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MUSC 216 Jazz in America: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Thanks to the Yale University Library for this description.

Waht is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources are works that interpret, analyze, and discuss the evidence provided by primary sources (e.g., scholarly books and articles). The secondary sources are generally a second-hand account or observation at least one step removed from the event, i.e., accounts written after the fact by people not present when an event took place. Such sources are second-hand interpretations of what occurred.

*Some of the above material is used with permission from the University of Pittsburgh Library's research guide on Primary Sources

Primary Sources for Music

Primary sources for music may include

  • letters and diaries of musicians and others
  • manuscripts and early printed editions of scores
  • marked-up scores used for early performances
  • reviews of first and early performances
  • sound recordings, including recording-session masters and outtakes
  • film footage of performances, rehearsals, and people involved in creating the music
  • ethnographic films and folklore collections
  • musical instruments and equipment of all kinds.

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources may Include

  • biographical works;
  • commentaries and critical reviews;
  • books other than fiction or autobiographies
  • journal, newspaper, and magazine articles written well after an event takes place

Primary Sources Music Examples

Music: score, sound recording, contemporary review, letter, personal account by composer or musician

Secondary Sources Music Examples

  • biographical works of musicians;
  • commentaries and critical reviews of music works or performances;
  • books other than fiction or autobiographies
  • journal, newspaper, and magazine articles written well after an event takes place related to music
  • Reprint of a music manuscript
  • Copies of music scores
  • Sound recordings