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Music and Performance: Research Topics

Resources for students of music and the performing arts.

Narrowing and Expanding a Search


Is your search getting too many results?  Narrow your search focus.

  • Use AND between required concepts
  • Select specific fields to search
    (title, abstract, author)
  • Use a date range for recent articles
  • Choose class of articles to find
    (scholarly, newspaper, trade)


Expand your search scope if you're not getting enough results.

  • Combine interchangeable terms or synonyms with OR
    (ADHD OR ADD OR Hyperactivity)
  • Use the * or ? truncation operator

If you need to narrow or expand your search focus, re-evaluate your search terms. With discipline-specific jargon as search terms, you may artificially limit your results.

Special Search Functions

Additional Search Tips

Phrase search

Use quotation marks to search for a particular phrase.

Example: "Fight the Power"

This is useful for terms that mean something different when away from other words, and for titles of works or persons' names.


Use an asterisk to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk after the "root" of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural.

Example: architect*

This will find "architecture", "architectural", "architects", etc.

Grouping/Nesting Keywords

Use parentheses as a way to logically group search terms together.

Example:("climate change" OR "global warming") AND ("population growth" OR "overpopulation")

This is a little more complicated, but VERY useful. The database will figure out what is "nested" inside the parentheses first, and only after that will the "AND" be processed. What that means: if either climate change or global warming is in the article, the first group of terms is "true." If population growth or overpopulation is present, the second group is true. Only if both groups are true does the database decide that the article matches your search.

Additional Resources

You can use the Search Generator from Northwest Missouri State University to help you create a keyword search.

Using AND/OR/NOT (Boolean Search Operators)

Are you familiar with Venn diagrams? Keyword searching in databases uses the same idea. The diagrams below show what using the words AND, OR, and NOT will result in when used in a database search.

Venn Diagram: France AND Hip Hop

Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.

Example: France AND Hip-Hop Culture

Venn Diagram: France OR Hip Hop

Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.

Example: France OR Hip-Hop Culture

Venn Diagram: France NOT Hip Hop

Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search.

Example: Hip-Hop Culture NOT France

Analyzing your Performance-Related Research Question

Once you have selected an area to research, the next step is to figure out where your topic fits into the existing literature.

A. Is your area of research too broad or too narrow?

What specific question or questions do you want to answer as you do your research? (i.e. what is your hypothesis or hypotheses? You may need to modify these as you do your research.)

If your area of research is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with too much information and will have trouble focusing on a topic to write about. Some subjects might be fine if you were writing a full-length book but would be impractical for a 10-page paper. Try limiting your research topic in terms of time period, geography, or noteworthy individuals. You may want to explore a subset of your initial area of research.

If you have trouble locating any information on your topic or find only one or two articles or just a brief mention of your topic in a book, then your area of research may be too narrow or overly focused. If this is the case, try taking a broader view of the topic you are investigating. Here is an example:

"Ragtime music in the United States"
This topic is too broad for a 10 page paper.
"The relationship of ragtime music and performance of minstrel shows in the United States"
This research topic could be covered in a 10-page paper.

B. What disciplines might cover your area of research?

Arts research can be very interdisciplinary.  For this example topic (interaction of the  ragtime music and minstrelsy in the United States), you might want to look at the literature within the following disciplines:

  • Performance studies
  • Ethnomusicology
  • American Studies
  • American History
  • African-American Studies
  • Literary Criticism

C. Dissect your topic into pieces or components.

Try to think of all the possible areas you might want to explore in order to answer your research question.

  • American folk and popular music, ragtime music, roots of jazz, parlor music
  • Minstrel shows, blackface
  • African-American culture, Jim Crow, civil rights, segregation
  • Gilded age, reconstruction
  • Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James Scott, Jelly Roll Morton