography of materials relating to Beethoven, from a wide range of subject areas.
The principle aims of the database are:
- bring together bibliographical information of all significant Beethoven materials dating from the late eighteenth century to the present through the creation of a dedicated database;
- improve access to information on Beethoven by providing in-depth subject analysis of the literature from all fields and abstracts or content notes;
- create ease of access to bibliographic information by adding indexes of works, genres, and other desirable access points;
- create, maintain, and disseminate a thesaurus of terms and guidelines for using the database;
- provide information on locations of primary research materials through the thesaurus and the database itself;
- make the database freely available worldwide on the Internet.
The database does not yet provide full text of articles or books, although links from Beethoven Gateway to full text databases is planned. Links to scanned images from the Center are also forthcoming. (from the website)
Post, Jennifer C. Ethnomusicology: A Research and Information Guide. 2nd ed. Routledge Music Bibliographies. New York; London: Taylor & Francis, 2011.
Jennifer C. Post’s second edition of Ethnomusicology: A Research and Information Guide is designed, in the author’s own words, to help researchers “embrace the discipline in the twenty-first century,” and consequently provides a detailed guide to various sources profitable to ethnomusicological research. The book contains 1,933 items such as reference works, archival sources, audio and video recordings, online resources, research guides, and indexing and abstracting tools, all published predominantly between 1994 and 2010. Particularly useful to students is the introduction, which describes at length the field of ethnomusicology, its purposes, its methodologies, and a 52-item annotated bibliography of resources explaining the discipline. The bibliography itself has been divided into two sections: Reference and Information Sources and Sources for Research and Study. An annotation accompanies each citation as well as an ISBN, ISSN, or LC call number, when appropriate. The annotations for the “recent books” section are unusually descriptive, often including a list of contents. Up-to-date and crammed with information, Post’s work can benefit both fledgling student and advanced researcher.