This guide provides research tips and selected resources for studies in music

Identifying Primary Sources in Music

Audio and Video Recordings: 

  • Vary in quality
  • Help you to better interpret a musical work, and write better assignments

When including sound recordings in your assignments and repertoire study, consider the following:

  • Listen to contrasting performances of the same work
  • Listen to authoritative sound recordings wherever possible. You can find lists of authoritative recordings from scholarly biographies/bibliographies of performers and composers
  • Try to listen to high-quality sound recordings, such as those on CD, or in library streaming databases
  • Read the liner notes (physical or digital) that accompany sound recordings. They contain essential background information often not found elsewhere
  • Note: All physical audio media held by the library must be placed on hold from the library catalogue in order to be borrowed.

Music Scores:

  • Come in various formats, each of which have advantages and disadvantages depending on their intended use
  • Vary in quality, depending on publisher and edition

Below is a list of some common score formats, and their uses:

Type Example Intended Use
Full Score ("Conductor's Score") Don Giovanni

For study, analysis, and conducting.

Not suitable for individual performance.

Study Score ('Miniature/Pocket Score') Don Giovanni Overture

For study and analysis.

Not suitable for performance or conducting.

Performance Score Hungarian March From "The Damnation of Faust Op. 24" (Set of Parts)

For performance; includes individual parts (as applicable).

Not suitable for study and analysis, or conducting.

Piano Reduction, Piano-Vocal Score Owen Wingrave Op. 85

For rehearsal and performance.

Not suitable for study or analysis.

Critical Editions, Collected Works, Monuments of Music Digital Mozart Edition

Scholarly editions of music best suited for academic study.

Generally not suitable for performance, although they often contain works not published elsewhere.

Manuscripts or Facsimiles

Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from Western Europe


Literally, the original written notation of a musical score, or a reproduction of it.

For study, analysis, rehearsal and/or performance, depending on the quality and accessibility of the manuscript/facsimile.

Letters, diaries, essays...

  • Are examples of original writings, communications or other expressions of an individual or organization, and are what people typically think of in the context of the term Primary Sources
  • Provide significant historical context as well as valuable information for scholarship and performance purposes

If searching for these types of original writings, consider the following:

  • Who has collected and/ or edited them?
  • Read different translations
  • What other primary sources do these ones direct you to?

Finding Primary Sources in Music

Search the library for recordings using these tips:

In addition to the large collection of physical recordings (CDs, LPs, DVDs, etc.) in the library collection, the library subscribes to the following streaming databases and collections:


Specialized collections found on the Alexander Street collection include:

Search the library for scores using the following tips:

  • Performers and composers are often noted as authors or creators
  • Combine terms for composers/performers, works, numbers, instruments and keys for a more precise search, for example "Mozart + sonata + K. 545 + C major + piano"
  • Publishers use their own languages/numbering systems, so titles can vary for the same work. For example, Mozart's piano sonata no. 1 in C Major is published as:
    • Sonata no. 1, C major
    • Sonata no. 15, C major 
    • Sonata no. 16, C major 
    • Sonate C-Dur für Klavier
  • To retrieve scores, add the phrase: PT music score (NB: PT means Publication Type)
    • See this score example search
    • NOTE: You may see a variety of Resource Types (e.g. music scores, ebooks, electronic resources or even audio!) but your search results will be scores nonetheless.
  • NOTE: Library records do not always list individual pieces from a larger work, collection or anthology, so you may need to search for the larger item. For example:
    • To find "Casta Diva" from Norma (Bellini), search for Norma + Bellini
    • To find "Die Krähe" from Winterreise (a song cycle by Schubert), search for Winterreise + Schubert

In addition to our collection of print scores, the library provides access to digital score collections:

The University of Alberta Library does not collect sets of parts for orchestra/band or multiple copies of choral scores: we only collect full scores and parts for ensemble pieces with up to nine players. You may be able to rent materials for larger ensembles from ensemble libraries in Edmonton or obtain them from an online public domain source (see below). 

U of A Department of Music Ensemble Libraries:

The Department of Music manages their own Choral, Orchestra and Wind/Band libraries (full scores and parts). At this time, these libraries are for their department's use only and they are currently not lending them to community music organizations.

Ensemble Libraries in Edmonton:

Free Online Sources*

*The public domain status of works in these websites has not been verified by the University of Alberta Library.

Many of these types of items have been published in monographs, and may be discoverable through the library catalogue. 

  • First, click on the "Advanced Search" link on the Library home page, and log in with your CCID if necessary.
  • Then, search using keywords that describe both the document type and the subject matter, e.g.: 
    • beethoven AND diaries (you may also try diar* to capture diary)
    • glenn gould AND letters OR correspondence (you may also try letter* to capture letter)
  • Finally, select "Books" and/or "eBooks" to limit your results to primary source items.

Many primary sources can be found in select databases. There is a full list of primary source databases, including: