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MUS 307: World Music: Finding folk music

Library research guide for Fall 2020 World Music, taught by Dr. Katherine Hickey

Learning outcomes

After reviewing this module and attending our in-class session, you will be able to:

  • Find examples of recorded folk songs using online archives such as Global Jukebox or Smithsonian Folkways
  • Find examples of notated folk songs in scholarly works using the library catalog or databases

Finding recordings

Many recordings of folk music are available through nonprofits, archives and other cultural heritage organizations.

Record labels such as Smithsonian Folkways were created to distribute traditional music to a wider audience. Folkways is a not-for-profit division of the Smithsonian Museum and sells recordings direct to the public on its website for $0.99 per track.

Alan Lomax's personal collection of field recordings, gathered through decades of research, are the basis for the Global Jukebox, a free resource maintained by the Association for Cultural Equity, a New York based nonprofit.

Armacost Library has purchased many Folkways recordings in LP or CD format. To find these recordings, run subject searches (e.g. "folk music") with the Resource Type limited to Sound recording. You will need to request recordings through our curbside pickup program, since Armacost Library is not physically open.

Here are some examples of folk music recordings in the library collection:

Finding notated songs

Scholarly books or articles on folk music often includes notated "scores" of folk songs, transcribed by ethnomusicologists as part of their research.

To find scholarly books on music from other cultures, try running subject searches in the library catalog. What subject headings could you use to find folk music? Limit your search by Resource Type to show only books, and Show Only to see items Available online.

To find scholarly articles, run subject searches in the Music Periodicals Database or RILM. Again, you'll want to draw up a list of useful subject headings related to folk songs and to the cultures or people groups you are studying.

The IMSLP/Petrucci library has a few folk music anthologies in its "traditional" category. However, most of the works assigned to this category are classical compositions based on traditional themes, or mass-market anthologies whose editorial intervention is unclear.

Tip: many books on folk music culture are available from the physical collection via Armacost Library's curbside pickup program. Make sure you are signed into the catalog, and click the Request link to request a curbside pickup appointment. Library staff will contact you to schedule an appointment.

Here are some examples of folk song anthologies in the library collection: