Building a good search
for music materials
Music and Performing Arts Librarian
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
We’re going to use the library catalog
for our examples, but the ideas here
will apply to other tools you may use,
including other catalogs and databases.
You are looking for music scores or recordings and found your
way to a search screen. Now what?
Assess your options.
Keyword searches are good for music
because you can include many
1. Composer /Performer name
2. Words from the piece title
4. Instruments / format
So if I want Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 15 and
do not have a preference for performer or
I should search for that, right?
*You can always include performer name, label name, or
publisher name in your search.
Not quite. Try one of these keyword searches…
Beethoven piano sonatas
Beethoven piano sonatas 15
Beethoven piano sonatas 28
There’s no benefit in using one of the numbers over the other, it
depends what information is included in the library catalog
record for the piece whether one or the other will work.
The numbers will help narrow your search (especially in a large
collection) but could also bring up false hits if the number
appears in the date, volume, pages, etc.
Where did the 28 come from?
That’s the opus number and you can find it by
checking Grove (Oxford Music Online)
• Search for Ludwig van Beethoven
• Under Works, select Piano Sonatas
The official subject heading for piano sonatas is
actually ‘Sonatas (Piano)’ so searching for “piano
sonata” will only bring up results where that phrase
appears in the recording title.
Why piano sonatas and not “piano sonata”?
In the library catalog you can search for sonata
and it will also retrieve sonatas, but in some
catalogs, like WorldCat, what you type is what
If you want to get both forms of the word there,
then you need to type sonata? (or in some
Why sonatas and not just sonata?
Want to be thorough?
Try Boolean operators
Beethoven AND sonatas AND piano AND (15 OR 28)
VuFind does not need the ANDs, but does need the OR.
Other catalogs like WorldCat need the ANDs
Often, the title
of the physical
thing you need
is not the same
as the piece
you are looking
A word about (not) searching by title
Sometimes the number doesn’t help
For example, if you’ve typed 14 to find sonata no. 14, it
won’t bring this one up because the title lists (Nos. 1, 5,
6, 9, 10, 13-15, 25), unless that individual work is listed
in the notes somewhere.