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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Music 110: Introduction to the Art of Music - International Perspectives

Developing your Search Strategy

Before beginning your research, it's always a good idea to do some brainstorming and develop a search strategy.

1. Write down your topic as a broad sentence or question.

Example: Are there similarities or differences between improvisation in Middle Eastern musics and jazz?

2. Identify the main words/concepts in your topic. These will become the keywords you use in searching.

Example: improvisation, Middle Eastern music, jazz

3. Brainstorm alternative words you can use for each keyword. These should be synonyms or related ideas. They can also be more specific to help you focus your topic or less specific to help you provide broader context. (Tip: use the concept map on the first page of this handout to help with this process.)


Improvisation Middle Eastern Music Jazz
extemporization (synonym) Arab music or Persian music (more specific term) swing or free jazz (more specific term)
vocal improvisation or rhythmic improvisation (more specific term) Iran (specific country) 20th century jazz (more specific term by time period)
taqsīm (very specific term for instrumental improvisation in Arabic classical music) ‘ūd (specific instrument) Western music (very broad term)

4. Identify library resources to search. Explore the Finding Music Materials and Finding Journal Articles tabs on this guide for recommend tools and tips.


  • Grove Music Online and the Garland Encyclopedia for World Music for background information
  • Library catalog for recordings and books on the musical styles or improvisation more broadly
  • Music Index or RILM for scholarly journal articles

5. Begin searching.

Tip: keep track of the search terms you've used and the databases you've searched so you don't repeat them.

Tip: always evaluate your results -- you might get ideas for new keywords to use!

This content is built off of the Undergraduate Library's page "Develop a Topic and Create a Concept Map".