World and Ethnic Music


Carl Rahkonen, Ph.D. (Ethnomusicology)

Music Librarian / Professor

Indiana University of Pennsylvania


NOTE: This book chapter is published in:  Creative Strategies for Library Instruction in the Arts, Literature and Music, ed. Marilyn P. Whitmore.  Pittsburgh, PA: Library Instruction Publications, 2001, pp 275-288.

© 2001 Marilyn P. Whitmore.





What is world music?


World Music is the currently popular alternative for terms such as primitive, non-Western, ethnic and folk music.  World music can be traditional (folk), popular or even “classical” art music, but it must have ethnic or foreign elements.


The term was first used in higher education, as music departments began teaching ethnomusicology, the study of all types of music around the world.  In the late 1980s, the term entered the commercial marketplace, initially referring to sound recordings that combined Western popular music with indigenous ethnic musics.  In 1990, Billboard magazine established a bi-weekly “World Music” chart, showing that the term had firmly established itself in the marketplace.  Currently, the definition of world music has expanded beyond the purely popular idiom, to include all styles of music with ethnic or foreign elements (for a more detailed discussion of this topic, see Rahkonen 1994 and 1999).



Why world music?


With the growth of worldwide systems of communication and commerce, librarians will feel increasing demands for materials characterized as world music.  Reference questions pertaining to world music have become more numerous in recent years, as college and public school curricula have emphasized "cultural diversity."  Courses in music theory and history routinely include sections on non-Western music.  Music education majors now look for examples of ethnic musics to teach in the classroom.  Public librarians face ever greater numbers of patrons demanding their own varieties of music.  Dealing with world music poses significant challenges, since library collections are geared towards Western art music.



Goals and Objectives of Instruction:


Basic Assumptions


The techniques used to handle Western “classical” art music do not always easily apply to world music.  We make certain basic assumptions with Western art music: that it exists in written form and can be identified in an historical context from written sources; that the composer serves as the primary point of access; that uniform titles can be created according to what is found in written sources; and that subject access and classification rest on standard forms.  World music is less likely to exist in a written form, since it may be passed on by aural tradition.  The composer may be unknown, thus the performer, informant, or even the collector may have to serve as primary points of access.  Music in aural tradition may vary with each performer and even with each performance.  The title of a work may exist in variant forms, and may not be found in any written source.  Finally, world music frequently exists in forms and genres that cannot be identified in written sources, thus subject access and classification may require unconventional means.



This guide will introduce:


      1.   the basic overviews and textbooks of ethnomusicology.

      2.   the basic reference tools.

      3.   subject access to world music.

      4.   specialty vendors to purchase world music materials.




Components of Instruction:


I. Overviews and textbooks:


Ethnomusicology has been defined in many different ways. Some have focused on the music, defining it as the study of “non-Western” music, or more recently “world” music.  Others have focused on the behavioral aspects, defining it as the study of “music in culture” or “music as culture.”  Modern ethnomusicology is inter-disciplinary, encompassing many fields of study such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, psychology, women's studies, American studies, and regional studies.  Mantle Hood gave one of the best definitions when he wrote, “Ethnomusicology is an approach to the study of any music, not only in terms of itself but also in relation to its cultural context.” (Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Willi Apel, 1969).



1. “Classic” Textbooks:


The scholarly study of world musics, known as ethnomusicology, began to be widely included in university curricula shortly after the Second World War.  The following textbooks may be considered “classic,” in that they had the most far-reaching influences in teaching ethnomusicology.  They are required reading to get a general overview of the discipline.


Merriam, Alan P.  The Anthropology of Music.  Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964.


            In what is probably the most widely-cited book in ethnomusicology, Merriam created a paradigm for the discipline by showing various ways in which world musics may be studied as a part of culture: physical, verbal, social, and learning behaviors; uses and functions of music; and music in cultural history and dynamics.  Merriam asked all the right questions, which have inspired a generation of ethnomusicologists.


Nettl, Bruno.  Theory and Method in Ethnomusicology.  New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964.


_______.  The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-Nine Issues and Concepts.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.


            Nettl is one of the most highly respected scholars in ethnomusicology.  His 1964 textbook was considered a standard survey of the discipline.  His 1983 study serves as an updated survey, covering such topics as how music is created, what it may mean in a culture, and how it changes over time.


Hood, Mantle.  The Ethnomusicologist.  New York:  McGraw Hill, 1971; Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1982.


            Merriam best represented the Anthropological side of the discipline, Hood best represented the Musicological side.  In this quazi-autobiographical work, Hood explores the issues of musicianship, performance, transcription and analysis of music, musical instruments and fieldwork.



2. Undergraduate Textbooks:


These textbooks are used in survey courses on world music.  Not only are they valuable to library users as general surveys, but also to find specific examples of world music for classroom or other uses.  For example, students who are student teaching may be searching of an example of Native American music appropriate for use in an elementary classroom.  The Titon text contains several transcribed examples of Native American music, which may be heard on the accompanying tapes or CDs.  The Zuni lullaby is ideal for use in an elementary classroom, since it has only two pitches and can be sung by the children.  The Titon and Nettl are equally valuable as sources for all the musics they cover.



Titon, Jeff, ed.  The Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples.  3rd ed. New York: Schirmer, 1996.


            Contains chapters on Native America, Africa, Black America, Bosnia and Central/Southeast Europe, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Ecuador.



Nettl, Bruno, et. al. Excursions in World Music.  2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1997.


            Contains chapters on India, Middle East, China, Japan, Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Latin America, Native America, and Ethnic North America.



Reck, David.  Music of the Whole Earth.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977; New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.


            Reck’s excellent text was out of print for many years, and has recently been reprinted.  He examines music around the world with a holistic approach, examining universals. Reck is particularly strong in giving a framework for studying the actual music sound, defining concepts such as scale, mode, rhythm and musical instruments.



3. Graduate Textbooks:


Myers, Helen, ed.  Ethnomusicology: An Introduction.  The Norton/Grove Handbooks in Music.  New York: Norton, 1992.


________. Ethnomusicology: Historical and Regional Studies.  The Norton/Grove Handbooks in Music.  New York: Norton, 1993.


            Myers’s two volumes are graduate-level surveys laid out in “handbook” format; as such they also serve as valuable reference tools.  Volume 1 covers theory and methodology; Volume 2 covers the history of world music research and regional studies around the world.  Experts have written each chapter, which feature extensive bibliographical documentation and illustration.



Shelemay, Kay Kaufman.  Ethnomusicology: History, Definitions, Scope.  New York: Garland, 1992.


            In this volume of the Garland Library of Readings in Ethnomusicology (see Dictionaries and Encyclopedias below), Shelemay has gathered many of the important journal articles published between 1909 and 1983 defining the discipline.




II. Reference tools:


Many of the standard reference tools for Western art music are also the first ones to use for world music.  The following gives a brief overview of the most important tools.  A more detailed study of world music reference may be found in Vandermeer (1994).


1. Periodical indexes:


Standard music periodical indexes such as the Music Index, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), Bibliographie des Musikschrifttums and International Index of Music Periodicals have all increased their coverage of world musics in the past decade, and their Web-versions promise even greater coverage. 


Music Index began indexing under the term world music in 1994, citing the many popular music articles with “world music” in their titles.  A see also reference tells us to check ethnic music, folk music and popular music – styles.  In all these indexes, world musics may be found under terms for specific genres and geographic regions.



2. Dictionaries and Encyclopedias:


Sadie, Stanley, ed.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. New York: Macmillan, 1980. (20 vols.)  2nd ed. Forthcoming, 2000.  (30 vols.)


            Still the first place to look up anything on music.  The 1980 edition featured hundreds of articles written by experts on world musics, as well as an Index of Terms used in Articles on Non-Western Music, Folk Music and Kindred Topics found in Appendix A of Volume 20.  Don’t forget to check the New Grove “spinoffs” particularly the ones for Musical Instruments, American Music and Jazz.  The 2000 edition promises even greater coverage, with the added advantages of an index volume and having the text available on the World Wide Web.


Finscher, Ludwig, ed.  Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2nd ed.  Sachteil. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1994-99.


            For nearly 50 years the MGG has been the standard German-language music encyclopedia.  The terminological section of the 2nd edition has appeared, and is extremely strong in its world music coverage.  Even if you don’t read German it is important to check these articles, since the illustrations and bibliographical coverage are outstanding.


Rice, Timothy and James Porter, eds.  Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.  10 vols.  New York:  Garland, 1992-    .


            The most important new work to emerge in World Music scholarship.  Each volume covers an area of the world:  1. Africa, 2. South America, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, 3. United States and Canada, 4. Southeast Asia, 5. South Asia; Indian Subcontinent, 6. Middle East, 7. East Asia: China, Japan and Korea, 8. Europe, 9. Australia and the Pacific Islands, 10. General Perspective and Reference Tools. This work is not an encyclopedia in the traditional sense, where one could look up a specific term.  Rather, it should be thought of as a collection of well laid-out and illustrated scholarly articles written by experts. To find specific information, readers will need to use the detailed indexes found at the end of each volume.


Kaufmann, Walter.  Selected Musical Terms of Non-Western Cultures: A Notebook Glossary. Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, no. 65. Warren, MI:  Harmonie Park Press, 1990.


            One of the few terminological dictionaries of world music, Kaufmann created his “notebook glossary” by keeping track of non-western terms in his own reading for more than 50 years.  He defines each term and also shows its source in the literature.  The work is particularly strong in terms from China and India, where Kaufmann did his work.


Shelemay, Kay Kaufman, ed.  Garland Library of Readings in Ethnomusicology: A Core Collection of Important Ethnomusicological Articles.  7 vols.  New York: Garland, 1990.


            Shelemay has collected important journal articles from the late 19th Century to the 1980s, covering theories and methods in ethnomusicology.  This is a valuable collection particularly for smaller libraries, which may not own the original journals.



3. Bibliographies:


Ethnomusicology: Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology.


            Every issue of this journal from 1953 to 2000 featured a Current Bibliography.  Plans are that from 2000 on, Current Bibliography will be available on the Society Web-site:


Kunst, Jaap.  Ethnomusicology: A Study of Its Nature, Its Problems, Methods and Representative Personalities to which is added a Bibliography, 3rd ed. with supplement.  The Hague:  Martinus Nijhoff, 1959; reprint, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.


            One of the earliest books with the word “ethnomusicology’ in the title, Kunst gives an overview of the discipline, including extensive bibliographies.  He even includes a biography and photograph for every ethnomusicologist known to him in the world at the time.


Gillis, Frank, and Alan P. Merriam, comps.  Ethnomusicology and Folk Music: An International Bibliography of Dissertations and Theses.  Special Series in Ethnomusicology, v. 1.  Middletown, CT:  Wesleyan University Press, 1966.


            Compiled by two early leaders in the field, this well-indexed tool covers work done in music departments, and in folklore, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and even English departments as well.  The date of the work is also important.  After 1966, we can more easily search for dissertations and theses in works like RILM, Music Index and Dissertation Abstracts.  Before that time, this work is most important.


Nettl, Bruno.  Reference Materials in Ethnomusicology: A Bibliographic Essay, 2nd, rev. ed.  Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, no. 1.  Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1967.


            Nettl worked for a time as a Music Librarian.  He compiled this earliest description and bibliography of reference works in the discipline.


Schuursma, Anne Briegleb.  Ethnomusicology Research: A Select Annotated Bibliography.  Garland Library of Music Ethnology, 1.  New York: Garland, 1992.


            Schuursma was the long-time archivist at the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archives.  She updated Nettl’s work, and describes many of the important general works in ethnomusicology.



3a. Listed here are a few examples of the many topical bibliographies on world music.


Frisbie, Charlotte Johnson.  Music and Dance Research of Southwestern United States Indians. Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, no. 36.  Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1977.


Gray, John.  African Music: A Bibliographical Guide to the Traditional, Popular, Art, and Liturgical Musics of Sub-Saharan Africa.  African Special Bibliographic Series, no. 14.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.


Lieberman, Fredric.  Chinese Music: An Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed.  New York: Garland, 1979.


McLean, Mervyn.  An Annotated Bibliography of Oceanic Music and Dance.  Wellington, New Zealand: Polynesian Society, 1977.


Miller, Terry E.  Folk Music in America: A Reference Guide.  New York: Garland, 1986.


Porter, James.  The Traditional Music of Britain and Ireland.  Music Research and Information Guides, 11. New York: Garland, 1989.


Song, Bang Song.  An Annotated Bibliography of Korean Music.  Asian Music Publications, Ser. A, No. 2.  Providence, RI: Brown University, 1971.


Southern, Eileen and Josephine Wright.  African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale, and Dance, 1600s-1920: An Annotated Bibliography of Literature, Collections, and Artworks.  The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Black Music.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.


Tsuge, Gen'ichi.  Japanese Music: An Annotated Bibliography. Garland Bibliographies in Ethnomusicology, v. 2.  New York: Garland, 1986.



4. Discographies, Videographies and Anthologies:


Recorded music and musical performance on video is extremely important in the study of world musics.  Below is a selected list of reference works in this area.


Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.  A Catalog of Phonorecordings of Music and Oral Data Held by the Archives of Traditional Music.  Boston: G.K. Hall, 1975.


JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance.  Montpelier, VT:  Multicultural Media, 1990.  [30 volumes, 25 1/2 hours]


            Note: Since 1995, the anthology is being reissued in an improved version, with individual series covering specific continents, under the title:  The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways Video Anthology of Music and Dance. So far, series for the Americas, Africa and Europe have appeared.  Distributor: Multicultural Media, Barre, VT (See Specialty Vendors below).


Keeling, Richard.  A Guide to Early Field Recordings (1900-1949) at the Lowie Museum of Anthropology.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1991.


Kinnear, Michael S.  A Discography of Hindustani and Karnatic Music.  Discographies, no. 17.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.


Lee, Dorothy Sara.  Native North American Music and Oral Data: A Catalogue of Sound Recordings, 1893-1976.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.


Schaeffer, Deborah L.  Irish Folk Music: A Selected Discography.  Discographies, no. 31.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.


Seeger, Anthony and Louise S. Spear, eds. Early Field Recordings: A Catalog of Cylinder Collections at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.


Spottswood, Richard.  Ethnic music on record.  Music in American Life. 7 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.


Sweeney, Philip.  The Virgin Directory of World Music.  London: Virgin Books, 1991 ; New York:  Henry Holt, 1992.


Toth, Andrew.  Recordings of the Traditional Music of Bali and Lombok.  Special Series, no. 4.  N.p.: Society for Ethnomusicology, 1980.



5. The World Wide Web:


There are literally hundreds of Web-sites pertaining to world music, and they change every day.  Two good general “index-like” sites, with links to dozens of other sites are:



III. Subject Access to World Music:


1. Around 1994, the Library of Congress established the subject heading World Music using the popular commercial definition: “Here are entered popular musical works combining traditional rhythms from around the world with elements of jazz and rock. UF World beat music, BT  Popular music.”  The discussion below takes the broader academic definition of “all types of music around the world.”


2. Subject access to world music presents special problems.  Standard Library of Congress Subject Headings have been designed for use primarily with Western art music. A basic tenet of these headings is that they tend to use genre or form of a composition as the initial entry point:



Sonatas -- [sub-divisions]


Symphonies -- [sub-divisions]


Concertos -- [sub-divisions]



This becomes a problem with world music, in that it tends to scatter headings of music from a specific geographic region throughout the catalog.  For example, some subject headings for Japanese music:


Japanese ballads

            USE     Ballads, Japanese

Japanese Buddhist hymns

            USE     Buddhist hymns, Japanese

Japanese Folk Songs

            USE     Folk Songs, Japanese

Japanese hymns

            USE     Hymns, Japanese

Japanese songs

            USE     Songs, Japanese




3. An additional tenet of Library of Congress Subject cataloging is that they use only the most specific heading that fits, and typically not an additional more general heading.


For example, an item of Japanese koto music would carry the subject heading:  Koto music  and not   Music – Japan.  And if this music is in a specific form, such as a sonata, it would be under Sonatas (Koto).


A general work on music from India, would be under Music – India, but if it is from northern India, it would be only found under Music, Hindustani, from southern India, only under Music, Karnatic.


A sound recording of reels and jigs from Ireland may be under the heading Folk dance music – Ireland, rather than Folk music – Ireland.


The lesson here is that librarians and patrons have to know specific details about the music in order to find the correct specific subject heading, and they should use the LC Subject Heading Catalogs to search for the appropriate specific heading.



4. Since 1981, music subject heading sub-divisions that come after a comma, have generally referred to the language of the musical text.  For example, compare the following subject headings:



Folk songs – Portugal                        Folk songs from Portugal.


Folk songs, Portuguese                     Portuguese language folk songs.


Folk songs, Portuguese – Brazil        Portuguese language folk songs from Brazil



Because of this, such headings as Folk songs, American, are no longer valid. You need to use Folk songs – United States, or Folk songs, English – United States, Folk songs, Spanish – United States etc.



5. Libraries with large collections of world music have tended to use the George P. Murdock’s Outline of World Cultures, familiar to many librarians from the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), to augment subject access to their collections.


Additional information about subject access to world music materials may be found in Kaufman (1977 and 1983) and in Pierce (1994).



IV. Specialty Vendors:


World music is becoming so common that it can be purchased through most general vendors on the World Wide Web, such as  It is, however, helpful to know some of the vendors who specialize in world music.  The list below shows the most significant vendors.  A more extensive and detailed list may be found in Farrington (1994).



Arhoolie and Folklyric Recordings, 10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, CA 94530; (888) 274-6654.


Global Alliance for Intelligent Arts, 140 Pine Street, Studio #13 Northampton, MA 01062; Phone/Fax (413) 584-3022;


The House of Musical Traditions, 7040 Carroll Ave., Tacoma Park, MD 20912; (800) 540-3794; FAX (301) 270-3010;


Lark in the Morning, P.O. Box 799, Fort Bragg, CA 95437; (707) 964-5569; FAX (707) 964-1979;


Multicultural Media, RR3, Box 6655, Granger Road, Barre, VT 05641; (800) 550-9675.



Music of the World, P.O. Box 3620, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-3620; (888) 264-6689; FAX (919) 932-9700.


Rounder Records, (One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140-1194; (800) 768-6337; FAX (617) 868-8769;


Sampler Records, P.O. Box 19270, Rochester, NY 14619; 800-537-2755; FAX 716-328-2010.


Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings, 414 Hungerford Drive, Suite 444, Rockville, MD 20850; (800) 410-9815; FAX (301) 443-1819;


World Music Institute, 49 West 27th St., New York, NY 10001; (212) 545-7536; FAX (212) 889-2771;



References Cited:


Farrington, James.  “Putting Dastgah-ha, Didjeridus and the Diga Rhythm Band in the Library: Collecting World Music.”  In World Music in Music Libraries.  MLA Technical Reports #24.  Canton, MA:  Music Library Association. pp. 26-40.


Kaufman, Judith.  (1977) Recordings of Non-Western Music: Subject and Added Entry Access.  MLA Technical Reports No. 5.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Music Library Association.


_______.  (1983) Library of Congress Subject Headings for Recordings of Western Non-Classical Music.  MLA Technical Reports No. 14.  Philadelphia:  Music Library Association.


Pierce, Deborah L.  (1994) “What to do when Hotchiku Arrives in the Music Library?  Providing Access to World Music Materials.” In World Music in Music Libraries.  MLA Technical Reports #24.  Canton, MA:  Music Library Association. pp. 41-59.


Rahkonen, Carl, ed.  (1994a) World Music in Music Libraries.  MLA Technical Reports  No. 24.  Canton, MA:  Music Library Association.


_______.  (1994b) “What is World Music?”  In World Music in Music Libraries.  MLA Technical Reports No. 24.  Canton, MA:  Music Library Association. pp. 1-10.


_______.  (1999)  "World Music in the Music Library." College Music Society Newsletter (October): 6.


Vandermeer, Philip.  “Ethnomusicology and the Music Library: Implications for Reference Work.”  In World Music in Music Libraries.  MLA Technical Reports #24.  Canton, MA:  Music Library Association. pp. 11-25.

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