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This guide covers the different types of music resources available at Milner Library.

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

Primary sources in music mean that they are a direct representation of the work of the composer or author. This is different than secondary sources—books and journal articles—which often analyze primary sources. And tertiary sources—encyclopedias and dictionaries—are often research done on secondary and primary sources.


A primary source is an original work. Types of primary sources include:

  • Scores in general, but particularly manuscripts/facsimiles of scores or early printed editions of scores
  • Musical or spoken audio recording
  • Letters/correspondence
  • Autobiography
  • Musical instruments
  • Film footage of rehearsals
  • Personal Journal
  • Hand-written text manuscript
  • Speech
  • Interview


Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. Often they are an analysis, critique, or interpretation of a primary source.

Types of secondary sources include:

  • Biography
  • Textbook
  • Review article
  • Critical essay about people or past events


Tertiary sources are often a combination and examination of primary and secondary sources. Examples include:

  • Dictionary
  • Encyclopedia
  • Bibliography
  • Discography

Comparison Chart

Primary Secondary Tertiary
Letters by John Cage A website about Cage's writings An encyclopedia on experimental music

Primary Sources - Literature

Primary Sources - Scores